Industrial design is the creative engine of economies

Industrial design is the creative engine of economies

Industrial design is the creative engine of economies
Many prominent industrial designers made history via breakthrough inventions and practical daily products. (Shutterstock)
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It is hard to look around and not admire the sheer imagination behind the array of new products that have elevated our quality of life in the past century. From smartphones and computers to homeware, electrical appliances, heavy industrial equipment, and so much more – we have come to recognize the significance of industrial design in enriching our lives and bolstering our economies.

Against this backdrop, economists should give credit to the behind-the-scenes industrial designers who have created and commercialized endless mass-produced consumer products in a way that is user-oriented, functional, visually appealing, and competitive. Indeed, industrial design is fast emerging as a creative, vibrant force that is shaping today’s global economies. It is also a critical lever in finding innovative and sustainable solutions to many of today’s challenges.

In the early 20th century, many prominent industrial designers made history via breakthrough inventions and practical daily products. Examples include the interiors of cars and steamships, furniture, glassware, and internal combustion engines for planes and boats. Famous department stores and museums came to appreciate the beauty and functionality of well designed consumer products, and endorsed designers through exhibitions that showcased the ingenuity of industrial design.

Today, industrial design is a key tenet of major economies, and many governments have dedicated government agencies to support the sector. At the same time, many successful enterprises have established in-house design teams to lead the work on product innovations, in tandem with research and development activities. Indeed, a growing body of research highlights the contribution of the design sector to thriving economies. Investment in industrial design is linked to improved sales performance, innovation, unique competitive advantage, business growth, and job creation. In 2018, the Design Council published a report to emphasize the significant contributions of the design sector to the UK economy, stating that it generated £85.2bn in gross value added in 2016, while employing about 1.69 million people in design roles and having 78,030 design-intensive companies in the country.

For so many evident reasons, a number of design-intensive economies are introducing policies to support industrial designers. For instance, Finland is a pioneer in the field of design, generating a whopping €12.3 billion in 2018 through its design companies. Finnish companies leave an indelible impression upon consumers with their unique aesthetics celebrating Scandinavian minimalism combined with functionality. Such qualities are obvious in the way products, services, heavy industrial products, and business operations are designed.

The national Design Finland Programme highlighted a number of important policies to improve design competence and research, such as introducing design literacy to education curriculums. Special design education programs have also been implemented for public sector employees to equip them with the knowledge and skills to leverage design in the reimagining of public services. Design toolkits have been published to further promote design-led activities, such as crowdsourcing, co-design, prototype design, and piloting. Enterprises are also encouraged to experiment with the latest new materials and manufacturing techniques, such as 3-D printing. Moreover, cooperation between academic institutions, research centers, and businesses is fostered to further promote development and commercialization.

The role of industrial design should be recognized as a critical lever of our societies and economies.

Sara Al-Mulla

Other policies have focused on incorporating design within business operations, promoting design within research and development activities, supporting creative enterprises and design-intensive businesses, supporting manufacturing activities of design-related products, and marketing design products. Special attention is paid to how design can be leveraged in smart technologies, in addition to the bio and circular economy.

This field has also been gaining a spotlight in the Middle East. For example, the newly established Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology in the UAE is working on bolstering the industrial sector by attracting talented innovators, offering world-class infrastructure, logistical support, advanced technological capabilities, patent registration, and availability of raw materials to support the industrial production process. Saudi Arabia is offering industrial design courses in a number of its universities, and Effat University in Jeddah hosted Saudi Industrial Design Week, which brought together the brightest minds in the field.

The MENA region should embrace industrial design as a critical economic lever by putting in place game-changing policy measures. Governments should incorporate design education and skills development within educational curriculums, and introduce design degrees within universities. Many universities in South Korea offer state-of-the-art industrial design programs with the latest technologies and equipment to support innovation in information technology, automobile, robotics, bioproducts, and digital consumer electronics.

Design-intensive companies should receive support services such as free zones and design spaces with incorporation incentives, incubation hubs, advisory and mentoring services, local and foreign product promotion programs, and tax relief. The intellectual property rights of the designers should be protected, while offering speedy patent registration services. A number of financial backing solutions should offer industrial designers subsidies and funding to commercialize their products. Special guidance should be published on how companies can incorporate design within business operations in order to boost productivity and performance. The world of industrial design should also take center stage at trade shows and exhibitions to create awareness about emerging innovative products and their value to public life and economies. In some instances, putting in place quotas for design investment could also boost uptake.

It is evident that industrial design is evolving with the demands of strategic sectors, in tandem with society’s needs. Thus, the role of industrial design should be recognized as a critical lever of our societies and economies.

• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view