Nesta report sets alarm bells ringing for design sector

The challenges for the design sector to achieve growth are greater than for other creative industries, after a marked decline in work output and exports. This is according to a policy briefing by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

The report comes as a number of creative entrepreneurs had the success of their start-up businesses recognised by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell at a recent Nesta event. However, the study, published at the same time, outlines the challenges the creative industries now face.

It looks at the importance of supporting businesses in the sector to identify and adopt new technologies, think through the related intellectual property implications and develop the collaborative networks that are fundamental to innovation.

According to Nesta senior policy analyst Hasan Bakhshi, no sector is more worthy of support than design. He says that this is due to statistics which show that output within the design sector has fallen dramatically, foreign exports have dropped by up to 40 per cent and employment remains fairly flat. He believes that this creates a situation which is more ‘alarming’ for design than for some other industries.

‘There is a concern with how the industry is doing. It is important that the design sector faces up to some of the challenges on the brief. The design sector stresses how design is a means to an end – it is not just about artistic innovation, it is about developing new designs for commercial use – but the [growth figures] are more alarming. There is a bit of a puzzle as to why, but this is an issue that needs to be faced up to,’ he adds.

Nesta is lending its support to the industry, starting with a £35 000 award to several entrepreneurs running small businesses to develop their ideas and receive ongoing mentoring and backing. This includes Rob Brown and Guy Robinson, founders of industrial design consultancy Sprout Design, for their sustainable business plan to start the company and launch environmentally friendly products, including a bin that helps people sort their recycling.

Other entrepreneurs recognised are Deborah Szebeko of Thinkpublic, a service design consultancy, and Bruno Frayling-Kelly of Ramba Studios, which created Primary Steps, an interactive game designed to help children learn to read. Sarah Johnson, founder of Redesign, attended the event following her achievements in the sector with regards to sustainability.

Nesta also plans to go further with the launch of a programme to help more established businesses in the sector achieve growth. Its report shows that the challenge is for design to exploit the opportunities presented by technological change and global markets.

The sector also needs to tackle the problems arising from low productivity growth and look at ways of ensuring that the benefits they produce reach out across the UK’s economy and society, according to Nesta.

‘Design can give a valuable input to the economy,’ Bakhshi adds. ‘Co-operation and collaboration [between consultancy and client] are critical to motivation in the industry. There needs to be more familiarity. There is a lot more we can do in terms of network and collaboration.’

• Account for about 8% of UK economy
• Must be supported with same degree of rigour as traditional sectors, says Nesta
• Nesta aids creative business entrepreneurs with ‘creative pioneer’ programme, to be extended to more established businesses

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