Designers hailed as Britain’s showpiece

The Design Council has lifted the lid on the financial clout of Britain’s design industry, revealing over 47,000 freelance and self-employed designers contribute to annual turnover of a massive £11.6 billion.

The sector, which now employs around 185,000 design professionals, is rapidly accelerating in its transition from traditional manufacturing into the digital age.

Twice as many designers now work in Digital and Multimedia sectors – over 29,000 – compared to those in Product and Industrial design - just over 14,000.

A further 38,000 firms work in Communication with even fewer in Service Design - around 2,200.

The newly published figures, released in the Council’s latest report Business of Design, reveal that men and the under-40s are the dominant breeds in today’s industry.

Meanwhile all designers, whether in-house, consultants, small firms or freelance professionals have experienced higher earnings within the last 12 months, buoying the industry into an optimistic mood over future income.

Small design consultancies, most of which employ no more than five people, predict the brightest outlook with over 60 per cent expecting a moderate or significant rise in earnings.

Moreover, even smaller operators, such as self-employed or freelance designers, were almost equally as expectant of better business, as 55 per cent forecast higher turnover.

In-house designers were however more cautious as just 29 per cent expected more money in the short term.

This supports the Council’s verdict that young stand-alone businesses with just a handful of designers are dominating the industry.

Exactly one in four of these small design firms have been trading less than three years; and just as six out of 10 predict higher profits in the future; six out of 10 will be sharing them with no more than four other designers.

According to sounds being made by Gordon Brown, there is more good news to come for British designers as the Chancellor is expected to reflect the industry findings into this year’s pre-Budget report.

“Design is not incidental to modern economies but integral; not a part of success but the heart of success; and not a sideshow but the centerpiece,” Mr Brown said, opening the London Design Festival last month.

While it remains unclear exactly the type of support the Chancellor will offer, there is likely to be a greater focus on developing the links between the design industry and business, such as small and mid-sized firms, as well as universities.

According to the Council, the help appears crucial for the design-rich sector, growing in income between 2004-05 in order to retain and improve upon its prosperity.

It found that although 90 per cent of design clients said they were completely or quite satisfied with graduates they hired direct from University, some firms expressed concern about the quality of new recruits.

“The quality and standards of graduates is falling year on year, with few exceptions,” said one designer, quoted in the report. “The onus is falling on design groups to educate graduates, which is both costly and unfair. Our efforts should be focussed on helping build careers, not educating them in the basics.”

Competition for young designers – regardless of being in-house or at small consultancies – is also fierce because just as 8,733 designers quit the industry last year, twice as many were recruited.

Further worries were expressed by the Council over the short-term nature of design contracts, with more at least half the owners of design consultancies having no plans to continue working beyond their current project.

Free creative pitching continues to divide the industry, given the 32 per cent of designers rating it as part of the business, compared to the surprise finding that 36 per cent of freelancers haven’t pitched at all during the last year.

Half of freelance designers and consultants do however agree that their number one rival is local or regional, whereas over a third of Product and Industrial designers fear international competition – compared to just one per cent of Exhibition and Interior designers.


7th October 2005

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