Can the Irish Government Really Deliver on 1800 New Jobs in the Design Sector in 2015?

Con Kennedy
Mar 23, 2015 · 6 min read

With 2015 being designated as Year of Irish Design (ID2015) by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland in conjunction with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Enterprise Ireland, 2015 looks very promising for the Irish design sector.

An ambitious plan has been set out by those involved in this multidisciplinary iniative, including the creation of 1800 additional jobs in design and related sectors and the formation of 200 new design led businesses. ID2015 is part of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs. The creation of new opportunities will be certainly welcomed by the beleaguered creative industries, who, during the collapse of the economy saw budgets and turnover slashed, many job losses and company closures. Design companies are still struggling despite the supposed green shoots we hear so much about.

But what is the current state of the design industry in Ireland? Looking in detail at one sector of design, Visual Communication Design (Graphic Design), the sector in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, accounts for the largest part of the design industry. Generally, representing around 70% of the turnover and employment within the design sector as a whole, and is therefore a good benchmark to assess the overall performance of the design industry.

The sector both in Ireland and internationally is generally made up of micro or nano enterprises. That is, business with 10 or less staff. Around 90% of the sector in Ireland is made up of such business. A typical Irish design practice has around 7 members of staff.

Size of Design Firms by number of Employees

Source: Intertrade Ireland (2009) A Study of the Design Services Sector on the Island of Ireland.

Although the design sector in any given economy is relatively small, the Irish sector is acutely small, especially when we compare it to our European neighbors. The Visual Communication sector in the UK outperforms us by a factor of 6.3 times, in Germany 6.1 times and In the USA, 10.4 times. It is easy to say that these are larger countries with larger economies than Ireland, and this is true, but figures here account for the number of Visual Communication Designers as a percentage of total number of employees in the workforce when compared with the a ratio of industry turnover. Even Finland and Sweden, considering they have significantly less designers than us, out performs Ireland by a factor of 1.4 and 1.6 times respectively. Here the Visual Communications sector generates around €465m annually. In the UK sector annual turnover is €8.9bn, but with 3 times as many designers as the Irish sector.

Sector Turnover Comparison Expressed as Proportion of Designers as Percentage of Overall Workforce

In Ireland, there are 394 identified Visual Communication practices. The industry is made up of Limited Companies (38%), Partnerships (3.5%), Registered Business Names (33.5%) and Sole Traders/Freelancers (25%). Looking in detail at the Irish sector we find a very Dublin-centric industry, with 55% of business being in the capital. The largest concentration of design business are in the city center in Dublin 2. Outside the capital, Cork and Galway account for 12% of the practices. This is a similar pattern that can be seen globally, with the service industry being concentrated around capitals or large urban areas. Specifically not included in here are creative business such as Advertising Agencies, Web Development Agencies and In-House Design Facilities such as those in Marketing Agencies, Public Relations Agencies or other non-design companies with in-house design facilities.

Visual Communication Design Practices Breakdown by Company Type

Interestingly, the Irish Visual Communications sector is currently strong with start-up businesses, with 21% of practices trading for 3 or less years — so with a fifth of the industry being essentially newly formed businesses, are we seeing a rebooting of an industry that was decimated in the recent recession or are we seeing a cohort of practices being formed through entrepreneurship of necessity?

Between 2011–2014 there were 63 new design practices formed, that accounts for 16% of the industry and Q1 2014 saw spike in new design business registrations, with 4.5% of practices being formed between January and April.

Visual Communication Design Practices by Age

Government initiatives in relation to ID2015 are around the creation of jobs and new business in the design industry. But during the decade of the Celtic Tiger, the Visual Communications sector here grew by just 12% in terms of value and employee numbers. Where at the same time, the services sector grew by over 100%. And we aim to create an almost 30% increases in practices and employee numbers in 12 months?

Number of Employees in Visual Communication Design Estimated Growth Vs Actual Growth

Adapted from: Enterprise Ireland (1999) Opportunities in Design, Intertrade Ireland (2009) A Study of the Design Services Sector on the Island of Ireland and Central Statistics Office (2012) Profile at Work3

With Minister Bruton seeking to create 1800 additional jobs and 200 new start-ups as part of ID2015 is this really feasible? Probably not, considering we couldn’t achieve a significant level of job creation organically during the heady days of boom times. In Celtic Tiger decade we could only achieve the growth of around 1800 jobs at a time where we had unprecedented economic growth, suggesting that the Government’s goal of 1800 new jobs in a year is at best over ambitious, and at worst, hopelessly naive.

However, what ID2015 will certainly do is to create a greater awareness of design and the value that it can bring to Irish Business and society. The legacy of ID2015 will live beyond a simple calendar year and it will contribute to the culture and discourse for many years to come. This year will certainly raise awareness of Irish design not only here, but internationally and perhaps finally, we may see true governmental support for the Industry here, like we’ve seen elsewhere in Europe.

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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