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The UK has the world’s second-largest design sector – and the largest in Europe. It employs 132,000 people across all design disciplines and contributes around £3.2bn to the UK economy every year.

It’s a multi-disciplinary sector, encompassing digital, graphic, environmental, product and industrial, craft, clothing and advertising design.

The big picture  

The vast majority of design companies and workers are based in London or the South East of England. However, Scotland has a significant population. Of the 15,000-plus registered creative business in Scotland, 2,285 (around 15%) are in design. Almost 70% of those businesses are sole traders or freelancers, and the majority of the rest have fewer than four employees. Between them, Scotland’s design-based businesses employ almost 6,000 people and turn over more than £6.6million every year. 

Working in design 

The variety of careers in the design sector makes it difficult to provide a general overview. Back in 2005, Sir George Cox, former Chairman of the Creative Industries Council, was commissioned to write a review of creativity in the UK’s businesses. In it, he described design like this: 

Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.’ 

So design is almost any career that applies creativity for a specific reason, whether that reason is to build a ship or bring an artistic concept to life. 

Developing your skills 

In terms of professional skills, there’s an almost infinite variety of options depending on the type of design you’re engaged in. But most designers share some common experiences. Like the difficulty of getting a decent client brief. Or the frustrations of the procurement systems for large-scale work. You might also be unsure how to charge for your services, or how to manage the people who work with or for you. For those things, there’s plenty of ways to build skills. 

The Design Business Association, for example, offers courses and workshops in exactly those kind of subjects. The Design Council has a library of resources and a strong support network for business development and service transformation. 

The V&A Museum of Design in Dundee runs a ‘Design for Business’ programme that aims to help you face the challenges of running a design business. And The Lighthouse in Glasgow also runs events and exhibitions that bring design professionals together to discuss specific practices or learn about new ones.


Again, the breadth of this sector means there are a range of funding opportunities available, depending on the type of work you’re involved in. 

Scottish Enterprise offer a By Design grant — up to £5,000 to help with the design or redesign of products, processes or services. They also run SMART: SCOTLAND, funding that aims to support businesses as they carry out feasibility studies or create pre-production prototypes. 

The Design Council’s Spark programme aims to help people turn their ideas into commercial reality, and Innovate UK supports businesses and research organisations as they test ideas, develop their projects and create prototypes.

If you’d like to know more

Find out more about the sector: 

Find out more about funding: 

Looking for sound advice and/or a sounding board?

Contact us to organise a meeting with one of our experienced and friendly creative industry advisors.