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Designing a future economy: Developing design skills for productivity and innovation

The pace of development in the digital, biological and technological worlds is changing and disrupting the way we work and live. From 3D printed buildings, to self-driving taxis, to vertical farming, every part of the UK economy will be affected by this ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Tomorrow’s innovative companies and organisations rely on people who can marry subject expertise with skills and knowledge from outside their individual specialisms, and who approach projects with creativity. In short, the companies leading this industrial revolution need design skills. Modern design is no longer confined to particular sectors or occupations. The skills, principles and practices of design are now widely used across the economy, from banking to retail. Designers, too, have always drawn on a range of different skills, tools and technologies to deliver new ideas, goods and services. This is what makes design unique, and is how it makes products, services and systems more useful, usable and desirable in advanced economies around the world.This unique research examines the skills that differentiate design from other sectors in the UK economy. It builds on our 2015 Design Economy study, which presented the first comprehensive analysis of the value that design adds to the UK economy. The design economy refers to the value created by those employed in design roles across a variety of industries – from design-intensive sectors, such as animation or graphics, to those working in sectors not always directly associated with design, such as automotive or aerospace companies. This is an unprecedented study which combines UK and US data to investigate the relationship between design skills and economic outcomes, focusing explicitly on productivity and innovation. It finds that where design skills are used, they contribute significantly to the wealth of the nation, greater productivity and more innovation. But it also provides a stark warning about the potential impact of underinvesting in these skills, and the need to better prepare for the economic, technological and political changes ahead.