Design Foundations Round 5

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £2m for people centred, systemic design projects, to influence, inform and de-risk future R&D activity.

Opportunity Details


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Your project’s costs must be between £40,000 and £80,000. Your total project costs will be 100% funded.


Innovate UK

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Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £2 million in innovation projects that use people centred and systemic design methods. This funding is from Innovate UK. These projects will be to influence, inform and de-risk their future research and development (R&D) activity.

The aim of this competition is to help businesses use people centred and systemic design methods, laying foundations for innovative ideas with the potential to deliver significant benefits. These can be ideas for new or significantly improved products, services, places or business models.

Eligible organisations can apply for funding to use people centred and systemic design methods to:

  • improve existing innovative ideas
  • generate new ideas in response to a known need or opportunity
  • identify new opportunities to innovate, and plan how to respond to them

Your project must look at the need or opportunity from the perspective of the people involved. This is to make sure that your proposed solution is more desirable and beneficial and, is more likely to be adopted or to result in desirable behaviour change.

Applications are encouraged from organisations that have not previously used such design processes or expertise. We encourage applicants to work with design experts to get the best results and to develop their own understanding and capabilities.

  • To lead a project your organisation must:

    • be a UK registered business of any size
    • collaborate with at least one other UK registered organisation

    To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be a UK registered:

    • business of any size
    • academic institution
    • charity
    • not for profit
    • public sector organisation
    • research and technology organisation (RTO)

    Your project team must include appropriate expertise in people centred and systemic design. Lead organisations without this capability are encouraged to work with designers as project partners or subcontractors.

    Subcontractors are allowed in this competition, but they are limited to no more than 80% of the total eligible costs.

    business of any size can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further two applications. An organisation that is not leading an application can collaborate on any number of applications.

    Subcontractors can contribute to any number of applications. Lead organisations are advised to be mindful of their chosen subcontractors capacity to deliver should they be involved in more than one successful application.

  • Your project must:

    • have a grant funding request of between £40,000 and £80,000
    • have a grant request that matches your project costs
    • last between 3 and 6 months
    • carry out its project work in the UK
    • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
    • start by 1 November 2024
    • end by 30 April 2025

    Lead organisations must agree to contribute a minimum of one day and up to two days, in support of Innovate UK activities. These activities are to promote the use of design in business innovation, or to help us improve our products and services. This activity can include, for example, taking part in interviews, supporting the creation of case studies or contributing to seminars or showcases. You will not be required to share confidential information or intellectual property.

  • The aim of this competition is to help businesses use people centred and systemic design methods, laying foundations for innovative ideas with the potential to deliver significant benefits. These can be ideas for new or significantly improved products, services, places or business models.

    To be within scope of this competition, your proposal must be one or more of the following three categories:

    1. Defining innovation opportunities. You will use people centred and systemic design methods to identify, understand and prioritise needs and innovation opportunities that are relevant and valuable to your business, and to plan innovation activity to respond to them (including generating, testing and improving new ideas),
    2. Generating new ideas. You recognise a specific need or opportunity to innovate, and will use people centred design methods to verify it, and respond to it by generating new or improved ideas,
    3. Testing and improving ideas. You have an innovative idea and will use people centred design methods to simulate, test and improve the quality of the experience and benefits that it offers at every stage of its lifecycle.

    Your project must explore opportunities and ideas from the perspective of the people who will be involved with or affected by them. Their experiences, motivations and behaviour must be allowed to shape the challenge and ideas. This is to make sure that:

    • the most important and valuable problems and opportunities are being addressed
    • proposed solutions are more desirable, equitable and beneficial
    • new ideas are more likely to be adopted or promote positive changes in behaviour

    Your project must also include activities to identify and involve relevant stakeholders sufficiently early and at appropriate points throughout the project.

    Your project team can reflect the characteristics, culture and lived experiences of the people they are designing for, or take steps to bring those perspectives permanently into the project.

  • All prototyping activity within your project must:

    • focus primarily on making discoveries about the quality of experience, the likelihood of the idea being adopted or its potential to promote positive changes in behaviour
    • be as quick and low cost as possible, and aim for the lowest level of fidelity and functionality necessary to get the required feedback
    • be used to share ideas and make discoveries early in the design process, so they can be acted on before it becomes prohibitively expensive or time consuming to do so

    Successful applicants are encouraged to respond to feedback and new discoveries made during the research and design process. This might include abandoning or rethinking their original ideas and changing the focus of planned R&D activity. Innovate UK will consider justified project change requests submitted via a project’s allocated monitoring officer.

  • Your project can focus on one or more of the following:

    • net zero
    • artificial intelligence and machine learning
    • other emerging or advanced digital technologies
    • health and wellbeing
    • food and agriculture (except primary production)

    This list is not exhaustive.

  • We are not funding projects that:

    • are the design of experiments, policies or research methodologies
    • do not follow best practice design methods and principles as described in the competition scope
    • focus on the final finish or specification of an idea where fundamental design decisions have already been made for example, where new customer feedback or discoveries will have little influence on the design outcome
    • seek only to validate technical feasibility or progress the technology readiness level of an idea, rather than improving the quality of the experience or its benefits for people or the planet
    • are likely to be harmful to people or the planet
    • are proposals to create prototypes or demonstrators, in cases where the prototype requires a majority of the project cost or time to build
    • is a demonstration to be made fully functional at considerable effort or cost when partial or simulated functionality would suffice
    • is a demonstration intended primarily to test technical feasibility or performance rather than the customer experience and benefits
    • will only be shared with stakeholders late in the project for example, with no time allowed to make changes in response to feedback)

    We cannot fund projects that:

  • A briefing event will be held on Wednesday 1 May 2024 at 11am: click here for the joining link.

    If you would like help to find a project partner or design subcontractor, contact Innovate UK Business Connect’s Design team.


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