Re-designing Perceptions: Development of Alberta’s Industrial Design Sector, 1998 to Present

By Isabel Prochner

Many joke that good design in Alberta is an oxymoron. Although it is a harsh assessment, it is in some ways true. Alberta is located far from the traditional centers of Canadian industrial design in Quebec and Ontario. While Alberta is recognized for its major industries including energy and agriculture, its creative industries are often overlooked. Nevertheless, industrial design in Alberta is stronger than many realize. Data from Statistics Canada indicates that during the past decade, Alberta has become a significant contender in Canada’s industrial design industry.

Data was gathered from Statistics Canada’s Service bulletin: Specialized design services, a report published since 1998. The Service Bulletins track information including revenue, expenses and number of design establishments of Canada’s design industries.

Statistics for Alberta’s industrial design industry were gathered, graphed, and analyzed. Conclusions were established about the development of industrial design in Alberta and its context within Alberta and Canada, a summary of which follows.


Since 1998, Canada’s industrial design operating revenue has been distributed across Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. Quebec and Ontario account for approximately three-quarters of the revenue, with the remainder split between Alberta and British Columbia (see Figure 1). With several minor exceptions, industrial design operating revenue was not reported in other provinces or territories.

On average, Ontario’s annual industrial design operating revenue was 90.5 million or 44.5 per cent of the total for Canada; Quebec’s annual revenue was 57.4 million or 28.2 per cent of Canada’s total; Alberta’s annual revenue was 34.4 million or 16.9 per cent of Canada’s total; and British Columbia’s annual revenue was 16.9 million or 8.3 per cent of Canada’s total. For many years, Quebec has been recognized as a major industrial design center in Canada, but in the late 2000s, Alberta’s industrial design operating revenue surpassed that of Quebec.

Profit Margin

Industrial design expenses are variable and often change disproportionately to revenue, which leads to variable profit margins from year to year. However, compared to Quebec and Ontario, Alberta’s profit margin has had the strongest and most consistent increase. Alberta has the highest average profit margin at 11.93 per cent, while Quebec and Ontario follow with 10.45 per cent and 4.67 per cent, respectively (see Figure 2).

Design Establishments

The Service Bulletins define design establishments as one or a small group of production entities that produce a mainly homogenous set of goods or services.

The number of industrial design establishments in Alberta increased at a higher annual rate than in Quebec and Ontario. On average, industrial design establishments in Alberta grew 11.49 per cent per year while they grew -0.2 per cent and 2.31 per cent per year, respectively in Quebec and Ontario (see Figure 3). Proportionate to population, Alberta has more industrial design establishments than Quebec and Ontario. In 2009, Alberta had one design establishment per 13,063 people, while Quebec and Ontario had one per 29,102 people and one per 19,886 people, respectively.


Based on these statistics, it is evident that Alberta’s industrial design industry is among the strongest in Canada in terms of its revenue, profit margin and number of design establishments. This contradicts the common negative view of design in Alberta. Though additional research is required to more precisely understand areas of strength in Alberta’s industrial design industry and its specializations, this study provides an important first step to better understanding industrial design in Alberta and Canadian design industries as a whole.

Note: At the time when this article was written, the most current issue of the Service Bulletins dated from 2009. Due to unreliability or confidentiality of data, Statistics Canada’s Service Bulletins did not release data from 2000 to 2002 or about industrial design in 2007. Further, in 1998 and 1999, statistics for Alberta were grouped within Canada’s Prairie region. In this study, statistics for Canada’s Prairie region are used to represent Alberta in 1998 and 1999, as they provide the most accurate estimation of statistics from Alberta in those years.