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How much is design worth to New Zealand? Try $10b

Can you put a price on design? A new report has done just that – and claims it’s worth more than $10 billion per year, making it bigger than agriculture.

The Value of Design report, which looks at design’s economic contribution to New Zealand’s economy, was released last week. The report claims design contributed $10.1 billion to New Zealand’s GDP (approximately 4.2 percent overall) last year.

The study was done by PwC and commissioned by DesignCo, a consortium which comprises Massey University’s College of Creative Arts, the Designers Institute of New Zealand, Otago Polytechnic School of Design, NZTE, AUT’s School of Art and Design, the Auckland Co-design Lab, Callaghan Innovation and Victoria University’s School of Design.

Finance Minister Stephen Joyce couldn’t stop crowing about the report. “Design is a powerful tool of the modern, interconnected world,” he said. “It is a key component of innovation, turning great ideas into services and products that consumers want to buy and use, it can help ensure that public services are user-friendly and more efficient, and it can help make cities more attractive places for citizens and skilled migrants to live and work. In short, these design-led firms are contributing to New Zealand’s success as a diversified, resilient and growing economy.”

Professor Claire Robinson, Pro Vice Chancellor at Massey's College of Creative Arts and convener of DesignCo, said something similar. “There is a strong correlation between national prosperity, economic growth and a thriving design sector,” she said. “International evidence confirms that design leads to more competitive firms making and selling higher value products and services. The research reveals that if design were treated as an individual industry its contribution to the New Zealand economy would be larger than agriculture and on a par with retail trade ($10.6 billion), and food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing. The sector also provides approximately 94,200 FTE design positions in New Zealand, roughly 4.4 per cent of employment.”

The report showed design in Wellington contributed $1.5 billion to Aotearoa’s economy, while Auckland poured in $3.7 billion. But it was the rest of the country where most of the money came from, with about $4.9 billion.

Callaghan Innovation’s group manager for national technology networks, Jesse Keith, said: “New Zealand’s distance from the rest of the world, and the need to create highly scalable product solutions for a diverse foreign end-user, means we must continue to embrace design research, to capture customer insights and to translate those insights into real market opportunities.”

Ludo Campbell-Reid, GM of the Auckland Design Office and Design Champion for Auckland said: “There is a global movement that is centred on cities that are transforming themselves through people centred urban design. Think Melbourne, Vancouver, London, Barcelona, Bilbao, Portland, Seattle, Helsinki and Copenhagen. Each of these cities has pursued a deliberate programme of economic revitalisation and urban renewal based around design led thinking. Great design is all about the value add: good for the environment, good for business, good for attracting talent and critical for social cohesiveness.

“Good design really matters. Well-designed schools discourage truancy, well designed hospitals help patients recover their spirits more quickly and well-designed cities are safer, more productive, more competitive and more sustainable. Without it quite the opposite occurs and we need to make sure that the public and key decision-makers are fully aware about the positive impact that design can have,” he says. 

Among DesignCo’s recommendations for future actions are:

  • Treasury to develop a national design strategy in collaboration with the New Zealand design sector.
  • Establish and fund a body similar to the UK Design Council responsible for the strategic coordination of design in New Zealand, bringing together the design industry, research and education.
  • Establish a programme of business support for the use of design by SMEs, similar to the NZTE Better by Design programme.
  • Increase targeted funding support for design-led service transformation in the public sector.
  • Widen the current conceptualisation of STEM to include creative arts subjects such as design and creative media production, and increase the EFTS funding for these subject areas.
  • Establish a dedicated research fund for design researchers to access, and infrastructure to support the allocation of funds (separate from science, health or arts funding).