Reasons to be cheerful
In the current climate it is all-too-easy to become pessimistic about the immediate future and every batch of newly published economic data seems to suggest that things are getting no better; quite the contrary.
The continuing Eurozone crisis has a potential to create even worse conditions for exporters to this important market.
Therefore there it is important to focus on the things that provide hope for the future.
One reason for being remain optimistic is the creative talent and innovative thinking of British designers in all areas of business; most particularly the manufacturing sector.
There is no doubt that British manufacturing has suffered a phenomenal decline in the last three decades. In 1980 it provided 6.3 million jobs (almost a quarter of the workforce).
It now accounts for 2.3million which means that in thirty years it has shrunk by over 60% and now accounts for only 7.5% of the workforce.
No-one envisages that British manufacturing will ever return to its former glory and create the jobs that were lost. As we know only too well in the Midlands, what can be done here can just as easily be achieved elsewhere, particularly in countries such as China, where costs of production are significantly lower.
Where there is hope for future job growth are in the areas where there is a high degree of value-adding, in developing innovation and creativity through design of the product and the way that it is offered to the customer.
What is interesting is that British goods are increasingly attractive to overseas markets quite precisely because of the perception that they have qualities that are quintessentially characteristic of this nation; quirkiness and classiness.
As always, the British car manufacturing industry is a good case in point. What Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley produce, are seen as being world class because the 'build quality' is now as good as any car produced in the world (thanks to lessons learned from Japan), but also because they are seen as stylist and consistent with luxury.
Unsurprisingly, Far Eastern markets provide the best opportunity for growth by increasing exports of luxury vehicles. In 2011 China overtook the United States as the largest market for Rolls-Royce. Indeed, demand for its Phantom Dragon was so great that it sold out within two months; despite the fact that it costs over three quarters of a million pounds.
This has led Tim Bradshaw, who is the head of industrial policy and innovation at the CBI to remark that such products will assist in recovery:
"At the moment sales of higher-end cars to China are worth about £2bn a year, but at the current rate of growth that could be up to £8-9bn by 2020. So just on cars to China alone we could eliminate a quarter of our trade deficit."
Innovativeness and excellence are now perceived to be imbued in the expertise used in British products and processes such aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics production which make them attractive to overseas buyers.
Who would have believed that this would be possible in the dark days of the 1970s?
Clearly Chancellor, George Osborne clarion call for British manufacturers to assist in recovery by being part of the "march of the makers" has substance.
It begs the question of what more can British designers do to make their products even more attractive.
The 2012 Design Summit which took place last week in London brought together a plethora of leading designers and business leaders during which the question, 'Who do we think we are in 2012?, was considered and debated.
Crucially, those attending were interested in exploring how British design excellence can be encouraged to be applied more widely in products and services in pursuit of economic growth.
It may be something of a surprise to some that, in terms of output and employment, the so-called 'creative industries' are almost as big as manufacturing; contributing 6% of GDP and providing jobs for two million people.
But there is a belief among many commentators that design excellence is too understated. Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of the ad agency Karmarama, says that we fail to recognise the contribution of British designers.
Mendelsohn specifically cites the fact that whilst people will almost always immediately associate Apple's products such as the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, iPod, iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad with Steve Jobs, they are much less likely to realise that the sparse elegance and radical curvature of these products is because of the influence of designer Sir Jonathan Ive who is British.
As she argues, the problem in this country is that there is not enough celebration of the things that we are good at; especially design.
Many at the summit argued that too many companies take the view that design is subsidiary to the important things such as finance and legal considerations. The designer Sebastian Conran who presented at the Design Summit made his views forthright:
"There's often a cynical approach to design, plonking it on the end of the process with a focus on making things pretty. The companies that incorporate design into the start of a product, alongside marketing and engineering, they're the ones who flourish."
He agrees with Mendelsohn's view that Apple has shown what is possible through adventurous design. Additionally, he believes that retailers have an important role to play in achieving a more design-led culture:
"You show retailers the next big thing and they run a mile. Britain's retailers could be a lot more supportive to new designs, and not just buy copies from China and obsess over finding the cheapest things to maximise their margins."
The former RIBA President, architect Sunand Prasad, warned that savings on design for the sake of short-term expediency is mistaken. Rather, he contends, design may be a key component of assisting Britain's economic recovery:
"Well-designed infrastructure is a crucial investment for the long term to boost the economy. And a design-aware public will nurture better designers who go around the world and become a great British export."
In doing a bit of reading in this I came across a couple of great examples where creative thinking in terms of rebranding has given two companies discernible benefits.
The first is a Worcestershire that specialises in transport and haulage, White Logistics. Managing director Judith Stacey recognised that the company needed to make itself better known. This was achieved through a £40,000 design revamp that involved a new logo and slogan - "Problem? Solved!" - and the painting of brainteasers on the back of its vehicles for drivers stuck behind in traffic to solve.
As Ms. Stacey acknowledges, there have been a definite payoff that has resulted in an additional £500,000 worth of new business:
"Many companies who'd been wavering [over contracts] signed up after the re-branding. The new look gave them greater confidence in our ability."
The other example is that of London-based Pearson Bikes, a specialist cycling company going since 1860. Current owner Guy Pearson, a grandson of the founder, was aware that his company lacked identity.
He realised that in the internet age Pearson Bikes needed something special to attract customers who might be tempted by alternatives offered by the cheaper high street chains.
Pearson contacted Timothy Everest, a Savile Row tailor (who happened to be a cycling enthusiast) who assisted in a rebranding of Pearson's bikes that emphasises the fact that they are made with quality British-made fittings.
As Pearson explains, in an increasingly competitive and crowded market for bikes, it takes something to ensure distinctiveness:
"So we put our new logo on to the bikes, and gave them racehorse-like names, reflecting the Britishness of our brand - so a touring bike is called I May Be Some Time and a race bike called Mine Goes to up to Eleven, after Spinal Tap."
Like White Logistics, there has been a definite benefit for Pearson's company; sales up almost 20 per cent this year so far, especially in Japan.
Timothy Everest has also experienced an increase in demand for his services. As he believes, there is an increasing realisation of the importance of ensuring that British goods emphasise their British qualities:
"There's a focus on all things British - it started with the Royal Wedding - we're on a wave of popularity and British design can help turn around the country's economy."
Professor John Kay of the London Business School advocates the value of using heritage and British values in developing sales in emerging markets.
For too long, he argues, there has been an obsession with attempting to deal with the threat of cheaper imports by trying to simply cut costs; including using design to create uniqueness.
Kay believes that wealthy buyers from emerging economies put high value in products that have a strong sense of British quality in their design. He points out that high quality shops in London are currently doing really well on the basis great of overseas buyers who flock to purchase clothes, accessories and furniture made in Britain.
At the summit he also stressed the importance for companies to appreciate incorporating better design:
"There's a manufacturing fetishism in this country, all talk of rebalancing the economy involves this idea that only physically making things provides a real economic push. That's rubbish. Look at Apple. Its products aren't particularly innovative, they are not at the cutting edge of technological possibility - what makes them effective is their simple design and ease of use. The prosperity of western economies doesn't rest on making physical objects, but on the value that can be added to them."
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, also speaking at the Design Summit, emphasised the importance of creativity through design in assisting Britain's economic recovery:
"We should be proud of how our creative industries have meshed with technology and engineering to produce products that Britain and the rest of the world wants to buy. British designers from Brunel and Burners-Lee to James Dyson and Vivienne Westwood have been admired around the world for generations. They have all contributed, not only to Britain's reputation as an innovative nation, but also to our economic growth."
So, it seems, there is good reason for optimism. It is worth remembering that even though our manufacturing base of approximately 10% of China's, this country is still the world's ninth largest.
There will be no return to the 'traditional' metal-bashing industries of yesteryear. Instead the focus will be on the continuing development of hi-value goods that require innovation and creativity.
In a recent speech Lord Browne made the point that in order to attract the brightest people into engineering, there is an urgent need to make it more exciting. That economic 'powerhouse' of Europe, Germany, has shown what is possible.
We need to follow Germany's example.
By encouraging creativity and innovative thinking through education and training of employees, British companies will continue to be the seen to be the vanguard of excellence and to be the purchase of choice both in this country and, of course, in the emerging markets that will be crucial to recovery through exports.
Let's remember that the influence of British designers continues to ensure that our products and services are usually seen as being innovative and excellent, sometimes quirky or funky and, let's be honest, often simply brilliant.
Whilst the economy may not look too great at the moment, when we consider what our best creative thinkers are currently helping to achieve, there are indeed, to quote from one of the singles by the late new-wave artist Ian Dury, reasons to be cheerful.