Getting the Numbers Right

The Design Council’s recently published Design Economy report has shed valuable light on the impact and value of design in our economy. It’s also highlighted a key difficulty that faces the industry. Diversity.

By: Clare Howdle,   4 minutes

We speak to BOP consultant (and League of Strangers resident) Eleanor Jubb about her recent work as part of the report, why digging deep is invaluable and how the Design Council and businesses within the sector are leading the charge to redress the diversity balance…


Stranger Collective: The Design Economy report came out in June this year. What was the goal of it?

Eleanor Jubb: The Design Council want to demonstrate the value of design from a strategic and policy point of view, but also for those working within the design sector itself, to help present a business case for its importance. Design is tricky to measure because it sits in lots of different areas of the economy, but it also plays an instrumental role in productivity and innovation, so the Design Council wanted to explore the industry’s reach and impact.

SC: How on earth do you do that?

EJ: Well, my part of the project was to research and write up seven case studies of firms that use design, which included everything from in-house outfits like the Guardian to global agencies like Fjord or even startups like Monzo (a new kind of bank). Actually getting to go into these workplaces and meet people face to face, to have the opportunity to really get under the skin of these businesses was so beneficial as it really helped to reveal the myriad of ways organisations view and work with design, in all its forms, as well as the true challenges and opportunities they’re up against.

SC: Challenges like?

EJ: Diversity is a big one. It’s a real issue in the industry and something that stood out for me in this work. 63% of arts and design graduates are female, but 78% of designers are male. So it’s flipped. The industry is really aware there’s a discrepancy but I’m not sure anyone is aware it’s this significant. Reports like this will help draw attention to it and certainly, there are some great examples of firms genuinely trying to lead the charge and make space for women and black minority ethnic groups to come through the ranks. But it remains a massive area to address.

63% of arts and design graduates are female, but 78% of designers are male.  I’m not sure anyone is aware the discrepancy is this significant.

SC: And how do we go about doing that?

EJ: Well it’s a societal thing isn’t it, and not unique to design. Look at software, or engineering. And increasingly with the rise of the designer-coder there are overlaps around the challenges in the talent pipeline and how we’re educating our young people with gender roles and bias.

But aside from all that, I think it’s just about being able to talk about it. Having the Design Council highlight it in this way gives it credibility, it gives people the ammunition they need to be able to say, ‘let’s talk about this,’. It elevates the conversation from a focus on individual companies to ‘this is an industry wide problem or trend – what can we do about it?’.

We spoke to some really incredible people doing just that. Kate Moross for example, they are real leaders in this area, she really advocates increasing representation for non-binary and LGBTQI+ people across the arts and creative sector, with design being a part of that. And Fjord also, their narrative is around making space for women to come through, which we really had a chance to understand – by spending concentrated time with them.

SC: Is that standard to be able to go so indepth, on a project like this?

EJ: Not at all! We work in consultancy so it’s often constricted by deadline and resources. It’s very rare to be given the opportunity to really dive deep, and it’s to the credit of the Design Council that they recognised the need for that. They saw the benefit of us talking to a variety of people and hearing a variety of voices in any one business. Obviously the challenge with that is the quantity of material you emerge with. We worked closely with the professor of Contemporary Design Practices at the University of the Arts London Lucy Kimbell, who’s, a brilliant thinker. She helped us come up with a research framework that asked specific questions around understanding how people do design, understanding what capabilities people need and how that’s changing and understanding how we know about the impact. This gave the work structure and an ability to create internal consistency for each case study while still speaking to the broader themes.

SC: Can you see the value of this approach, in the final report?

EJ: Absolutely and it’s not just because I worked on them! The idea with the case studies was to bring the report to life, but also so that the design sector and the businesses within it can see themselves in the report, can see something they honestly recognise.

I hope most people in the sector can see themselves in some way and can see the challenges they face. If the work we’ve done on the report has achieved that and inspires one business to adapt and grow, I’ll be happy.


Photo by Eneida Hoti on Unsplash

Read the full Design Economy report

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