Name of Network: Design Skillnet
Members: 400+ businesses
Sector(s) covered: Commercial Design – Visual, Digital, Product, Strategic
Year established: 2017
Network Manager: Niamh O’Shaughnessy
Please describe what your Skillnet Business Network does and how it came about?
Design Skillnet was founded in 2017, by the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI), as a response to the changes appearing on the horizon of the design world. For design professionals in Ireland to reach their career potential and to step up to the broader role of design in business, in a future that was evolving (and continues to evolve) at an ever-increasing pace, it was clear that they would require a more diverse and sophisticated set of skills.
Design is a broad sector covering a wide range of disciplines, from visual areas such as graphic design, branding and user experience (UX); to product and industrial design, such as medical devices; to strategic design, such as service design and customer experience.
Many skills are transversal across disciplines; some are discipline-specific.
Design Skillnet works to prepare and empower designers and design leaders to be future-ready by providing learning opportunities in leadership skills, business skills and emerging technical skills.
Can you outline one important way your Network impacts positively on your sector?
Design Skillnet aims to provide opportunities to our members to gain competitive advantage and remain competitive in an increasingly complex and dynamic commercial landscape – both for their businesses and their own careers. Design is becoming more strategic, more valuable and as such, much more integrated. All of this requires design professionals to develop a wide repertoire of talent and skills, which go beyond technical design skills or the “doing of design”, in order to thrive.
One way in which Design Skillnet positively impacts our sector is in supporting design managers and leaders to “level-up” and operate at the highest international standard, through our Design Management Professional Diploma. This programme has been developed to empower designers and design managers with the tools, processes and methodologies to successfully manage design as a key business resource. The overall theme is: Learning to navigate design management and design leadership – which are different techniques and a key take-away is the skill to know when and how to apply which.
Design Skillnet views the Design Management Professional Diploma as a critical tool in raising the bar of design management and leadership in Ireland.
What has been the most transformative initiative in your sector in the last year?
Designing for sustainability and the circular economy is a key area for the design sector. There is a huge opportunity during the design process to prevent upfront, rather than curing after a process or product is made. Design Skillnet has collaborated with TUS Midwest to pilot a Level 9 Special Purpose Certificate in Design for Sustainability and Circular Economies, which combines the academic and the applied, making it directly relevant to industry.
Participants chose projects that sit with their business vision and so can apply learning directly from classroom to studio. There is no denying that this is an essential area of focus for every sector today, tomorrow and every day thereafter and Design Skillnet is excited to explore and develop further initiatives in this space.
What new trends do you see emerging within your industry?
Trends fall under several headings:
The definition of design has evolved rapidly in recent years as technological advances impact our design capabilities. Design as a process and as a profession, is increasingly recognised across the world as an essential activity in the evolution of both enterprise and public service. Design tools and methodology are now applied in all areas of innovation and change. Many design professionals working in emerging fields of design may not even identify themselves currently as designers.
Design Disciplines are changing, as are the skills needed. The move to digital has naturally impacted visual design and design for print. Changes in society and consumer behaviour demand increasingly sophisticated, human-centred, and strategic design responses.
Where designers work is also evolving. The Design Practice in Ireland Report produced by Design Skillnet identified that while two thirds of designers work for organisations employing less than 50 people, there is an emerging cohort of designers working in-house across a broad range of sectors and organisation size; from finance to food, health to pharmaceuticals, design permeates every industry and sector.
Designing for sustainability and circular economy are becoming increasingly more mainstream, due to the realisation of the power and responsibility of design to address the world’s environmental challenges.
How is your Network using technology to facilitate learning and development programmes?
Design is a creative process and design professionals traditionally would prefer to come together to work and learn. However, the pandemic has proved that creativity has no boundaries!
To date, technology has been leveraged primarily to deliver live, synchronous learning events and to facilitate asynchronous collaboration between participants on longer programmes. Providing learning online via Zoom and other platforms has become natural for our training providers and participants alike. In-session use of Miro and other tools has allowed for live interaction and collaboration.
A key benefit has been the accessibility to training that the online format provides for participants based outside of Dublin. Barriers around time, cost, travel, have been removed – making it an easier decision to engage in training. Many members also find they are more comfortable in an online format when meeting others for the first time, as the process of introducing oneself is typically facilitated and breakout groups are pre-ordained (even randomly by Zoom). We do hear that they miss the coffee though!
Design Skillnet intends to explore other uses for tech, such as on-demand, VR, micro-credentials and other options.
What skills do you think are most important for a small business owner/manager?
Running a small business is incredibly brave. To make it as fulfilling as possible, I believe the first trick is to realise and embrace that you are running a business. You are a business person as well as, in the case of Design Skillnet members, a designer.
Then it’s about honing your talent and skills to develop a clear vision and strategy, master financial and time management – which are intertwined; develop and implement an effective marketing strategy; convert your leads to make sales and create a predictable flow of new customers into your business; deliver wow customer service and manage the relationships; and lead and develop your team.
The Designs on Growth programme provided by Design Skillnet covers all of these areas and supports design business owners to create space to work on their business as well as in their business.
Do you have any advice for a business that is considering joining a Skillnet Business Network?
Approach it with intention. There are fantastic benefits and the more you participate the greater the impact and return on investment for your business. Lean in and make it work for you. Apply what you learn immediately into your business; in small chunks for larger strategies if needs be; the key is to move to action promptly.
Visit the Design Skillnet website to learn more about the upskilling and development opportunities they offer.