Worldwide initiative to position Ireland as ‘Design Island’ is finally paying dividends

State-funded campaign to improve our reputation in world of crafts sees €5m investment make a return of €54m in economic terms

Irish Design 2015 brought together a country-wide, innovative approach to design in Ireland. The campaign, supported and funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, saw a collaboration between the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs and businesses, such as the Doyle Collection and Sisk.

More than 470 designers from Ireland attended international design-led events at London Fashion Week, London’s V&A and Design Museums, the London Festival of Architecture and many international trade fairs, including the Maison & Objet in Paris.

Liminal, an exhibition of Irish design, visited Milan, New York and Eindhoven.

Karen Hennessy, chief executive of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, and chief executive of ID2015, says it resulted in a "joined-up approach to looking at design in Ireland" and was an important step in forming a wide-ranging design policy for the country.


The council has now been asked to lead a National Design Strategy for Ireland – an action-based strategy that will be presented to Government – working with other agencies and industry groups.

“We know what needs to be done but it is important that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet,” she said.

Viable career path

A critical aspect of this plan centres around the value and emphasis placed on design at primary, secondary and third-level education. Hennessy cites


as a country where design – as a concept and a viable career path – is introduced at an early stage in education.

Hennessy sees a “huge opportunity” in a fast-changing economy where the nature of work will change. “These new jobs will be in the creative space, in the design space. Look at the US where 30 per cent of the workforce is involved in creative design and only 6 per cent in manufacturing. In Scandinavia, the figure is closer to 50 per cent [in design roles].

"Design is all around us in terms of user experience and we need to develop this area. Colleges such as UCD, Carlow IT and IADT are all in this space but it's about getting them ready for what's coming down the line. Many of the multinationals are struggling to get talent, so how do we prepare ourselves for that?"

The State funded ID2015 to the tune of €5 million but only under strict “key performance indicators”.

“We received €5 million and we delivered €54 million in direct economic value calculated around export, PR and tourism value,” says Hennessy. Examples include the €200,000 spent sending designers and craftspeople to international trade fairs where €13.5 million was delivered in sales orders.

“We are talking furniture makers, animators, crafts people and fashion designers who are going to the fairs that they felt they needed to go to. It speaks volumes. We have to get off the island if we are to develop exports,” she says.

The National Design Strategy is a focus for the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland as it looks to brand Ireland as a "Design Island". ID2015 created momentum among the wider design community and State bodies such as Enterprise Ireland but it is essential that this impetus is maintained.

Global competitiveness

She says


has really chosen to invest in design and has seen increases in its global competitiveness ranking. “That’s where Ireland can really make a significant difference,” she adds.

The National Design Strategy will allow stakeholders to build on ID2015.

“We’ve highlighted what needs to happen in terms of education development. We’ve stated that policy for design in Ireland needs to be written into Government policy. We have a good tail wind behind us and the sector is now very joined-up in wanting this to happen,” says Hennessy.

She also says a focus on design should not be confined to urban centres such as Dublin.

“If you look at various design and craft enterprises, they are spread right across the country and play a critical part in the rural jobs infrastructure.

“More work needs to go into it but we have seen certain areas become renowned for certain sectors such as the west in terms of medical devices – again heavily connected to design. So what we need is cluster or regional rural development like this in the design space.”

Hennessy says the recession has “taught us that every job counts”. “There are huge issues in terms of the tax system and in how we treat entrepreneurs but that is not confined to the craft sector,” she says.

Ultimately the National Design Strategy for Ireland is an attempt to cement the lessons learned and the assets gained from ID2015.

“Design and the purpose of design has to be embedded in Government policy,” says Hennessy, if Ireland is to attract design-led companies with the objective of positioning Ireland as a “Design Island”. “There are huge opportunities here, all underpinned by our craft heritage.”