Design foundations 2017 round 2


Innovate UK is to invest up to £1 million in early-stage, human-centred design projects. These projects will help businesses identify high-value innovation opportunities and generate ideas for new products, services or business models that align with customer demand.

Proposals should use recognised design processes to understand customer motivations and behaviour, inspire new ideas, support decision-making and inform innovation strategy.  Projects should not cost more than £60,000 in total. Projects should last no more than 6 months.  A single UK business must lead the project. However, businesses may use up to 70% of the total project cost to sub-contract required services such as design expertise.

Competition Scope:

This competition seeks to stimulate high-quality, human-centred design activities at the earliest stages of the innovation journey. Design foundations projects could help businesses to:

  • identify and address the problems that customers really care about
  • generate ideas for new products, services or business models in line with customer demand
  • explore and validate ideas quickly and with lower risk
  • make better decisions based on a balanced consideration of human, technical and commercial factors
  • get clarity and buy-in through better communication of their ideas
  • innovate more effectively by boosting their design capability

To be in scope for this competition, projects must follow an appropriate early-stage design process, such as the ‘double-diamond’ process. This should include phases of work to:

  • understand the articulated and unarticulated needs of customers
  • generate a broad range of new ideas in response to those needs
  • quickly validate the desirability and usability of ideas
  • repeatedly filter and refine ideas to pinpoint the most promising solutions for further development

For further information on appropriate design processes, including the ‘double-diamond’ model, please refer to the guidance for applicants.  Projects must be human-centred rather than technology-led.  They should concentrate first on understanding what makes a desirable product or service from the perspective of the customer and other stakeholders. That is, they should identify the attributes needed to stimulate market demand.  Second, they should generate ideas and test their market viability based on that insight. Note that the subsequent development and testing of specific technical solutions needed to realise a product or service is out of scope for this competition.  Projects must represent a new approach or challenge for the applicant business. They must actively seek to build design capability within the organisation.

Within the scope of the competition, we are seeking applications that:

  • include the necessary experience and expertise to carry out early-stage, human-centred design processes to a very high standard (either in-house or using sub-contractors)
  • demonstrate how the project structure and organisational processes and culture will allow new ideas to flourish, or include activities to create such conditions
  • include planning and support for next steps, such as the creation of materials for investment pitches, follow-on funding applications or development roadmaps

Projects may generate and explore ideas about physical or digital products, services and/or business models. They may relate to any technology or industry sector. However, applicants may wish to consider whether their project will be eligible for follow-on funding through one of Innovate UK’s open or regular, sector-based competitions in:

  • health and life sciences
  • manufacturing and materials
  • infrastructure systems
  • emerging and enabling technologies

Key Dates:

Competition opens Monday 8 May 2017
Briefing event for applicants Manchester Tuesday 16 May 2017
Cardiff Tuesday 23 May 2017
Dundee Thursday 25 May 2017
Registration deadline Midday Wednesday 14 June 2017
Application deadline Midday Wednesday 21 June 2017

How to apply:

If you are interested in this competition, please email the Innovation SuperNetwork team at or complete the form below so we can help you and guide you through the application process.


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Our work is only possible with the support of our local and national partners, including Innovate UK, the Knowledge Transfer Network, the North East LEP, Northumbrian WaterNorth East BIC, and Reece Innovation with part funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
Huge thanks go to all our partners.