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The Design Sector is a Growth Industry

Design ranks well as an economic industry in Holland, but cultural funding cuts could harm not just the sector, but the country's main cities that are at risk of losing their appeal as attractive cultural hubs.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 20-10-2011

The design industry continues to grow and create more jobs, despite the depressing economic times.

This is the most important conclusion of a study into the economic significance of the design industry commissioned by Premsela, the Dutch Institute for Design and Fashion. The report was presented last Tuesday to Caroline Gehrels, Elderwoman for Economic Affairs for the City of Amsterdam by Premsela's Director, Els van der Plas.
Designers do not just create jobs for themselves, Van der Plas noted during the presentation at Premsela's premises in Amsterdam. “As soon as a company hires a designer, it becomes more creative and develops better,” she said.
The research was carried out by the highly respected Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The title of the report translates as: “Putting Design on the Map: The Position and Economic Importance of the Creative Industries and Design in the Netherlands”.

Several years ago TNO conducted similar research for the first time. Premsela wanted to know how the situation has developed since and thus commissioned a follow up.
The situation has only improved, regardless of the economic crisis. The number of designers in the Netherlands has grown from 39 600 in the period 2000-2002 to 56 700 in 2007-2009. The number of design jobs was  growing almost four times faster than in the economy as a whole. "Since 2009 the number of jobs has increased even further," said Walter Manshanden of TNO during his presentation when asked about the effects of the economic crisis of 2008.
The biggest growth area within design is communication.  "The reason is the Internet," said Manshanden. In the past having an office with a phone might have been the first prerequisite for setting up a company, nowadays it is having a website. Due to this technological development the communication industry has grown exponentially.

Creatives tend to seek each other out to benefit (sometimes for free) from each other's knowledge, ideas and inspiration. Manshanden called it a “spillover effect”.
Amsterdam is the biggest beneficiary of these developments with the largest concentration of designers, about 10 000. “In Amsterdam we make an effort for the creative industries," said Gehrels after receiving the report.  Making such an effort makes good business sense given that Amsterdam places fourth in the best business cities of Europe ranking. 

"We were criticized by the OECD for not giving enough room for creative industry some years ago," Gehrels said.  "We picked this up and improved."
The report comes at a time when the Dutch government is making big cuts in cultural spending. The whole infrastructure supporting all creative and cultural industries has been drastically cut. The design industry is less affected than some because the work is almost entirely (95%) done for commercial clients. But an organization like Premsela will be affected, and the bigger question is whether the attraction of a city like Amsterdam as a cultural centre will be reduced, thus losing its appeal as a cultural hub.
The total added value of the design sector for the Dutch economy amounts to about 4 billion euros, or almost 1% of GDP. This added value grew at a pace of 5.1% per year between 2001 and 2007, which is more than double the growth rate of the economy as a whole (2.1%).

Images: small top page - Carolien Gehrels, Johan Kleyn & Els van der Plas; Foto: Lizzy Kalisvaart.  Large at top: A chart showing how Dutch job growth in design, the creative industries, and industries employing significant numbers of designers outpaced that in the broader economy from 1996 to 2009. Source: Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), using Lisa database.

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