Symbola's 2023 Design Economy Report

Symbola's annual Design Economy report tells the story of the contribution of design to the country's wealth and industrial transition.

15 Sep 2023

Design helps capture significant changes in the environment, technology, science, and social customs, transforming them into objects and services that people can use. Furthermore, it aids in understanding the impacts of human activities on ecosystems and designing truly sustainable solutions.

Design can be a lens through which to rethink the entire organization, from product and process revisions to the reorganization of corporate strategy, with the dual objective of creating value for both the company and various stakeholders.

According to the 2023 report, there are 36,306 professionals and businesses active in the design sector in Italy: 20,320 are freelancers and self-employed, while 15,986 are companies.

After surpassing the year 2020, in which Italian design experienced its first setback after ten years of growth, the added value in 2021 reached € 2,939 million (a 4.6% decline compared to pre-pandemic values).

The domestic market accounts for 67.2% of respondents, while the global market accounts for 24.2% (rising to 27.8% for small and medium-sized enterprises), and the European community market makes up 8.6%.

Regarding international operations, 62.5% of companies operate based on international commissions, 20% through partnership agreements with foreign local companies, 9.6% with local branch offices located abroad, and 8% through other means (e.g., using online commerce).

Royalties constitute a source of revenue for 8.7% of design organizations (a figure that increases to 13.4% for professionals), leaving more room for income directly derived from projects.

Areas of Specialization

53.5% of organizations identify product design as their primary area of activity, followed by communication and multimedia design at 28.4%.

Space design, which encompasses retail design, public spaces, exhibit design, interior design, represents 12.7%, while digital and interaction design (user experience, user interface, web/app, VR, game design, smart things, human-computer interaction, ambient intelligence, wearable computing, IoT) accounts for 4%.

Among the sectors driving demand for design services, furniture stands out (14.3%), followed by other manufacturing products (6.6%, e.g., jewelry, toys, sports equipment, musical instruments, etc.), lighting (6.4%), building products (5.2%), tourism and hospitality (5.1%), and mechanical automation (5%).

Over the next three years, demand for furniture (-0.9% incidence) will slightly decrease, as will demand for other manufacturing sectors (-2.4%), while demand will grow for fashion accessories (+1.6%), lighting (+1.4%), healthcare services (+1.3%), and packaging (+1.1%).

The Environmental component, which includes decarbonization activities and the adoption of circular economy models, is quite well-known but not yet widely adopted by companies. 87.4% of respondents emphasize the importance of integrating this aspect into design, with a particular focus on sustainability (19.8%), recycling (17.2%), and disassembly (13.9%).

Most Common Skills

  • The most common skills are related to sustainability design (19.8%, rising to 22.1% for professionals). These skills extend the lifespan of products and services through solutions (standardization, repairability, reusability) that make it possible to replace and maintain components of a product or service or allow for the updating of its functions.
  • Recycling design (17.2%) is the next most common skill, necessary for removing factors that hinder product recycling and promoting the use of easily recyclable materials and solutions that facilitate material separation. Disassembly design (13%) proposes solutions that allow the separation of all components for various material types to facilitate repair, recovery, and recycling processes.
  • Strategic sustainability design (12.5%) is a skill highlighted particularly by larger companies (17%) and is linked to the construction of systemic strategies for ecological transition, including the measurement, control, and reduction of environmental impact in processes and educational pathways to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices by individuals.
  • Regeneration design (9.3%) develops new products or services (with the same or different functions) from end-of-use products or their parts or designs modular products or services to facilitate the reuse of their parts. In sectors like clothing and footwear, for example, there is a proliferation of projects to enhance unsold items through solutions that enable regeneration and customization of surplus products, creating new value.

Overall, among master's graduates in Design, the employment rate is 91.6%, higher than the 89.1% observed among all two-year master's graduates in Italy.

The strong relationship between design territories and those of Made in Italy is confirmed, as demonstrated by the high correlation between the location of Made in Italy and design companies.

The regions with the strongest correlation are Marche, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Piedmont, and Lombardy. Regions with a strong specialization in Made in Italy but below average in design include Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Umbria, and Tuscany.

The report is promoted by: Symbola Foundation, Deloitte Private, Polidesign, in collaboration with ADI, Circolo del Design, Comieco, AlmaLaurea, and Cuid.

Source: Symbola

Symbola's 2023 Design Economy Report

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