Will Brexit kill off small design studios in the UK?

Brexit: EU flag

Let’s face it – 2019 looks to be a defining time for start-ups across the country. The ongoing political melodrama of Brexit has intensified over recent months, and despite the many deadlines for a decision, business leaders are still no clearer on how this political and economic transition will be managed.

Should this be a cause for concern? Ritam Gandhi, founder of Studio Graphene, shares what he thinks might be in store for creatives in the UK and what you can do to push forward in the industry after the Brexit storm settles. 

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Should we be worried?

I have no doubt that the UK’s leading creative industries will continue to inspire confidence and retain their global reputation for talent and innovation.

While Brexit does make it difficult for small companies to plan ahead for the future, it’s important not to overlook the UK’s established presence as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. The country is still Europe’s leading destination for global tech investment, with the tech industry here surpassing £180 billion in value as of June 2018.

Similar observations can be made of the creative industries – a sector that employs over three million people in businesses ranging from design studios to graphic design, advertising and marketing. This thriving community of businesses contributes more than £100 billion to the UK economy. To put this into perspective, this is the equivalent of £11.5 million every hour.  

As someone who works closely with start-ups and business leaders within this sphere, I have no doubt that the UK’s leading creative industries will continue to inspire confidence and retain their global reputation for talent and innovation. However, as we look forward to the next 12 months, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and certain start-ups need to ensure they’re positioned to address potential challenges while also taking advantage of any opportunities that may arise. This holds particular relevance for start-ups based in the creative industries. 

What are the obstacles to success?

Over the course of 2018, Studio Graphene conducted a number of surveys among entrepreneurs and start-up leaders to learn more about some of the common challenges that were preventing them from growing. These surveys provided an important snapshot of the UK’s start-up community, and given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, these challenges will remain important issues during the coming months until we officially leave the European Union.

The challenge is to deepen the talent of the pool of skilled professionals in the UK.

Surveying over 100 start-up founders in the UK, Studio Graphene found that access to skilled workers was a prevalent obstacle. One in three founders felt that there was a shortage of digitally skilled workers in the capital. Moreover, when it came to competing with larger companies, start-ups also struggled to entice the right type of employee: 35 per cent of founders said they found it difficult to attract talent from larger companies.

Overall, the difficulty in finding employees with the right skills and, more importantly, mindset to operate within a small business environment affects a significant number of the UK’s start-up community. The challenge, therefore, is to deepen the talent pool of skilled professionals in the UK, be it through dedicated training programmes, apprenticeships or incentives designed to attract skilled migrants from overseas. Admittedly, the latter may prove increasingly difficult against the looming backdrop of Brexit.

How can businesses stay ahead of the curve?

We all know that keeping up with the latest trends ensures businesses can stay ahead of the curve, but it’s also the best method to reap the many benefits of continuing digital disruption.

Another more immediate and cost-effective solution is for start-ups to consider the advantages that arise from outsourcing the technical and digital aspects of their business to companies that specialise in tech, rather than keeping everything exclusively in-house. This can help forge new relationships and encourage entrepreneurs to consider new opportunities and ideas.

As we prepare for an increasingly uncertain 2019, companies large and small should be on the hunt for ways to take advantage of tech innovations. We all know that keeping up with the latest trends ensures businesses can stay ahead of the curve, but it’s also the best method to reap the many benefits of continuing digital disruption.

And for those in the creative industries who fear they lack the technical knowledge and industry know-how to embrace tech solutions effectively, they can take comfort in knowing that there are plenty of avenues of support they can turn to for a helping hand. 

What should we expect next?

Given the UK’s palpable entrepreneurial spirit and impressive resilience, the rest of the year is set to be cemented as an exciting year for the country’s start-ups and scaling businesses. With Brexit ever present, but possibly coming to a conclusion, there will be a set of new challenges and opportunities, but it’s clear that the UK is well positioned to hold its place as a global leader in the creative industries.  

This article was originally published in issue 290 of Computer Arts, the world's best-selling design magazine. Buy issue 290 or subscribe to Computer Arts.

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