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Design Foundations Grant funding for early-stage design

Design Foundations is a new £3m grant funding programme from Innovate UK to help businesses identify innovation opportunities and generate better propositions for desirable, useful and feasible products, services and business models.

The aim is to build collaborations between businesses looking for new ways to innovate, and designers with the creative tools to provide this insight. It means using design interventions to address critical business challenges such as:

Tackling the right problems

  • Better understanding customer behavior, motivations and experiences
  • Quickly simulate and test new propositions with minimal investment

Keeping ahead of market drivers

  • Identify future technological, social or environmental changes
  • Explore new ways to create value, efficiency and resilience

Ensuring commercial viability

  • Identify viable routes to market and new applications
  • Communicate the benefits of a novel technology to investors and customers

Building business capability

  • Unite teams and partners behind a clear, compelling vision
  • Improve your innovation processes and design capability

Why use early stage design in innovation?

Early-stage design encompasses the various activities undertaken to arrive at a range of good ideas, which may then be further developed and refined towards commercialisation. The ideas may relate to products (physical or digital), services or even business models.

Such activity is distinct from engineering design or styling which typically occurs later in a project and involves the refinement and final specification of a product or service.

Ideas with the greatest potential are founded on a thorough understanding of customer behavior and motivations. Adopting a human-centred, rather than a technology-led, approach at this early stage of the innovation process is important 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 i.e. the needs and desires of customers.

Excellent, early stage design interventions improve innovation outcomes and business performance. Developments will have a lower risk of failure and are likely to generate greater revenue, higher profit margins and increased market share and exports compared to projects that don’t include early-stage design. Businesses that embrace a design-led culture are likely to be more efficient innovators, be more productive, have stronger brand equity and demonstrate greater resilience.

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

Competition detail

There will be through 3 competitive funding rounds over 12 months, the first will open on 9 January 2017 with two further rounds in May and August.

Applications are invited from individual, UK registered businesses for projects of up to a maximum value of £100,000, allowing up to 70% of the total project costs to be used for sub-contracted design services.

The official launch event will be on 17 January 2017, providing an opportunity to accelerate your application into the first round, understand the requirements of the competition and help develop collaborations in applying to this programme.

Please register your interest in attending this event and receiving the latest updates by sending an email to

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