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Tapping the Potential of NYC’s Designers

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Growth by Design: The Powerful Impact and Untapped Potential of NYC’s Architecture & Design Sectors
New York: Center for an Urban Future, 2011
[Free full text available via nycfuture.org.]

Researchers at the Center for an Urban Future, an NYC-based think tank, survey the city’s booming design sector (industrial, architectural, fashion and graphic design) and propose a number of policy recommendations to leverage one of NYC’s most promising job creators and export generators.

Although New York has declined as a manufacturing center, Growth by Design finds that the city has emerged as “one of the few global hubs for where things are designed”:

“No other city in the country has as many leading firms in architecture, landscape architecture, fashion design, interior design, and graphic design. In 2009, for instance, the five boroughs of New York had 40 percent more architectural firms than the next closest U.S. city (Los Angeles) …. In Architectural Record’s annual list of top architecture firms by revenue, New York had more high grossing companies than any other U.S. city in the last five years…. Similarly, over 800 fashion companies are headquartered in New York, more than double its next closest competitor (Paris). New York also has 50 percent more interior design firms than Los Angeles, and nearly three times as many members in AIGA (formerly known as American Institute of Graphic Arts), an industry association for graphic design.”

Growth by Design identifies several good reasons for this dominance, including “an unparalleled number of universities and museums that serve as important venues for the circulation and exchange of ideas, including Parsons School of Design, the School of the Visual Arts, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Pratt Institute, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum, to name only a few of the most prominent.” The report also profiles a number of pioneering New York design houses, including Pensa, Smart Design, and the legendary Pentagram.

Pensa’s co-founder Marco Perry offers one of the report’s most useful pearls when he says, “It sounds kind of crazy… but the airports are really important for what we do. From New York I can get to almost anywhere in the world in about 12 hours. If I have a meeting in Korea, I can get a direct flight and be there in about 14 hours. If I were based somewhere else, I probably couldn’t do that.” The authors expand on Perry’s observation:

“Counterintuitive as it may seem in an era of video conferencing, proximity to two major international airports with a large number of direct flights abroad is another huge advantage to being in New York. It used to be that the big design firms who got international contracts, particularly among architects, sent a team of designers to work locally. Now they can keep their New York desk and Skype into conferences abroad, but face-to-face interactions are still necessary, whether for site inspections, important client meetings, conferences, exhibitions, or lectures.”

The report concludes with a set of policy recommendations to help the city’s designers take advantage of the global demand for their services:

  1. Create a desk at EDC [New York City Economic Development Corporation] to support and grow the design sector.
  2. Help establish a high-profile design festival to promote New York City’s designers.
  3. Help New York-based designers export their services and reach new markets.
  4. Encourage entrepreneurial partnerships between designers, engineers, and tech entrepreneurs.
  5. Develop a plan for helping city departments and neighborhood intermediaries (like BIDs and LDCs) become smarter about purchasing and implementing quality design.
  6. Facilitate outreach to businesses that could benefit from strategic design implementation.
  7. Resurrect Brooklyn Designs.
  8. Develop university partnerships.

Read the full report.