Business is Better By Design

A 2010 Harris/Decima Survey Demonstrates Canadian Businesses Using Design Increase Success, Reduce Risk.

Business leaders and governments in Europe and Asia have long understood that design is an integral component that enhances products, services and sales. North America, and in particular Canada, has languished in gaining an understanding of the economic benefits of design, and moreover failing to employ a national socioeconomic development policy. Surprisingly, not since the Trudeau era of the 1970’s has Canada had a ministry focus on design – an integral part of Canada’s multi-billion dollar creative industry. The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) together with Ottawa-based market research firm, Harris/Decima have now polled Canadian business owners and decision makers to better understand business perceptions of the design industry.

"It has been more than a decade since a study focusing on design buyers has been conducted," notes Melanie MacDonald, GDC Executive Director. "As the National professional association for graphic and communication designers in Canada, we are well acquainted with the realities experienced by designers promoting their services in our ever-changing economic landscape. However, it was time to uncover the perceptions of the design-buying public. It is our hope that the information gleaned from this survey will help professional designers identify where opportunities exist, and enable business to take advantage of design.” Over 500 completed surveys were collected from a random sample of business panel members across Canada in August 2010.

The Results

It was confirmed that nearly two-thirds of businesses interviewed saw a definite link between design and better business performance. Respondents advised that designers and design firms who abide by a professional code of ethics, such as those that certified designers adhere to, instill greater confidence in their clients. In fact, two out of five stated that their companies only hire designers who adhere to a professional code of ethics. Formalized sustainability principles, such as those adopted by the GDC, also factored into consideration when purchasing design services.


The research showed that respondents in Central Canada were more likely than those in Eastern Canada to see the value in hiring a designer or design firm to help with marketing and communication efforts. Respondents with ten or more employees are more likely to engage the services of a designer or firm. These companies are significantly less likely to go to market with a campaign that has not been developed with the assistance of a designer or firm.

The Future

Most of those surveyed advised that their design agency usage has remained consistent in the past five years. Respondents in Central Canada with more than ten employees are more likely to have seen their designer/design firm usage increase in the past five years. Most respondents rely on the services of freelance designers and intend to continue doing so, especially those in Western Canada. While the vast majority (90%) of those that have used design services in the past felt that the results were positive, and intend to use design services again in the future, 34% of businesses who are not currently using the services of a designer or design firm stated that they are likely to do so in the future – predominantly so Eastern and Central Canada.


If faced with the choice between a certified and non-certified designer of equal abilities, 70% would choose the certified designer. This is a clear message and good news for CGD certified members. Reasons for choosing a CGD certified graphic designer included the perception of higher education and training, reliability and trustworthiness, knowledge and skill set, experience and level of professionalism.

“This research is an important new resource for the GDC in Canada, but also a benchmark for other design organisations internationally,” stated Icograda Executive Director, Brenda Sanderson. “The link between design and better business performance and the support for defined professional ethics and sustainability policies are all advocacy platforms shared within Icograda’s international network. In undertaking this research, the GDC has demonstrated how Icograda member organisations are working to define the value of design.”

GDC 2010-12 National President, Jim Hudson, concludes, “The survey results have quantitatively reinforced our understanding of the value our organization provides to our profession, to business and all Canadians. Design buyers want to hire designers who are certified and adhere to a strong and professional Code of Ethics."