An overview of the Visual Communication Sector in Ireland

Comprehensive research into the Visual Communication (Graphic Design) sector in Ireland has been undertaken in order to determine the number of design practices currently in Ireland, their location and make up.

For the purposes of this research, practices may include Limited Companies, Partnerships, Registered Business Names and self-employed Sole Traders (some of which may be freelancing with design practices some may be working directly with clients). As sole traders are not required to register as business (until they reach certain criteria), it therefore may be difficult to fully identify all sole trader designers engaging in Freelance activity.

Data has been gathered from a number of sources, including 100 Archive, Central Statistics Office, Creative Ireland, Design Business Ireland, ICAD, IDI and Media Street. Once collated, duplicates (companies or sole traders) were removed from the list. This information was then cross-referenced with the Companies Registration Office, IEDR and SoloCheck to determine the make-up of the sector in terms of company types, location and ages of the businesses.

Companies that are/were in liquidation or have closed were removed from the list, leaving a total of 394 practices, made up of limited companies, partnerships, business names or sole traders currently engaging the the design business in Ireland. This data was then be matched against County and Dublin city postal districts to give a picture of where Visual Communication Design practices are, and how many and which type of practice exist.

Key findings are:

  • Greatest number of design practices are in Dublin city or county, accounting for 55% of all design practices in Ireland
  • Highest density of practices are in Dublin 2 area
  • Galway & Cork represent 12% of practices in Ireland
  • 63 new design practices formed between 2011–2014
  • 38% of practices are Limited Companies
  • A quarter of those engaging in the sector are Sole Traders which are not registered business names
  • Q1 2014 saw spike in new design business registrations with 4.5% of practices being formed
  • The average age of a design practice in Ireland is 10 years
  • 21% of practices are considered to be Start-ups a they have being trading for 3 or less years
  • 70% of Limited Companies or Partnerships in the sector have at least 1 female director
  • All but 1 practice identified would be considered as a Small Business based on turnover volume

It is reasonable to assume, as in other countries, the design services sector would concentrate round large urban areas or capital cities. Ireland is no different in that regard.

The figures suggest a significant proportion of limited companies or partnerships with at least 1 female director. However, there is seems to be an anomaly here, as this does not necessarily translate into a high proportion female led design practices in the sector. Design can be a risky business for the design entrepreneur. Design practices may incur significant third party costs as part of any client assignment. These costs, outside design fees, may include costs of purchasing printing, photography, production, media buying & copy writing and may account for a substantial part of any design budget. In the event of client bad debts, a sole trader would be personally liable for debts incurred, as in this case, there is no distinction between the natural person and the business activity undertaken. Therefore, this may suggest that some practitioners may be incorporation as limited status through the use of a spouse in order to circumvent personal liability issues.

With a intensity of new practices being formed at the start of 2014, it begs the question, is the design industry seeing an up turn in new practice formations as the economy improves and a greater demand for design services? Or, are these practices being formed as entrepreneurship through necessity? For example, a cohort of practitioners who may have been made redundant during the recession, unable to find re-employment in design practices could be forming their own design businesses.

The Visual Communications sector both in Ireland and internationally is small and is typically made up of micro or nano enterprises (business with 10 or less staff). Around 90% of the sector in Ireland is made up of such business. Here, the sector in acutely small, with less than 0.25% of all employees in Ireland being employed in the design sector.

Specifically not included in this research are Advertising Agencies, Web Development Agencies and In-House Design Facilities such as those in Marketing Agencies, Public Relations Agencies, Printers or other Companies that may employ designers. This research is focused specifically on Visual Communication Design practices.

About the Author:
Con Kennedy is design consultant and a design educator with over twenty years experience with leading Irish agencies. Con has worked with many high profile clients including the National Development Plan, Buy4Now, GreenStar, Special Olympics Ireland, Musgrave Foodservices and EBS Building Society. Con has been featured in Work for Money, Design for Love, Creative Review, Graphic Design USA, Page, and Logolounge.

Con has a Masters Degree in Professional Design Practice from Dublin Institute of Technology. He has given workshops on branding and the design process.

Con is currently pursuing a PhD in the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Marketing and is researching entrepreneurship models in design and in particular how Lean Start-Up applies to practices in the Visual Communications sector.

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