Design Leadership Programme for Business

United Kingdom
Design support programme
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
Design support
Design Council (UK)
€1.64m per year


Despite the high reputation of the UK’s creative industries, many businesses don’t take advantage of the availability of these skills. With UK businesses competing in an increased globalised marketplace the need for a competitive edge was greater than ever.

In response, the UK government commissioned the Cox Review of Creativity in Business. Published in 2005, it set out a number of measures to help the business sector harness the UK’s world-class creative talent to remain globally competitive.

One of the report’s key recommendations was expanding the Design Council’s Design for Business programme nationwide. This business support programme, piloted with 150 companies, had produced impressive results, with the majority of participants showing a significant increase in performance.

Following the Cox Review, the Design Council’s Design Leadership Programme (formerly known as Designing Demand) was set up to scale the success of Design for Business nationally. The programme offered UK businesses a bespoke package of support, helping them use design to innovate and grow. The programme was endorsed by the government and part-funded by a grant from the Department of Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) of £1.3m (€1.64m) per year.

How design helped

Participating businesses are carefully matched with a Design Council Design Associate, an experienced design management specialist who provide hands-on, independent guidance. The network of Design Associates contains a wide range of expertise and experience working with some of the world’s leading companies.

Clients and Design Associates explain how the Design Leadership programme works

Clients and Design Associates explain how the Design Leadership programme works

The associates take companies through a structured programme that includes workshops, coaching and peer-to-peer support. They work with CEOs and management teams to explore and define design opportunities, then implement projects to deliver business growth.

There are three steps to the process:


A practical interactive session, led by a Design Associate, clarifies the goals of the business and identifies how design could meet them.


The Design Associate works to define the design projects critical to the business’ ambitions, set a roadmap and develop clear briefs. They then help the business to find the right team to take on the work.


The Design Associate supports ;the business throughout the implementation stage, ensuring projects deliver their goals, while building confidence in managing design effectively.

Working with our Design Associate deepened our understanding of who we are and what we do, and how our clients perceive us - which has been invaluable.

Auriel Le Pla
Managing Director, Fathom Learning

The outcome

  • €33.5M increased exports
  • 26X return on investment
  • 2,000 businesses supported

A 2012 independent evaluation of the programme showed the strong returns participants could expect: for every £1 a business invested in design, businesses could expect over £20 in increased revenues, over £4 increase in net operating profit and over £5 in increased exports.

In addition to the tangible business impacts, the programme has been changing the way businesses work, improving organisational culture and performance: 72% of businesses surveyed felt that the programme had changed the culture of their organisation to become more design-focused.

The support we received helped us re-align the focus of our business to drive future growth.

Sam Duong
CEO, Ming Foods

Businesses reported boosts to confidence, strategic thinking, brand and business identity. Manufacturer of testing instruments James Heal completely re-branded as a result of the programme, experiencing a 37% increase in sales over three years. Technology firm Titan Enterprises managed to increase their exports by 68% over five years, after an extensive product design and branding project.

Before the Design Leadership Programme, 55% of organisations thought design was integral or important to their business. After the programme, this figure had risen to 98%.

The programme provided insight into a wide range of business issues, embedding within the company an understanding of the value of user-centred design.

David Repper
Managing Director, James Heal

As a result of the programme, companies brought in new jobs and increased tax revenue, with a direct impact on the UK economy. 2,460 net full-time equivalent jobs had been or were anticipated to be created or safeguarded as a direct result of the programme.

Using design enables UK businesses to compete on an international level. Many participants in the Design Leadership Programme expanded the markets in which they operate. A direct result of the programme is the increase in exports. Over £24.6m (€33.5m) in increased exports are directly attributable to the programme.