Competition brief: design foundations 2017 round 1

Updated 15 February 2017

1. Dates and deadlines

Competition opens Monday 16 January 2017
Briefing event for applicants Tuesday 17 January 2017
Registration deadline Midday Wednesday 15 February 2017
Application deadline Midday Wednesday 22 February 2017

2. The competition scope

The aim of this competition is to stimulate high-quality, human-centred design activities at the earliest stages of the innovation journey. These should identify opportunities and generate ideas for new products, services or business models that align with customer demand.

We are looking to fund projects that meet all of the following criteria. Projects must:

  • include early-stage, human-centred design activities and outputs at the discover, define and develop stages of the double-diamond design process. See the guidance for applicants for more information on the double-diamond process
  • include planning and support for the ongoing development of ideas towards commercialisation and next steps in the innovation process. This should include further activities, development roadmaps or material to support investment pitches or funding applications
  • take steps to build design capability within the business and set out to improve its capability to plan, buy, manage and deliver early-stage design interventions in the future, through their structure, activities and outputs
  • take steps to identify and address innovation barriers within the business. This should include any cultural, organisational or procedural barriers
  • represent a new approach and challenge for the business. This should include questioning existing culture and processes and developing and adopting new ones

This competition is for early-stage design projects that span the first 3 stages of the double-diamond design process: discover, define and develop. The fourth stage, deliver, is out of scope. If your project excludes 1 or more of the first 3 stages, you should explain why it is not considered necessary or appropriate.

Within the scope of the competition, we are looking for applications that show:

  • ambition and a high likelihood of transformative impact
  • capability of the project team to deliver an outstanding quality of work
  • commitment to early-stage design process as a driver of innovation strategy
  • a willingness to recognise and address innovation barriers within the business

Projects may generate and explore ideas about physical or digital products, services and/or business models.

Projects may be in any technology or industry sector, but we are particularly encouraging proposals within:

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

You can find out more about each of these areas in the Innovate UK 2016/17 delivery plan.

3. Projects that we won’t fund

In this competition, we are not funding:

  • progression of existing ideas or concepts towards a final specification
  • design disciplines and activities that are primarily technical in nature and not directly concerned with the customer experience (for example, engineering design, design for manufacture, design of scientific experiments, design of materials)
  • the creation of visual identity elements, graphics and/or style guides, unless part of a broader customer experience proposition including new products or services
  • high-fidelity prototypes (for example, to test technical feasibility, performance or production materials and processes)

We will fund fast, low-cost simulations to understand customer behaviour and test interaction experience.

4. Find out if you are eligible to apply

To lead a project, you must

  • be a UK-based business
  • be a business of any size
  • carry out your project, and intend to exploit the results, in the UK
  • work alone or with sub-contractors (to be identified on your application form)

Please note:

  • a business may only make 1 application for funding (as main applicant) per design foundations competition round and may only be in receipt of a single design foundations grant at any time
  • a business may appear as a named sub-contractor on more than 1 application per competition round. Applicants should make sure that their intended sub-contractors have sufficient delivery capacity and are not over-committed
  • a business can work with multiple sub-contractors on a single project, where this is thought necessary to access required knowledge and/or capabilities
  • all intended sub-contractors must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project
  • you may not sub-contract more than 1 business to complete the same task within a project

5. Funding and project details

We have allocated up to £1 million to fund early-stage design projects in this competition round. Further funding, bringing the total investment to a maximum of £3 million, may be made available via 2 subsequent competition rounds in 2017 (expected to open for applications in May and August).

A single business must run each project. Up to 70% of total project costs can be used to sub-contract design services.

Early-stage design projects are classed as feasibility studies, for which you could be awarded a grant of:

  • up to 70% of your total eligible project costs if you are a small or micro business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

We expect projects to last 3 to 9 months. We expect them to range in size from total costs of £20,000 to £100,000, depending on the type of project.

Find out more about eligible project costs.

You must complete all projects and incur and pay all costs by 31 March 2018.

6. How to apply

To apply:

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

Innovate UK will first review applications to check whether they are within the competition scope. Those considered out of scope will not progress to quality assessment.

External, independent experts will assess the quality of in-scope applications. We will then select the projects that we fund, to build a portfolio of projects as described in the competition guidance for applicants. Please read this carefully before you apply.

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

7. Background and further information

Innovation can be defined as the exploitation of new ideas to create value. As a starting point, it requires great ideas. These should be technically and commercially feasible but also represent a desirable and useful response to genuine customer needs. Technology can enable the supply of new products and services, but their commercial success or failure ultimately depends on demand. Do they meet the wants and needs of the people who will pay for them?

Great ideas should also take account of the wider system of services and stakeholders in which they will exist. They also need to consider social, technological, environmental and political/regulatory trends that might influence market conditions in the future.

Employing design processes at the earliest stages of the innovation journey can help businesses to understand the context in which they operate. This will help to inspire ideas and define effective strategies for innovation.

Early-stage design activity can help businesses to:

  • identify and tackle the right problems
  • generate and explore more ideas with lower risk
  • make better decisions based on a balanced consideration of human, technical and commercial factors
  • get clarity and buy-in through better communications
  • boost their innovation capability

You can read more about the role of design in effective innovation, the opportunity it represents and Innovate UK’s commitments to supporting the use of design in our Design in Innovation Strategy, 2015–2019.

If you want help to connect with other businesses, you can contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at