Report shows high value placed on graphic and industrial design in Canada's manufacturing industry

A recent study conducted by KPMG on behalf of Industry Canada provides an assessment of the impact of investing in product design and branding (via DIAC). 



The study had two objectives:

  1. To assess the impact of investing in product design and branding on the competitiveness of manufacturers 

  2. To determine the competitive advantages of product design, and its role in innovation and in integrating global value chains for Canadian manufacturers. 

The report states that graphic and Industrial design can act as a driving force of the manufacturing process and can be applied in a variety of contexts ranging from strategic planning to concept execution to maintenance and repair, including end of life processing.


Key Findings:

  • Various studies have looked at the impact of design on the manufacturing industry in Canada and globally, but none have been able to accurately quantify the impact of design.
  • Generally, innovation studies and strategies rarely discuss the link between design and innovation. While this study provides a starting point for discussing the link between Graphic and Industrial design and innovation, it would be relevant to further examine the role of design as a contributor to innovation and competitiveness in broader studies. 
  • The metrics most relevant to measuring the impact of design on the Canadian manufacturing industry can be divided into three main categories: Return on investment; Impact on competitive positioning; and Impact on product function.



  • The role of Graphic designers within manufacturing firms is most often limited to the marketing function. However, some firms also mentioned using Graphic designers outside of the marketing function and as part of the product development process for the development of the visual components of products.
  • The role of Industrial designers within manufacturing firms relates exclusively to the product design and development function. Industrial designers are used to generate new product ideas, develop designs and concepts, and optimize the aesthetic, utility and manufacturability characteristics of products. 
  • While the majority of firms interviewed possess internal design capabilities, most companies also hire external design firms for specific purposes or when demand surpasses internal capacities. 


"The main takeaway from discussions with interviewees and focus group participants is that both Graphic and Industrial design are critical elements of the product development process and add a significant level of value if they can successfully introduce design at the front-end of the product development process." 


  • While the value of design is widely recognized, none of the firms interviewed measured the return on design investment independently from other business functions. Firms interviewed stated the following reasons for not measuring the return on design investment:
    • Design is integral to the company’s operations and to its success in the marketplace and there is no need to specifically measure its return;
    • Design is well supported within the firm at the strategic level and it is not necessary to justify design investments;
    • Without design, the company would simply not exist; and
    • Design overlaps and is intertwined with all product development activities, including R&D, engineering and marketing activities, and the return on design investment would be extremely difficult to isolate from other business functions.
  • Although firms do not specifically track and measure return on design investment, all firms interviewed stated significant impacts from design on their competitive position, and on their product’s aesthetic, utility and functional characteristics.
  • Firms also argued that Graphic and Industrial design can add value to the manufacturability of their products and increase the firm’s productivity through the development and implementation of more efficient product development and manufacturing processes. 


"The use of design services provides benefits that go beyond the aesthetic and functional characteristics of products." 


  • All firms interviewed described a link between design and innovation. According to interviewees, they could not attain competitive levels of innovation without the use of internal or external design services. 


Download the full study here.