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Research highlights the need for good designers

25th March 2010

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Industry leaders join national debate amongst designers taking place tomorrow  (Friday 26 March) to discuss implications for the industry.

The first national survey of the UK design industry since 2005, released by the Design Council, shows an industry in growth, increasingly comprising freelances and micro businesses.

The design sector has grown over the last five years despite the recession, according to the figures, with numbers of designers increasing by 29% to 232,000 and combined fee incomes of freelances and design consultancies and budgets of in-house design teams increasing by £3.4bn to £15bn.

The Design Council’s research also shows that the design industry is increasingly fragmenting with more independent freelancers and micro businesses. There are now 65,900 freelances, 39% more than in 2005, with total freelance fee income growing by 22% over the same period. And whilst there are 35% more designers working in design consultancies than in 2005 – bringing the total to 82,500 – the total number of consultancies has declined by 13% to an estimated 10,800. Despite budget cuts, in-house design teams are being retained. Collectively in-house design team budgets are down 34% since 2005, but the number of in-house design teams in the UK has increased by 10% to 6,500 suggesting that employers are holding on to creative employees despite downward pressure on budgets.

The Design Council has organised a national debate with leading industry figures to discuss the important issues which the survey raises around the composition of the industry. The debate will be webcast live from Royal Society of Art in London from 9.30am to 11.00am on Friday 26th March.

Designers who would like to attend the event are asked to register by emailing: info@designcouncil.org.uk.

During the debate designers at the event and watching online will be able to comment, pose questions and vote online on three motions:

  1. Recessions are good news in disguise for designers
  2. Networks are fine but they won’t keep me in business
  3. Tighter finances mean more on the job learning and that’s a good thing

Digital design specialist Simon Waterfall is the compere for the debate and the pairs of speakers debating the motions are celebrated product and furniture designer Tom Dixon and creative industries number cruncher Mandy Merron (speaking on ‘Recessions are good news in disguise for designers’); design business advisor Shan Preddy and retail design specialist Callum Lumsden (speaking on ‘Networks are fine but they won’t keep me in business’); and graphics grandees Mike Dempsey and Brian Webb (speaking on ‘Tighter finances mean more on the job learning and that’s a good thing’)

The survey was conducted by the Design Council in autumn 2009 and is the second comprehensive analysis of the UK design industry. The survey examines design consultancies, in-house design teams and freelances working in communications design, digital and multimedia design, interior and exhibition design, product and industrial design, fashion design and service design. As such it provides a fascinating analysis of how UK design is evolving and a profile of UK design in the 21st century. The results also show:

  • The South East region is home to one in six design businesses with London being home to almost one in four (23%)
  • Well over half (60%) of design consultancies employ fewer than five people and a further quarter (27%) have less than ten staff. In-house teams tend to be larger than consultancies, with over a third (37%) of them comprising five or more designers.
  • Many design businesses are relatively young: at least 29%, in every region or country of the UK having been in business for three years or less.
  • 55% of design consultancies have an annual fee income of between £100,000 and £500,000, 58% of freelances have an annual income of less than £50,000
  • There is still a lack of diversity in the industry, with the average designer being male, 38 years old and white.
  • Most designers are not members of national design bodies. Designers rarely join networks, but are most likely to be members of business organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses (14%) and the British Chamber of Commerce (12%). Beyond this, they are also more likely to have joined a regional design network or forum (9%) than a national design body.

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