The value of Design to the UK economy

Credit: alexander-filonchik (Unsplash)

Credit: alexander-filonchik (Unsplash)

What does the Design sector actually contribute to the UK economy? Much of the media only focuses on the headline grabbing big earners like the banking & finance sectors. While its true that the financial sector has seen staggering growth over the last 30 years the growth or value of other sectors goes largely ignored.

The media largely chooses to dumb down its content to a repeatable sound-bite, you could say almost a tweet. Proper detail is skimmed over in a flimsy and patronising way. It might be easy to be sucked in to believing that its only the banks that are driving our economy these days. That simply isn't true and as someone that has worked in manufacturing and design sectors over the last 20 years I am always proud of the contributions I have made to the GDP through creating designs to be made and sold - even better - to be exported. Manufacturing and agriculture still contribute a significant income for the UK despite the spin pointing us to finance, banking & service sectors.

To counter the spin it was refreshing to read through the Design Council report detailing the contribution of the design sector to the UK economy. The report was first published in October 2015 (see a link to it lower down) and in its 80 pages it contains some very encouraging statistics for those working in the multitude of disciplines that make up the UK design sector. Now the cynic in you might say "Well, isn't this just spin & hype of a different kind? The Design Council blowing its own trumpet." Yes, indeed you could. However the report isn't just a series of attention grabbing stats, no media style tweets, there's a lot of depth and research behind the figures. In fact there is a separate section on the Design Council website on how the figures were collated if stats & numbers are your bag. (

As a Product Designer I was pleased to read that the Design (product & industrial) category has grown between 2009-2013, increasing by 17.1%. It falls some way behind the boom in the Design (digital) sector but it is growth non the less. This is all despite a contraction in the number of firms operating in the Design (product & industrial) sector. This has shrunk by -18.8% between 2010-2014. Worrying circumstances for a freelance Product Designer you might think? No, I don't see it that way. What I read is positive - although the number of firms in the sector has contracted in the space of 4 years the value of the contribution to the UK economy has grown. In other words there might be fewer of us but our "value-added" is greater. This is great news and mirrors the aim of my own consultancy - helping clients to generate revenue for their business by bringing products to market. You can learn more about how this is done by reading about the Development Partnerships available.

Credit: Design Council

Credit: Design Council

Other stats which made for pleasing and encouraging reading included:

  • The design economy generated £71.7bn in gross value added (GVA), equivalent to 7.2% of total GVA.

  • Between 2009 -2013 the design economy GVA grew at a faster rate than the UK average.

  • Workers with a design element to their work were 41% more productive than the average. Each delivers £47,400 in output (GVA per worker) compared with £33,600 across the rest of the economy.

The report also went on to state:

  • The design economy is concentrated in London and, to a lesser extent, the South East of England. More than one in five design workers, and one in four design intensive firms (where 30% or more of the workforce were employed in design occupations), are found in London.

I am pleased to report (based on my own experience) that new creative design led businesses are growing in the South East. In fact outside of London the South East is the next largest concentration of design businesses, above the national average. Looking at page 65 you can see that Hastings has jumped a colossal 166 places to become ranked as the second biggest concentration of design businesses.

The growth of creative & design sector jobs in the South East will (hopefully) continue to grow. New events like the upcoming Huddle conference in Eastbourne will help to sustain and nurture the growth in the region.

Get involved with your design community

Get involved with your design community

On the whole (without getting too sucked in by the spin or trumpet blowing) I think the UK Design sector has reason to be pleased with itself and I for one am looking forward to continue to be part of that growth for many years to come.

If you want to read the report in full you can download it from the Design Council website:


The Design Council video gives a succinct overview in under 2 minutes if you haven't got time to read the report.