Funding competition Design foundations 2017 round 2

UK businesses can apply for a share of £1 million for early-stage, human-centred design projects to create and explore new product or service ideas.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


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 human-centred design processes to understand customer motivations and behaviour, inspire new ideas, support decision-making and inform innovation strategy.

We expect projects to cost no more than £60,000 in total. Projects should last no more than 6 months.

Funding type


Project size

No more than £60,000 in total.

Find out if you are eligible to apply

To lead a project, you must:

  • be a UK-based business of any size
  • carry out your project in the UK
  • work alone or with sub-contractors (to be identified on your application form)
  • make only one application in this competition round
  • not be working on more than one project funded with a design foundations grant at the same time
  • not have been refused funding by Innovate UK for the same project on more than one previous occasion (whether in another design foundations round or a different competition)
Notes on sub-contracting:
  • sub-contractors can be businesses, universities, non-profit research and technology organisations (including catapults), public sector research establishments or research council institutes
  • you may work with multiple sub-contractors on a single project
  • all 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 one business to complete the same task within a project
  • you must ensure that your sub-contractors have sufficient capacity to carry out the work and are not over-committed

If you are a design service provider seeking to explore commercial product/service proposals for profit, there is no need to build design capability. However, the project must represent a new departure for the business and include significant innovation risk.

Note that, through this competition, Innovate UK seeks to encourage early-stage design activity where it is currently underused. As such, we expect the majority of funded projects to be led by non-design businesses and reserve the right to select a portfolio of projects accordingly.

Projects that we won't fund

In this competition, we will not fund:

  • late-stage design development; that is, the progression of an existing, well-defined product or service idea 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 these are part of a broader customer experience proposal that includes new products or services
  • the creation of prototypes solely to develop or test technical performance, rather than to understand customer behaviour or validate the quality of the customer experience

Funding and project details

We have allocated up to £1 million to fund early-stage design projects in this competition round.

Projects must last no longer than 6 months. You must complete your project and incur and pay all costs by 31 March 2018.

Projects should cost between £10,000 and £60,000 in total. The total project cost is the combination of the requested grant value and the applicant’s contribution.

If you expect your total project costs to exceed £60,000 (up to a maximum of £100,000) you must contact for approval before making an application. If you fail to do this your project will be deemed out of scope.

Find out more about eligible project costs.

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.

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

  • up to 70% of your 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.

The 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
8 May 2017
Competition opens
16 May 2017
Manchester briefing event.
23 May 2017
Cardiff briefing event.
25 May 2017
Dundee briefing event.
14 June 2017 12:00pm
Registration closes
21 June 2017
Submission deadline, competition closed 12:00 midday.
21 June 2017 12:00pm
Competition closes
28 July 2017
Applicants notified

How to apply

To apply:

  • the applicant must register online
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition, which will be available once the competition opens
  • attend one of the optional briefing events for potential applicants (in person or by webinar once the link is available)
  • complete and upload your online application on our secure server

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

External, independent experts assess the quality of your application. 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.

Also please read the general guidance for applicants as it will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

Guidance for applicants

Please view the guidance and application questions for this competition. This will be available once the competition opens.

Background and further information

You can read more about the role of early-stage, human-centred design in innovation and Innovate UK’s commitment to supporting excellent design in our design in innovation strategy.

If you want help to find potential sub-contractors, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network and join the design foundations LinkedIn group

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

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