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Opinion: UK retail design export strength draws crowds around the world

Two hundred people at St Petersburg and 300 in Moscow and every one a testament to the international pull of UK design.

And not just design in a broad definition of that skilled service. This was specifically for Russians interested in buying UK design in the quite narrow field of museums and visitor attractions. The dozen or so UK designers on the UK Trade & Investment mission to Russia – including me – were pleasantly surprised by the level of interest.  

For UK design businesses, exporting has been a success story for many years now. It became more of a necessity than a luxury during the recession when UK work was harder to come by.

We have some pioneers to acknowledge – notably Rodney Fitch who opened up Asia. And we have other contributions to salute, not least the international repute and influence over many decades of UK design education. Then there is the aura around British creativity for which we can thank our cultural sectors of film, TV, radio, gaming, architecture, theatre, music and much more.

We really do have tremendous advantages when competing internationally. An example is the UK clients we work for. When we design for Tate Modern and the British Museum we are adding to our portfolio cultural icons known around the world. That our contacts in St Petersburg and Moscow knew all about the British Museum, the Tate and indeed Harry Potter underlines not just the clout of clients but the international outlook of our global potential customer base.

What is it all worth? For individual design businesses it is very valuable but trips to China, for instance, take time and focus. However, every pound, rouble or dollar coming into the UK as design fees – and the aggregate totals are huge – is great news for Britain.

But resting on those laurels is a danger. Our design colleges are busy training overseas students alongside home grown talent. The designers of China, for one, are learning fast and developing their own creative sector. Just because we are top of the tree now does not mean we have a right to remain there. We need to renew our country’s excellence and prominence in design education.

We need the Government’s continued support through initiatives such as the UKTI Creative Industries Taskforce and we need to continue to attract overseas buyers to the UK.

That’s why the Retail Design Expo in 2015 in London is important and has our support. Every buyer we bring in from abroad to the Expo and to see the retail and cultural jewels in our crown is not just a future client but also an ambassador for UK design.


Callum Lumsden is creative director and founder of Lumsden Design