UK needs a Design Strategy says CBI Head of Enterprise and Innovation
Speaking earlier in December at a Design Council Debate Dr Tim Bradshaw, Head of Enterprise and Innovation at the CBI strongly supported the need for a national design strategy.
"With economic growth stalling, the public deficit at 7.9% of GDP and debt at 84% of GDP and growing the UK needs a design strategy that is active and ambitious, setting a clear direction of travel; developing our competitive advantage both across all areas of government and in terms of all of its interactions with the public and wider economy."
Music to my ears was Dr Bradshaw's emphasis on the need to break the link, either explicitly or implicitly equating design with just the so-called 'creative industries'.
"Design is essential in all areas of policy & regulatory development, in all areas of service delivery, in business operations, in processes, product development and, increasingly, in changing behaviours... something that needs to be at the heart of thinking when tackling pressing issues such as climate change and obesity," said Dr. Bradshaw.
Within government he was pleased that design was 'on the radar' with the government's 'Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth', focussing on design, not as a stand-alone silo, but as part of essential innovation systems reaching across borders, institutions, sectors, processes and public organisations.
The report, published last week, stated, "The UK innovation system has distinctive characteristics that are actual or potential sources of competitive advantages. These include (1) a genuinely world-leading science base and information infrastructure, (2) a major financial sector that can be better directed to support firm growth, (3) a strong supply of high-level skills and access to globally mobile skills, and (4) strong business performance in the creation of intangible assets. The government has a strategic role to play in order to build on these assets and leverage the innovative potential of the economy."
Stressing four priority areas for innovation policy the report recognised:
1) the need to strengthen the sharing and dissemination of knowledge within the innovation system;
2) that innovation performance increasingly rests on creating and using a more coherent research and innovation infrastructure;
3) the importance of driving business innovation in all sectors of the economy, in high-tech but also in our large service sector, and in low and medium-tech activities;
4) the potential for transforming the public sector into a major driver of innovation.
However, in spite of this Dr Bradshaw was of the view that we still have a long way to go before design is embedded in thinking as the norm right across government, stating that a proper design strategy could help move things in that direction.
He added, "If you look at the government's Plan for Growth that came out with the Budget, for instance, design barely features in any meaningful way - and that is despite having a whole section on the digital and creative industries."
He was encouraged that design was mentioned a couple of times in the Autumn Statement, referring to the design of procurement systems, but could see no reason why design should not feature in all areas of government policy whether, for example, in tackling bovine TB, education policy or the MoD.
"The government currently spends around £1/4 trillion a year on goods and services," he said. "Making wider use of design principles and thinking could see it delivering more effective outcomes, more efficiently.
"Ultimately this approach could allow the government to do more with less and have a better chance of tackling the deficit."
In business dealings Dr Bradshaw illustrated the ways in which a design strategy would help to raise the profile of design, setting out the UK's vision and ambitions to stimulate investment as part of a strategy for economic growth.
"Mid-sized businesses, for example, are being hailed by everyone as the unsung heroes and the future champions of growth - BUT... only 62.5% of UK mid-sized firms describe themselves as innovating, compared with 84% in Germany and 67% in France."
Dr Bradshaw sought to highlight the need to increase the rate and pace of innovation across more businesses if we were to compete effectively internationally, improve our balance of trade in goods and services, attract more inward investment and create more high value jobs.
In support of this he stated, "emphasising design, rather than R&D or innovation is the way forward. We know from NESTA's innovation index work that innovative firms spend something like 40% more on design than they do on R&D. The innovation survey shows how design is significantly more important for novel innovators.
"So if we can make more of our strengths in design," he stated, "spreading this to more companies and into more areas of their operations then we will be in a much better position to export, attract investment and grow."
He concluded with some further interesting statistics - namely that China has been growing the equivalent of the Greek economy (in good times...) every 4 months and that the BRIC countries in aggregate are growing by the equivalent of the Italian economy every year - Italy being the world's 8th largest economy.
"If we had a coherent cross-government design strategy that helped us make real headway into markets such as these, with new products and service offerings (perhaps developed as a result of government being an intelligent customer for good designs and new ideas through public procurement) and a design strategy that helped to tackle the budget deficit and debt with a different approach to public services then I think we would confidently be able to see light at the end of the tunnel."
Beverley Nielsen is Director Employer Engagement at Birmingham City University