Call for more university research on impact of design

The need for further “university-led research” to track the contribution of design to UK businesses and the economy came up for debate at a forum organised by the Design Council last week.

March 18, 2012

The forum, titled Measuring the Impact of Design, was held on March 14 as part of a process to examine “what sort of university research will generate the best results for economic renewal and repay the investment from the taxpayer”.

Sir Adrian Smith, director general for knowledge and innovation at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said design had featured strongly in the government’s recent Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth.

This had also included a commitment that “the Design Council and Arts and Humanities Research Council work together on a programme of university-led research, to provide a more sophisticated understanding of the use and value of design”.

Such work, Sir Adrian argued, should help us “better understand the impact of investing in design” and “drive up demand for design in areas where traditionally there is low awareness and take-up”, while also providing the hard numerical evidence “to start informing the next Comprehensive Spending Review”.

James Moultrie, senior lecturer in design management at the University of Cambridge, described the development of an international design scoreboard to compare different national capabilities.

A series of case studies offered striking examples of the impact of good design: in increasing sales of consumer products such as soft drinks; “enhancing the healing environment” in hospitals for patients with dementia; and using architecture to promote sustainability and well-being.

This led into a debate on “whether better evidence on the impact of design will drive up demand”.

Former government economic adviser Vicky Pryce, who now works for FTI Consulting, argued that such evidence “would lead to more interest from business and the policy world”.

It might spur the government, for example, to pay far more attention to design issues in the National Health Service, to look again at what counts as “research and development” for the purposes of tax relief, and to take urgent action to support design education, she added.

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