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On 26 November, Fondazione Symbola, Deloitte Private and POLI.design, with the support of ADI, CUID and Comieco and the patronage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, presented the results of the Design Economy 2020 Report, with the aim of increasing awareness of the value of design for the competitiveness of the national production system.
Design Economy 2020: the design sector in Europe and Italy
The Report paints a very precise picture of the design sector in Europe and Italy. In Europe, the sector has about 217,000 companies and Italy, with almost 34,000 thousand companies, accounts for about 15.5% of the entire Community design system, placing it firmly in first place in terms of the number of companies, ahead of Germany and France. The supremacy of our country, which employs 64,551 workers with an added value of over 3 billion euros, is attributable to the strong link between Design and Made in Italy, but is also due to the fragmentation of the national entrepreneurial structure. This characteristic, peculiar to our country, explains how, in spite of its supremacy in terms of number of companies, Germany and the United Kingdom record a higher level of employment and turnover than Italy.
The EU countries as a whole record a sales volume of 27.5 billion euros; Italy accounts for 14.8% of this, putting it in third position behind the United Kingdom (24.5%) and Germany (16.4%), but well ahead of France (9.2%) and Spain (4.6%).
The Italian industrial sectors most linked to design are: wood-furniture, clothing and automotive. In Italy, the gap between micro enterprises and large companies is deep: freelancers and micro enterprises with a turnover of less than EUR 100,000 still account for more than half of employment (53.4%), while enterprises with a turnover of more than EUR 5 million have an employment incidence of 8.4%. In our country, therefore, most companies are in the small and micro enterprise segments.
Made in Italy and Design: a close territorial relationship
The results of the Report by Fondazione Symbola, Deloitte Private and POLI.design confirm a close territorial relationship between Design and the Made in Italy supply chains, with strong repercussions in terms of competitiveness, innovation and business culture. Leading the ranking of Italian regions is Marche, with the highest levels of design specialisation in the furnishing and footwear supply chains, followed by Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, where there are many design companies linked to fashion, mechanics, ceramics and furniture.
In general, however, the distribution of companies appears to be concentrated in favour of the metropolitan systems: Milan alone absorbs a share of 14.5% of the national total, while Rome is the second province in the ranking (6.5%), followed by Turin, in third place, with a share of 5.2%. The first four metropolitan provinces in the ranking aggregate about 36% of the wealth produced by design in Italy, attracting most of the design companies and professionals.
Milan is confirmed as the capital of design, able to concentrate 18.3% of the total output of the sector on the national territory, while Turin and Rome, second and third respectively, account for 8.0% and 5.3%. On the employment front, Milan also accounts for about 14% of the total workforce. Milan's supremacy is due to several factors: it is home to two of the world's most important design collections, the Triennale di Milano and the Compasso d'Oro Museum promoted by ADI. Since 1961, Milan has also been home to the Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone, one of the world's largest design events.
The impact of Covid-19 on designers' operations
The part of the Design Economy 2020 Report dedicated to the impact of the pandemic on the work of designers is also very interesting. When asked about the consequences of the Covid-19 health emergency on their operations, 45% of freelancers declared that they had never stopped their activity, making extensive use of digital technologies. However, almost all of the surveyed designers experienced economic difficulties due to a decrease in demand (68.2%) and cash flow problems (48.3%). The Covid-19 emergency had an impact on turnover volumes for 39.7% of designers, while 23.8% reported a drop of more than half compared to the same period last year. However, this situation could offer new opportunities for designers, prompting them to redesign public and private spaces in a number of areas such as catering (16.6%), public administration (11.9%), home working (7.3%) and healthcare (6.0%).
Design and sustainability: an engine of competitiveness for companies
The role of design, considered fundamental by the companies interviewed as a driver of competitiveness, appears even more marked in the presence of corporate attention to environmental sustainability: green and design oriented companies show significant performance differentials compared to other companies. The advantage in favour of companies that simultaneously invest in green technologies and design, compared to the rest of the sample, reaches 22.6 percentage points in terms of employees (38.6% against 16.0%), 25.1 points in terms of turnover (48.0% against 22.9%) and 13.5 points in relation to exports (38.6% against 25.1%).
Ernesto Lanzillo, Deloitte Private Leader for Italy, commenting on the results of the Design Economy 2020 Report, underlined how design represents an engine of innovation and competitiveness for Italian companies, especially in areas where it is necessary to draw new horizons, such as sustainability, and in contexts of profound transformation such as the pandemic, because it makes companies more resilient, able to dynamically adapt to change and re-imagine their place in the market“.
Towards a strategic concept of design
“We need to move from design as an ornamental concept to a strategic one,“ said the undersecretary of the Ministry for Economic Development, Gian Paolo Manzella, guest at the interesting round table following the presentation of the Design Economy 2020 Report. “Already last year we started to make design and creativity expenses part of Industry 4.0, the largest support programme for the transformation of businesses,“ continued the undersecretary. This year we have created a fund for creative businesses. The next steps will be to build a place for reflection on what the design world does for the economy, to focus on the next generation and to open up the public sector to design.“
Francesco Zurlo, President of POLI.design and Deputy Dean at the School of Design, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, for his part, said: “The process of companies learning about the role of design in making the country system competitive and sustainable is increasingly evident. Beyond the traditional idea of design - i.e. the beautiful and well-made product - we realise that it is increasingly considered a real strategic asset. In fact, there is a progressive integration of design skills and capabilities in organisations, institutions and society, with the start of a direct dialogue with the decision makers of this system. Today, design scales the organigramme, because it places the person at the centre to push and push - in a responsible manner - towards a more “nature“ centred dimension, attentive not only to the user, but also to society, culture, the economy and the environment“.
Speaking of a people-friendly economy, Ermete Realacci, president of the Symbola Foundation, concluded the meeting by saying that Europe and the world are moving towards a sustainability-oriented economy that leaves no-one behind and makes companies more competitive. This economy needs a design that crosses beauty, technology, empathy and takes on the frontier of the green economy and circular economy. “Italy is already a protagonist of this design and can therefore stand as a candidate to be a reference point for the new Bauhaus for the Green New Deal proposed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen“.