Elevating Australia’s Economy: Harnessing the Value of Design


Design quietly shapes Australia’s economic landscape, influencing our buildings, goods and services, and daily experiences while addressing human needs and aspirations. It serves as a cornerstone for progress, driving value, urban functionality, sustainability, and innovation both locally and globally.

The contribution to Australia’s GDP of design-related industries and workers was approximately AU$67.5 billion per annum by 2018, or more than 3.5% of GDP, matching the size of the construction industry. Despite its profound impact, Australia has yet to fully capitalise on design’s potential to foster a thriving, design-led economy. 

While some businesses are embedding design into their future roadmaps and strategies, there are many others who could benefit from design as a strategic tool to grow and prosper. 

Businesses who make strategic use of design in these ways are more likely to deliver successful products and services to market, and outperform non design-led competitors. According to the UK Design Council, every £100 spent on design increases turnover by £225; McKinsey reported similar performance for companies with a strong design function, correlating to both higher revenue growth and higher return to shareholders. 

Recognising design as pivotal for business growth and national prosperity, the Australian Design Council plays a crucial role in advocating for its transformative potential. We had the opportunity to discuss this with Steve Baty, who leads as CEO.

Design as a Driver of Economic Growth in Australia: Industry Challenges and Opportunities

In light of this perspective, a critical challenge within Australia’s innovation ecosystem emerges: the need to amplify the awareness of the importance of design as a strategic enabler. Addressing this challenge offers a substantial opportunity for economic progress by prioritising design in research and development efforts and integrating it into government incentives and policies.

According to Steve Baty, “Governments can strengthen the role of design through effective policies, regulations, and procurement strategies.”

He further points out, “This includes prioritising design quality in purchasing decisions rather than solely focusing on price, and reassessing supplier selection criteria accordingly. By emphasising the significance of design, Australia can foster growth within the design sector and underscore its economic value.”

Design is a process that leads to business growth and national prosperity. Source: Australian Design Council.

Steve recognises significant opportunities in integrating designers early in product development to transform design from an afterthought into a proactive capability that anticipates issues, devises effective solutions, and deeply understands end-user needs from the outset.

“Design is often seen as something that occurs well down the line,” he explains. “You have an idea, you develop the technology, you get it to a proof of concept or a prototype. Then, maybe at some future point, you bring designers in to ‘make it look better’. Instead, designers should be viewed as a strategic capability. They understand what problems we should be trying to solve, how those problems should be solved, and who the solution is for. This understanding should inform the process much earlier.”

“Ultimately, strategic design integration leads to high-quality, cost-effective products, reduces waste, enhances pricing potential, and fosters stronger customer loyalty and advocacy. This approach underscores the tangible benefits of design for businesses and economic prosperity in Australia,” he added.

Embedding Design: Australia’s Path to Economic Growth

One of the Australian Design Council’s flagship initiatives, the Design Review Program, currently being developed by Steve and his team, will provide businesses with specialist knowledge in the strategic application of design capability. The program will result in more businesses successfully entering the market by embedding and aligning professional design into business strategies to amplify their impact and maximise return on investment. 

“The Design Review Program aims to enhance leadership and management skills and experience, providing for increased capabilities in areas of product/service commercialisation, and growth with the ultimate aim of creating more design-led businesses in Australia and inturn, nudging us closer towards a design-led economy,” Steve concluded. 

Steve Baty and his team are spearheading the Design Review Program, an Australian Design Council flagship initiative, with the goal of enhancing the strategic application of design. Source: Supplied.

Design stands as a pivotal force in shaping Australia’s economic landscape, driving innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness across industries. Despite its profound impact, there remains untapped potential in integrating design into broader decision-making frameworks. Embracing a design-led economy not only enhances product value and market competitiveness but also accelerates progress towards environmental sustainability, particularly as economies around the world transition to a more low carbon, regenerative and circular economic models.  

By prioritising design from inception to implementation, Australia can harness design’s creative potential to foster economic prosperity, meet global demands, and pave the way towards a more resilient and prosperous future.

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