Industrial design is the creative engine of economies


Industrial design is the creative engine of economies

Many leading industrial designers have made history with groundbreaking inventions and practical everyday products. (Shutterstock)

It’s hard to look around and not admire the imagination behind the array of new products that have improved our quality of life over the past century. From smartphones and computers to household items, electrical appliances, heavy industrial equipment and more, we have come to recognize the importance of industrial design in enriching our lives and strengthening our economies.

In this context, economists should pay tribute to the behind-the-scenes industrial designers who created and marketed endlessly mass-produced consumer products in a user-oriented, functional, visually appealing, and competitive way. Indeed, industrial design is rapidly emerging as a creative and dynamic force shaping today’s global economies. It is also an essential lever for finding innovative and sustainable solutions to many of today’s challenges.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many leading industrial designers made history with groundbreaking inventions and practical everyday products. Examples include car and steamboat interiors, furniture, glassware, and internal combustion engines for airplanes and boats. Department stores and famous museums came to appreciate the beauty and functionality of well-designed consumer products and endorsed designers through exhibits 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 companies have established in-house design teams to lead work on product innovations alongside 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 highlight the significant contributions of the design sector to the UK economy, stating that it generated £85.2 billion in gross value added in 2016, while employing around 1 .69 million people in design roles and having 78,030 designers. – intensive enterprises of the country.

For many obvious reasons, a number of design-intensive economies are putting in place policies to support industrial designers. For example, Finland is a pioneer in the field of design, generating 12.3 billion euros in 2018 thanks to its design companies. Finnish companies leave an indelible impression on consumers with their unique aesthetic celebrating Scandinavian minimalism combined with functionality. These qualities are evident in the design of products, services, heavy industrial products and business operations.

The national program Design Finland has highlighted a number of important policies to improve design skills and research, such as the introduction of design culture into educational curricula. Special design training programs have also been put in place for public sector employees to equip them with the knowledge and skills to leverage design in the reinvention of public services. Design toolkits have been released to further promote design-driven activities, such as crowdsourcing, co-designing, prototyping and piloting. Companies are also encouraged to experiment with the latest materials and manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing. In addition, cooperation between academic institutions, research centers and companies is encouraged to further promote development and commercialization.

The role of industrial design must be recognized as an essential lever for our societies and our economies.

Sara Al Mulla

Other policies have focused on integrating design into business operations, promoting design in research and development activities, supporting creative and design-intensive businesses, supporting manufacturing design-related products and marketing design products. Particular attention is paid to how design can be leveraged in smart technologies, in addition to the organic and circular economy.

This field has also gained popularity in the Middle East. For example, the new Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates is working to strengthen the industrial sector by attracting talented innovators, offering world-class infrastructure, logistical support, advanced technological capabilities, l registration of patents and the availability of raw materials to support the industrial production process. Saudi Arabia offers industrial design courses at 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 adopt industrial design as an essential economic lever by implementing revolutionary political measures. Governments should integrate design education and skills development into curricula and introduce design degrees into universities. Many South Korean universities offer cutting-edge industrial design programs with the latest technology and equipment to support innovation in information technology, automotive, robotics, bioproducts, and digital consumer electronics.

Design-intensive businesses should receive support services such as free zones and design spaces with incorporation incentives, incubation centers, advisory and mentoring services, programs to promote local and foreign products and tax breaks. The intellectual property rights of designers must be protected, while providing prompt patent registration services. Several financial support solutions should offer industrial creators subsidies and financing to market their products. Special guidance should be issued on how companies can integrate design into business operations to increase productivity and performance. The world of industrial design should also take center stage at trade shows and exhibitions to raise awareness of emerging innovative products and their value to public life and economies. In some cases, setting quotas for design investments could also boost adoption.

It is obvious that industrial design evolves with the requirements of strategic sectors, in parallel with the needs of society. Thus, the role of industrial design must be recognized as an essential lever of our societies and economies.

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

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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