Design for growth: Demand for design skills across sectors

Investment in upskilling – particularly in management, business and digital skills – is critical to grow Ireland’s design sector across a variety of industries, says Design Skillnet.

Ireland’s design industry is undergoing significant challenges, including a changing definition of design and increased reach across industry.

The bottom line is more design skills are needed as design as a discipline permeates every industry and business type.

“Design is essential for every business and sector – and it’s increasingly vital for driving innovation and business change”

Design Skillnet, in partnership with Skillnet Ireland, has today (25 February) published a research report – The Design Practice in Ireland – examining the evolving design practice in Ireland.

The report shows an industry undergoing significant growth, with the demand for designers and design skills in Ireland soaring.

Design roles have doubled in the past five years and are expected to increase to 65,000 to 70,000 by 2025. With Ireland generating just 1,300 design graduates each year, a significant shortage of designers is imminent.

The business of design

Technology has rapidly reframed the definition of design and impacted design capabilities within Design SMEs.

The research also shows design permeating every industry, with an emerging cohort of designers working in-house across a broad range of sectors and organisations from finance to food, to health and pharmaceuticals.

Providing unique insight into the breadth of the sector, the report highlights a critical need to invest in leadership, management, business and digital skills for design professionals.

“Design is essential for every business and sector – and it’s increasingly vital for driving innovation and business change,” said the CEO of Skillnet Ireland Paul Healy.

“As the sector evolves, having this clear understanding of the condition of Ireland’s design practice will help us to address the challenges the sector faces, particularly in delivering a new CPD framework that equips the industry to deal with rapid technological and workplace change.”

For design in Ireland to reach its potential within business and consultancy the report outlines a series of recommendations to address the skills deficit highlighted.

Key among these is that the Institute of  Designers Ireland (IDI) partner with Design Skillnet, industry partners and education providers to deliver a CPD framework that addresses today’s business challenges and the skills needed to respond to rapid shifts in technology.

“In embracing change we must first understand where we are, and this report supports our understanding of the demography and make up of professional designers, as well as their preferred ways of working,” said Charlotte Barker, CEO of IDI.

“What is vital now is that individuals within design accept the challenge to address their own skills gaps to stay relevant for the future. What’s clear is that change is needed, and fast.”

The increased reach of design has also seen designers immersed in solving complex business problems and playing a more influential role in industry as design thinking becomes an established approach in business strategy, consultancy, and research – further fuelling the demand for designers.   

Design Skillnet is playing a key role in helping the sector to continue to grow and add value to the Irish economy by ensuring that those who practice design have the opportunity to build useful and growth-oriented skills.

The report aligns closely with the recommendations of “Together for Design,” the Government of Ireland’s Expert Group for Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) 2020 report. Together, these reports identify how pervasive design is in our society and our economy, and the steps needed for Ireland to realise its potential and become a leading nation in design.

Dominic Southgate, chair of Design Skillnet Steering Group, said: “This report is the foundation block for the work of Design Skillnet, setting out a clear set of actions as well as an urgency for the industry to engage with learning and development like never before. I encourage all design businesses, educators and practitioners to understand the report and work with us to build the design talent of the future.”

By John Kennedy (

Published: 25 February 2021