Companies that invest in design have more productive employees

Economic drivers.
Economic drivers.
Image: Reuters/Luke MacGrego
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Organizations with a high degree of design intelligence, or which take design into account in their work, can expect higher returns from employees, according to new research published by UK nonprofit Design Council.

“For those who invest in and use design strategically (though don’t necessarily have a large proportion of designers in their workforce), the average output per employee is greater,” the Oct. 22 Design Economy report states. To calculate the added value of design to business, Design Council looked at 300 ”design-active firms” working across different sectors and compared their productivity with companies working in the same sectors that do not invest in design solutions at all.

Unlike previous reports that only accounted for designers working in “design-specific industries”—say, making Rolls Royce cars, Dyson vacuum cleaners, BAE Systems military planes, or blockbuster video games like Monument Valley or Grand Theft Auto—the Design Council has taken a more expansive look at the design roles across industries. This includes civil engineers working to create efficient urban environments or web designers building a retail company’s site, for example.

According to the report, workers with a design component to their tasks were also 41% more productive than the national average, at least in terms of value produced: Design workers contributed an average £47,400 each (about $72,640) to the UK economy in 2013, while workers across all other sectors averaged an output of £33,600.

Other key findings include:

Design is a growing industry. “In the period between 2009–2013, the design economy GVA increased by 27.9%, compared to 18.1% across the UK economy as a whole,” explains the report. (GVA, or “gross value added” quantifies the contribution of each individual producer, industry or sector.)

The world loves British-designed goods. In 2013, the total value of exports “where design had made a key contribution” was £34bn, or 7.3% of total UK exports, says the Design Council.

Design is lucrative. According to the report, the British design sector generated £71.7 billion, or 7.2% of the UK’s total GVA in 2013. The design sector’s economic contribution is significant, considering that the country’s large financial services sector, accounted for 8.5% GVA that same year.

Design Economy is the most comprehensive survey of the British design industry that the Design Council has undertaken. Its data spans from 2008 to 2014, and was conducted in collaboration with the consultancy Trends Business Research. A majority of the data came from the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

The UK has the largest design sector in Europe. However, it lags behind Hong Kong, Switzerland, Italy and Germany in terms of total value of design exports in the world. The UK also trails behind South Korea and Australia for number of design patents registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization.