More than half (54 per cent) of UK businesses are planning to use design to help them survive the economic downturn, according to new research published by the Design Council. Its National Survey of Firms 2008 reveals that, far from retreating to safety and resorting to cutting costs, increasing numbers of firms are using design as a powerful tool to help combat the toughest economic conditions in decades.
The survey also showed that the number of firms who regarded design as integral to their operations had doubled in the past three years, from 15 to 30 per cent.
The Design Council research, which covered 1,500 UK firms of all sizes and across all sectors, showed that design is fast rising up the business agenda. Over half (53 per cent) of the businesses surveyed said that design has become more critical in helping the firm achieve its business objectives over the past three years; and the same number agreed that design is integral to the whole country's future economic performance.
In response, the Design Council has created a new online resource to help businesses discover how design can help them in a downturn. It includes a free practical guide to finding and working with a designer, and case studies covering a host of small and large companies from different sectors who have bucked the recessionary trend through the strategic use of design.
Design Council Chief Executive David Kester said: "Recession is no time to be battening down the hatches. It's the moment when design becomes absolutely critical to survival, growth and success - and it's great to see that there's a growing recognition of this within the business community."
One such company is Castle Rock Brewery, which decided to cast off its homespun image with a modest £3,000 investment in redesigning its brand in a bid to compete in the competitive real ales market. This rapidly helped secure more distribution and sales contracts, so that a year down the line, demand is outstripping supply, sales volume has increased by 20% and barrel sales growth has doubled. Castle Rock Brewery Chairman Chris Holmes said: "A small investment in design has paid huge dividends for us. We now have a clearer focus and a brand that reflects the care and attention that has gone into our award-winning beers. I no longer regard design as a luxury, but as a competitive necessity."
The Design Council website also illustrates how design has previously been used by companies as a potent weapon to not just survive, but to thrive in the face of both sector-specific and general recessions. It includes examples from the 1970s and the 1980s as well as more recent success stories such a Net-a-Porter, the online fashion store which was launched during 2000 but bucked the dot com crash by extensively using design to build what is now a multi-million pound business.