“You can’t find the staff anymore”

A common complaint of the British upper classes since the Great War – probably something to do with them ordering their staff to die at the Somme.

Last Friday I attended a Creative and Cultural Skills workshop: ‘Developing a Creative Blueprint the UK’, and I couldn’t help thinking that a lot of agencies around the UK are thinking the same thing.

Specifically two facts jumped out at me. First: only 3% of UK design agencies make more than £1m per annum, and the second was that training has the most impact on the business financially when it is directed at senior management.

Both these facts stand to reason. The disappointing thing is we spent most of the workshop talking about the skills of people entering the design job market. Allow me to digress at this point, another stat: approximately 200,000 people flooded the UK design graduate market in 2008, there were only approximately 6,000 jobs advertised – … ‘…I know…’

Downturns aside, with a mismatch such as this the design degree must have become significantly devalued over the years. Bauhaus really only gets you halfway there in the 21st century: graduates need to enter the market with a much clearer understanding of how a business operates if they have any chance of successfully entering the industry (why not give them a star to show they know business – 2:1*). Ideas generation and business understanding as a skills are not mutually exclusive – in fact I’d say the two are made stronger by each other.

But back to my point: if we want to grow the design industry we need to help design business owners become better business owners. Looking at the 3 percent fact, 97% of design business owners either are not ambitious or they lack the management tools to build their business. Designers don’t need help being more creative. They have spent their career developing their creativity IN THEIR OWN WAY, and also they can teach their staff to become more creative.

Is the whole industry caught up in the cultural norm that creative people are crap at business? I sincerely hope not. Andy Warhol revelled in the creative potential of business, why can’t we? Are we that timid?

So, what does the Blueprint need in it? It needs a relentless focus on developing the business skills of senior management within the design sector (which let’s face it, tends to be the owner). We need to banish the romantic notion of creative genius caught in his/her own dream world: it is frankly a little outdated for our age. Creativity is important and it is a, if not the, key business driver today. In conclusion, it should be: “you can’t get the senior management anymore”, not the staff.


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