Why Bristol and Bath are leading the UK in design

Issue date: 25 April 2016

Bristol harbourside

Interim findings to be revealed at an event at the Engine Shed on Tuesday 26 April

Why are the cities of Bristol and Bath proving to be so successful at design related business and industry? What is it that design companies based in Bristol and Bath are doing that sets them apart and how can this success be harnessed and duplicated in other areas of the UK? And why are designers flocking to both cities in their droves?

Design Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) have funded an 18 month project 'Bristol and Bath by Design' that will map and measure the value and impact of design in the city region to find out how and why the cities succeed in this area.

Initial findings reveal that design firms are 11% more productive than an average firm yet 14% more productive if based in Bristol and Bath according to an interim report launched by a research consortium led by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The project brings together UWE Bristol, Bath Spa University and the University of Bristol along with regional partners West of England Design Forum, Bristol Media, Creative Bath, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the REACT Knowledge Exchange Hub.

Project leader Carinna Parraman, from UWE Bristol, said, “We need to encourage and retain design talent in the UK and this is why Design Council and AHRC are interested in finding out more about how designers work in this area. According to Design Council's Design Economy report (2015) the Bristol and Bath region has the second highest overall concentration of design outside of the South East region (London, Reading and Guilford). Design is at the heart of our UK economy in that almost every manufacturer and business needs design services. It is a driver of economic wealth and underpins output for almost every kind of business you can imagine.

“Our project is looking at design in its broadest context including engineering, aerospace, product and package design; multidisciplinary design studios, applied designer-maker studios; content designers including animation, motion graphics, television, film and publishing, fashion and textiles and architectural heritage and design.

“We have found that the key to success is the way that businesses based in Bristol and Bath network, interweave and connect to secure business collaboratively. There are also historical factors that link the two cities that impact on how businesses communicate and a growing awareness amongst Londoners that quality of life is better in the West.

“This has resulted in a design pipeline to the city as people flock from London to enjoy lower housing costs without compromising on work opportunities in the creative sector. Equally education with a strong focus on creative sector means many who come to Bristol to study end up staying here to work and to set up their own enterprises.”

Ellen Hughes, Research Fellow of the Bristol and Bath by Design project at UWE Bristol, said, “It works in Bristol and Bath because the cities are all about collaboration. One of the comments we picked up from our interviews was – 'London is all about competition but Bristol and Bath are all about collaboration'.

“We ran a survey of 450 respondents, carried out 72 semi-structured interviews, conducted 45 enterprise imaging exercises and brought together three focus groups so we can confidently say that this is a wide and diverse consultation.

“Design is a process, a way of thinking and working and designers naturally seek out interdependent networks to push ideas forward. This process of seeking out collaborators is helped by the size of the city when more often than not collaborations are forged at networking events or over a glass of wine.

“We are interested in putting a value onto design to persuade policy makers to invest in support infrastructures that help this networking to happen. The region is filled with many SMEs that specialise in niche areas of design but crucially have built multi-organisational and collaborative networks so that they can deliver on client needs.

“Our interim report focuses on how enterprise imaging can really help foster networking opportunities. Enterprise imaging is where we interview one project manager and map out how they source the varying design services needed to make their work happen. One of our ambitions is to upscale this into a regional resource to help support what is already happening.

“The event on Tuesday 26 April is our way of thanking the designers who have worked with our team on this report so far by doing what they all do best and providing a sociable networking opportunity to foster future collaborations.”

Follow the project on twitter at @BBxD

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