Now that we appear at last to be emerging – haltingly – from the recession, we can start to speculate about what shape we are in to grow the economy again. Even in the darkest days of the current downturn, one of most interesting aspects of it all has been the amount of time people have spent looking beyond it. Of course, there’s been the usual speculation about how long it is all going to last, but as we are at last spotting the first green shoots, they bring with them a deal of musing about what sort of world will emerge. Will it be a new era with new ideas and principles, or will the world behave like a drunk, contrite during the hangover but back in the old habits as soon as the pain has gone?

Adversity always has a galvanising effect, certainly on the British so as the downturn loomed, we quickly saw clients looking for new ideas to try to cut costs and get a higher return on investment, which in turn drives both the uptake of any existing innovations and the development of new ones from suppliers. It’s been painful, but the benefits will be there over the longer term. And of course we believe strongly that design and creativity will play an integral role in the recovery.

My view is echoed by not only the Design Council (who you would expect to champion design as a driver of growth) and the UK and EU governments (who you may not). Earlier this year the Design Council produced a report highlighting the role of innovation as a driver of growth, claiming that firms that don’t invest in research and development during a recession are around 2.5 times more likely to fail than those that do.

The recession, coupled with growing government legislation with regard to the built environment has driven a surge of interest in new ideas in the sector, the economics are pretty clear, after staff, buildings are easily the second highest item of expenditure for the majority of organisations but they can take a number of views on how they view their property. When times are good, priorities may be different and so it may be more important to make statements about the organisation with eye catching property that is not as efficient in one way or another as it could be. At the moment we have seen some new and innovative thinking that shifts that balance of priorities in favour of efficiencies be it in terms of energy or space or whatever.

One of the more obvious ways of doing this is to reduce the size of the property requirement. In one regard, this is possible by reducing the size of workstations. This has already been going on for some time, driven not by the recession but by new technology.

New ideas are always driven in part by the drive to save money. The challenge is to look beyond this relatively straightforward move to efficiency and start to look at something as complex as return on investment. At the very least we should consider the wider implications of any changes. This is where things become complicated by long-standing nebulous ideas about how to measure productivity, the impact of design on culture, identity and so on. Saving money is essential but these are the issues that tell in the longer term. That is where good design comes in.

It’s a question of getting the balance right, knowing when to cut costs and when to invest.’?

Posted by Ann Clarke May 31st