News & Events

Launch of Design-Driven Innovation: Why it Matters for SME Competitiveness


3:45pm Corrigan Hall, Royal College of Physicians, Kildare St

Speech by Minister for Business & Employment Ged Nash TD

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Ladies and Gentlemen. 

I’m delighted to have been asked to launch “Design-Driven Innovation: Why it Matters for SME Competitiveness” today, here in the Royal College of Physicians. 

I am a passionate supporter of Irish Design in all its wonderful forms.  With ID2015, which I will talk more of later, I believe we have a unique opportunity, to showcase our design talent and potential to a worldwide audience, with a very specific focus on creating jobs and boosting exports.

This report, therefore, is very timely.  I want to thank the Northern and Western Regional Assembly for undertaking this body of work, with research consultants CIRCA Group Europe, which was funded by the European Commission. 

The irony of design is that its impact is so pervasive – ranging from the craft sector to the aircraft sector – and driving product appearance, function and usability - we can’t readily categorise it in terms of dedicated Government programmes, government agencies or specific sectors and jobs.

The data that we use to demonstrate the impact of good design on businesses isn’t easily extracted or isolated from a company’s manufacturing, marketing or innovation spend.

Nobody will argue that good design isn’t something that distinguishes one product from another and can add value that a customer is prepared to pay for. But it isn’t always easy to calculate that value or to attribute how or why it is so.

Perhaps that is why, although previous Governments have examined and reported on industrial design, we still don’t have a dedicated policy or supports in this area.

We know that Ireland’s enterprise policy will continue to be based on quality products and services – food, financials, education, medical, construction and entertainment - that add value for customers around the globe. We know that design and design skills is one part of the policy mix that can add real value to these sectors.

When it comes to design in Ireland, currently there are probably two type of company – design driven and design agnostic

The real benefit of today’s report is that it brings out two things. It shows how design impacts on individual businesses and it shows what kinds of Government measures work in support of design.

It shows us a number of strong case studies where design is out front and is the underlying reason for the success of the business.

Let me pick out a few examples:

Who would have thought that a company supplying forest foliage from County Kerry would need to hire a Dutch designer to create innovative product designs? The answer is that Forest Products’ product designs give their customers what they need and keeps them ahead of their competitors

On the other hand, it is not difficult to imagine why the production of medical devices is 100% design critical. It is because there is no margin of failure or no market for ‘second grade’.   Aerogen is a Galway company that relocated its manufacturing process from China because the design of its assembly process is fundamental to the effectiveness of its products.

Anord is a Dundalk company that started out manufacturing basic switchgear for the electrical industry employing 30 people. When it saw new opportunities in the UK water market it decided to establish an in-house design team. It now employs 90 people in Ireland and has expanded into the US and Canada.

The report’s findings from its interviews with the business sector confirm the rationale for establishing the Year of Irish Design 2015 (ID2015).

The significant findings are that there is a poor awareness of design-driven innovation, industrialists are not up to speed on what is happening in design policy internationally, and that policymakers do not understand the value of design. There is a gap between the educational providers and business and policy makers on design thinking and a need to bridge the gap between the outputs of the education sector and the needs of business.

ID2015 begins the journey to address these issues – to promote a better understanding of design and Ireland’s design capability, to bring the education and design sectors closer to the small business sector in Ireland, and to increase the appreciation and demand for design capability among Irish business.

The report also gives us good insights into what types of government supports can make these things happen.

A number of common elements stand out.

  • Firstly the need to engage with small companies that do not think ‘design’ but also to embed design strategies in companies that do.
  • There is a tendency to begin with smaller ‘demonstration type’ approaches followed by more mainstream supports.
  • Supports should create the demand for design services and ensure that the demand is capable of being met.
  • There is a need for coaching and mentoring supports available through the design industry and design education sectors to feed that early engagement and ensure that it is a positive one.
  • There should be a particular emphasis on high potential companies to integrate design into all aspects of the business from the start.
  • From the business perspective, there is a need to clearly link design thinking to meet the commercial, consumer and market strategy of the firm.
  • For small and large companies, engagement needs to be at CEO level to ensure that design is part of company strategy, not a costly side show.

In conclusion, Ireland spends significant monies on strengthening our R&D base in industry, in the third level and in research institutes. I would like to see Design becoming an integral part of that policy.

I have therefore asked Enterprise Ireland to evaluate current programmes that are available in support of design and to look at whether more specific and targeted measures might be introduced in support of enterprise policy.

I have asked that the report be available to me by the end of the summer.

Once again, I’d like to thank the Northern and Western Assembly for its work on this report, particularly Adrian O’Donoghue and his colleagues.