Photo of woman with the text "Is this a designer?"

Who is the Nordic Design Professional? – A New Perspective

The role of design and the design professional has changed significantly over the last decade. Nearly 250.000 people work as design professionals in the Nordic countries. The majority are employed in the private sector and bring a much more diverse skillset to the market than previously assumed.

These are some of the conclusions in a major new study conducted by the Nordic design centers – Danish Design Centre, DOGA, Iceland Design Centre, Design Forum Finland and SVID. The study is co-financed by Nordic Innovation. 

You can find all the data from the study at

Also read: The Nordic Design Resource - Why?

Also read: The Nordic Design Resource - How?

Redefining the Nordic design professional

There are more than 243.000 design professionals in the Nordic countries. Together, they comprise 2% of the total labour force in the Nordic countries. This corresponds to the number of people working with financial service (e.g. insurance or pension funding) in the Nordic countries, or to twice the number of people working with real estate activities, and approximately to half the number of people working with production and distribution of information and cultural products.

Traditionally, only certain occupations in national registers, such as product and garment designers, graphic and multimedia designers, were included. The new number on design professionals is much higher. This is due to a much broader definition of the idea of “the designer”. In the study, design professionals span a number of sectors and industries, and we see design professionals as having a skillset – a way of thinking and working – that goes far beyond the design industry itself.

The private sector values design

The majority of the design professionals – 85% - work in the private sector. Primarily in manufacturing of products and communication services. The 12% of design professionals that work in the public sector work primarily within education, science and research or general public services.

The private sector is dominated by design professionals working with design and development of software and applications, with advertising and marketing, and with graphic and multimedia design.

However, twice as many ‘service and experience designers’ and ‘strategic designers’ as ‘graphic and visual designers’, ‘digital designers’ and ‘product developers’ work in the public sector.

Looking at the design professionals through the lens of disciplines, approximately 60% of the design professionals in the Nordic countries work within classic design disciplines such as graphic design, product development and form giving of products. 40% of the design professionals work in newer fields such as digital design, strategic design and service and experience design. There is no reason not to believe that the newer field of design will expand in the years to come.

At the same time, LinkedIn data suggest that the boundaries between design disciplines are becoming more and more fluid and being multi-disciplinarily is more the rule than the exception.

Previously, the image of design industries consisted of a few large design agencies and around 90% one-man companies. The comprehensive survey as part of this study shows that more than 50% of the design professionals are managing employees (or are responsible for/leading processes and/or programmes).

We look alike in the Nordic countries, but….

In the Nordic design centres, we believe we have more in common than what separates us. In the global arena, we believe we can benefit from collaborating across the Nordic countries instead of competing on our own or against each other. 

Data shows that we look very much alike in the Nordic countries, meaning that our respective design industries are structured the same way (share of single design disciplines) – with minor differences. But data from LinkedIn and the open web inform us that we do not have a strong tradition for engaging with each other. One might express it as a family with family members carrying the same DNA, but no interest in dancing with each other at a family gathering.

Comprehensive skill sets within the Nordics

As part of the study, we have been particularly curious about the data and insights which new data sources such as LinkedIn and the open web can provide.

Based on the predefined design disciplines we have explored what kind of skills design professionals in the Nordic countries holds. 

Head over to one of the Nordic design centres' websites in the near future for more articles on the role of the Nordic design resource, the value that design professionals contribute to society and businesses, and what the future for the Nordic design resource looks like.

All data from the study can be found at


Portrait Anna-Maija Sunnanmark

Anna-Maija Sunnanmark

Senior Innovation Adviser
Anna-Maija is a finance and business development professional with 20 years’ of experience in identifying innovations and scalable business models in various industries in international context with execution capability, a can-do-attitude, holistic perspective and passion to build on Nordic strongholds.

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