Design Foundations: helping companies with early stage innovation

Posted on: 16/01/2017

A strong early-stage design process generates increased revenue, market share and exports.

A strong early-stage design process generates increased revenue, market share and exports.

By Edward Hobson

There is a great deal of evidence demonstrating that businesses that use a strong early-stage design process generate increased revenue, market share and exports, as well as having a faster and more cost-effective innovation process.

Early-stage design will give you (and investors) greater confidence in your ideas, help to streamline development and reduce the likelihood and cost of rectifying problems later on. Brand equity and business resilience can also be improved through design.

Design Foundations is a great opportunity to develop your organisation’s innovation capability and lay the foundations for compelling, high-value propositions that will help attract investors and customers.

What is it?

Design Foundations is a new grant-funding programme from Innovate UK aimed at helping companies to identify high-value innovation opportunities and generate better propositions for new products, services and business models.

The funding supports companies explore future possibilities in collaboration with a design team; bringing new tools and approaches to the plate. It offers up to 70% funding of projects up to £100,000 for any UK company, irrespective of scale or maturity, operating in any sector. There are three rounds of funding across 2017, opening for applications on January 16.

How it can help my business?

Businesses can benefit in many ways from using this funding to:

Identify and tackle the right problems

  • By developing broader contextual understanding of human experiences and behaviour, stakeholder eco-systems and future market drivers.

Explore more (and better) ideas with lower risk

  • By identifying viable routes to market, including cross-sector opportunities
  • By generating more ideas for desirable products, services and business models
  • By quickly simulating and testing new propositions with minimal investment

Get buy-in for new concepts

  • By communicating the benefits of a novel technology to investors and customers
  • By uniting teams behind a clear, compelling vision/roadmap

Boost innovation capability

  • By experiencing the design process first-hand, embedding learning, adopting new processes and becoming better buyers and users of design.

To find out more visit the design foundations Round 2 Update 

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What makes a good application?

Knowing what distinguishes Design Foundations from other Innovate UK competitions will help you get the most of the opportunity.

This is about investing in ideas. The best business ideas are generally not the first or only idea, but rather the result of a creative process that generates many ideas, and allows for rapid testing and iterative refinement. And essentially this is all done at an early stage, prior to any significant investment, when it is cheap to fail fast and try again.

Ideas with the greatest potential tend to be founded on a thorough understanding of customer behaviour and motivations. So there is an expectation of adopting a human-centred, rather than a technology-led, approach in these early stages of the innovation process. Why? Well because, ultimately, people don’t buy technology – they buy what technology does for them. Technology can enable the supply of products and services, but design balances that supply with demand, such as better understanding the needs and desires of customers.

There is a strong emphasis on new relationships and collaborations, exploring new approaches to how that business approaches its development. This is not about supporting business as usual or underwriting projects that were going to happen anyway, but finding ways in which a different relationship with designers can bring different perspectives to how a business develops.

Ultimately, there is an aspiration that this funding will spark something transformative within your business, particularly if you haven’t previously used design to help shape early concepts. The approach can be disruptive: it may mean challenging some basic assumptions about your business and approach, and initially, it may feel uncomfortable and counter-productive. But this will set a course for success in the longer term, generating greater confidence across your business in its future.

Beyond Design Foundations

On completing a Foundation project, your business is likely to be better positioned to address investors’ and customers’ needs for a particular new venture or proposition. This may be in relation to approaching private investors or refining a subsequent application to a specific Innovate UK, sector-related, competition.

And for design and innovation partners…?

Design Foundations will need high calibre designers to provide the relevant tools and approaches to collaborate with another business in assessing, exploring and moving them forward. This is a chance to develop and extend relationships with prospective clients, explore applications for design in new markets, and position design strategically to help shape businesses over a longer time frame.

For further details:

Latest Design events. See the competition scope, guidance notes and registration process. Look at the FAQs for applicants.

Find out more below

Design foundations Round 2 update


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