In our experience, scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs are too frequently unaware of the value of design to their work.

Design enables innovation. Evidence repeatedly shows that firms who invest in R&D, marketing and design are more likely to create change that leads to economic benefit. Organisations who commit to using design are much more likely to make other innovation investments as a result. Integrating design into the culture of an organisation helps to stimulate greater collaboration and is key to translating ideas into transformative products and services.

Design Council’s latest research Designing a Future Economy evidences how workers using design skills are more likely to be in innovation-intensive jobs, with 43% carrying out activities requiring creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for, and answers to, work-related problems, compared with the UK average of 6%. These workers contributed £209bn GVA to the UK economy in 2015, and are 47% more productive (equivalent to £10 extra per hour compared to the average UK worker).

The absence of innovation drivers at scale is one of the reasons the UK has such a low conversion rate of ideas to market.

Design Council has coached approximately 30% of the UK’s technology transfer offices and 5-10% of technology transfer practitioners.

However, entrepreneurs often find the journey from idea to commercialisation stalls after a concept has been developed, tested and initially seen as commercially viable. Obstacles can include failures to attract collaborative partners, investors or customers to fund further development. Often the reason for this lies in the failure to develop and communicate a benefitdriven proposition, based on evidence of market need.

Through the Industrial Strategy, the government can help to scale up the availability of design support and raise awareness of the benefits of design across the country. This requires strategic action at both a national level and the right alliances between different stakeholders at a local level. Design Council’s Spark Programme, a product-design accelerator start-up initiative, champions this by making a significant difference in offering support for skills development. The Spark Programme delivery team signposts and links businesses or entrepreneurs to the right type of design support in UK universities.

In addition, our Design Academy project links design expertise with the ‘real world’. A four-day course, Design Academy supports students from second to post-graduate year to foster greater collaboration between the faculty disciplines. Each year Design Academy works with a selection of design and business schools within UK universities, actively bridging a gap between design thinking skills needed in the market and practical, “real world design briefs”.

However, more needs to be done to scale up design support for business and students if the UK is to reap the full economic and growth benefit of applying design to the commercialisation process. In our experience, scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs are too frequently unaware of the value of design to their work. Our research shows that there is a clear call to action for UK universities to review curriculum development, and for government to build an environment where there is the same ability to commercialize design expertise as legal or financial.


Case Study by Design Council. This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.