Creating our own future by design

IN THE UK, the creative industry is worth £71bn (€88.6bn) annually, accounts for 1.68m jobs and generates £8m hourly for the economy, the same as Britain’s financial industry.

Research shows that every £1 invested in design generates over £20 in increased revenues and a £4 increase in net operating profit.

In the US, creative credentials are becoming as valued as business qualifications, with a master’s in fine arts dubbed “the new MBA”. Top companies are competing to hire creative graduates because they recognise how much value they can add to their business. Many leading venture capitalist firms have a designated design partner, while, in Silicon Valley, design is a vital aspect in determining the future success of a new tech product.

In Ireland, one major challenge is that design is not widely understood in the same way as it is in leading global economies. Companies here have historically tended to bring designers in at the very end of their development cycle — to make the final product look nice. There has been little recognition of the huge value that can be added by having designers involved from the start.

This overlooks the key role being played by Irish designers on the international stage. Last week, some of the best designers in the world spoke at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), and they are all Irish.

Lorna Ross — a fashion and textiles graduate of NCAD — is director of design at the US-based Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s leading medical institutions. Paul Adams — another NCAD graduate; in industrial design — played a key role in creating Google+ and redesigning Facebook. He left the US to return to Ireland recently, and is now head of product design at Intercom, a high-growth start-up.

Lorna and Paul are not alone. I’ve worked across Europe, North America and the Far East, and met talented Irish designers working in the creative industries everywhere.

At NCAD, we know our alumni are also driving growth and innovation in sectors from aviation to telecommunications, energy, retail and tech, with such internationally-renowned companies as the Lego Group, Microsoft, Ryanair, Tesco and O2.

Ireland has arguably not yet realised just how important — and valuable — our creative industry is.

Thankfully, there are signs that things are looking up for Ireland. In recent years, more and more of our graduates have chosen to stay here.

The fact that Paul Adams returned home to work in an Irish start-up is positive. So too is the fact that Irish design companies like Zero-G and Perch are competing — and winning business — internationally.

The Government has designated 2015 as the Year of Irish Design.

The year has the potential to act as a catalyst for significant and transformational change for our country’s future. High-profile events and activities, both at home and abroad, will position Ireland at the heart of a design-focused, forward-thinking, creative international economy. The Year of Design programme is being devised in order to encourage more people, businesses and organisations to invest in design and design skills, and to promote Ireland’s talents and reputation internationally as part of our academic, enterprise and innovation culture.

Creative qualifications are highly sought-after by the best global companies because creative graduates are able to think independently and critically; work well as part of a team; multi-task; and generate new ideas.

In Ireland, we have the talent to develop a world-class creative industry. Let us use the Year of Irish Design as an opportunity to firmly place design — and the role it can play in driving our economy and society forward — on the public and political agenda.

* Prof Alex Milton is head of design at NCAD, and was recently appointed programme director of the 2015 Year of Irish Design. NCAD held an innovation day featuring keynote addresses and panel discussions involving leading Irish designers. Further information about NCAD at


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