13 November 2006
Undertaken by the Design Council
Undertaken by the Design Council

In 2005, the Design Council's research team was tasked with the challenge of carrying out a large scale survey of the UK design industry. The purpose of this research was to augment the understanding of the design sector, and to uncover some specific information on the profile and size of the UK design industry; the experience base and capabilities of the UK design workforce; and the challenges and issues the industry perceives themselves to be facing. The research was also aiming, if possible, to place an approximate value on the design industry to the UK economy.

The resulting publication, The Business of Design: Design industry research 2005, was launched in September 2005 and has since become a primary information resource on the UK design industry and is frequently featured in both UK and international press.

Indeed, the research revealed a number of key statistics:

-- 185,500 people work in design in the UK
-- There are 12,450 design consultancies employing 60,900 designers and 348,300 non-designers
-- There are 47,400 self-employed, freelance and non-employing designers
-- There are 77,100 in-house designers in 5,900 businesses with 100 or more employees

The research uncovered previously uncharted territory, including the realisation that the majority of UK design businesses have fewer than five employees, as well as a clearer picture of where design businesses are based. One of the more startling pieces of information is that more than half of the managers of design businesses that we spoke to have no plans for their business's continuation beyond their own involvement, pointing to a striking deficiency in succession planning.

Getting the data
Having not previously carried out research in this area, the Design Council's research team had free rein to devise a research methodology that would achieve both breadth and depth in its search for information on the design industry.

Canvasing a representative sample of UK design businesses was not an easy task. Essentially, there were two main sources for the research: the UK government's annual Labour Force Survey, and our own Design Industry Research survey, carried out for this project.

Labour Force Survey
Each year the government conducts a survey of 172 000 households in the UK, asking for employment, education and demographic details of the respondents in each. As a result, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) provides robust information on the UK workforce, including designers.

But, while the LFS provides the most reliable estimate of the number of designers, it also has an important limitation. The data does not include designers with supervisory responsibilities, such as design managers in in-house design teams or creative directors in design consultancies; these appear in managerial and directorial occupations where design cannot be separately identified.

We addressed this in the Design Industry Research, asking each respondent how many designers were employed in the business at various levels of seniority. To estimate the number of design managers and directors in the UK, we took the total number of design directors and managers identified by respondents and weighted this by the total number of designers from the LFS divided by the total number of designers from our survey.

For example, the figure of 185 500 designers in the UK is an amalgamation of LFS and Design industry research data. The Labour Force Survey 2003-04 found that 134 000 individuals said they worked in design. Our Design Industry Research found that there were an estimated 51 500 design directors and managers who are not included in the LFS figures.

Design Industry Research 2005
We conducted our survey in several stages:

First, we consulted other design organisations and opinion formers to understand what design disciplines should be included in the survey and which key issues we needed to investigate. Also, a desk research project was carried out to gather all prior information and research available on the UK design industry. This also helped shape our research methodology.

One of the key decisions taken at this stage was to base the survey on a definition of design businesses, which included freelance or self-employed designers, design consultancies and in-house design teams in non-design businesses. The survey did not include in-house design teams in non-design businesses with fewer than 100 employees, as it was thought unlikely that smaller businesses would employ any designers.

We also carried out a phase of qualitative research with design businesses, comprising focus groups across the UK and telephone interviews with rural or specialist design businesses. The objective here was to test some of the questions that would be incorporated in the quantitative survey, and to canvas for any further issues that UK design businesses face today.

These preparatory phases all constituted the build-up towards the full quantitative survey of UK design businesses, which included 2 433 design businesses across the UK. For these interviews to tell us what we would have found from a census of all design businesses in the UK, the data from the 2 433 interviews was weighted to reflect the distribution of design activity across the English regions and countries of the UK.

In all, the research took seven months to complete, and included a ten-week stage of telephone interviewing.

Using the data
The Business of Design was published in September 2005. The data overall has proved useful in several ways. For example, it has been used to inform several audiences on the size and value of the design industry. These audiences include the government's Cox Review on the value of design to the UK economy, and the Creative and Cultural Industries Sector Skills Council, which is the UK's Sector Skills Council for advertising, crafts, cultural heritage, design, music, performing, literary and visual arts.

The data has also given Design Council deeper knowledge of the issues and challenges facing a key audience sector. The work is sure to influence our Skills Campaign, which is working to build designers' business skills. In addition, the Design Business Association, Design Council's partner organisation in the research, will use the research findings to inform its offering to design businesses in terms of training sessions and other services.

To download The Business of Design, please visit:

About the Design Council
The Design Council, an Associate member of Icograda, enhances prosperity and well-being in the UK by demonstrating and promoting the vital role of design in a modern economy. This is done in a practical, hands-on way by running Design Campaigns in key areas of business and the public sector. These campaigns bring designers and managers together with consumers to improve the performance of organisations and deliver enhanced products and services.

Each Design Campaign is delivered over a limited period in partnership with relevant institutions and agencies to ensure that knowledge and ongoing activity are multiplied nationally. The Design Council's current campaigns are in the areas of Technology, Learning Environments and Design Skills.

The World Design Report - an IDA Pilot Project
During the 2005-2007 term, Icograda will lead the development of the World Design Report on behalf of the IDA (International Design Alliance). This pilot project will map the design sector in 12 countries to determine the contribution of the design economy and the level of strategic engagement of design as a developmental imperative at the governmental level. If you are interested in participating in the pilot project or supporting it, please contact Brenda Sanderson, Icograda Director, at