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What's Design's Value? In the UK, it's $109 Billion, Study Says

Researchers and urban planners constantly promote the creative economy as a valuable catalyst for community development. But how can you promote something if you don't understand it? In a first-of-its-kind study in the UK (and potentially the globe), the government-supported Design Council just broke down the economic impact of its design community. The exhaustive analysis of government data, The Design Economy Report, discovered the sector contributes £71.7 billion ($109 billion), equivalent to 7.2 percent of the gross value added to the UK economy (GVA is similar to gross domestic product, but only measures revenues). According to Annabella Coldrick, Director for Policy and Research at the Design Council, this data is especially significant because it took a more holistic look at the design economy than past studies, taking into account those working on the built environment, such as architects, as well as digital and game designers.

Coldrick says it was important to widen the net when looking at the country's creative economy, because past research focused on the graphic design and fashion industries viewed design as a service, without considering the work of industrial, digital and architectural designers. It's important to include these industries, she says, because of the wide-ranging planning and educational issues at play.

"We're hoping this information is used to inform education and look at the design skills that are needed for the future" she says. "Forty percent of the design economy is digital, the fastest-growing part of the design economy. It's also important to look at the geographic spread of design. We hope it can help inform the way the government creates design clusters."

Culled from occupational and tax data from the government—a process, Coldrick says, that could be replicated in other countries—the report also showcased a wider gender imbalance than researchers expected. Previous reports, which didn't have a more all-encompassing view of the definition of design, found employment skewed 60/40 male. With this new round of research pulling in data from a wider array of industries, the imbalance widened to 80/20.

"We found that hiring is reasonably diverse in terms of race and disability, but it's the opposite for gender," she says. "It's a challenge for Britain; the fastest growing area of design is digital, and particularly for firms in London, they tend to recruit talent from around the world because we don't have enough people with the skills here and aren't encouraging girls to take these positions."

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