Design foundations round 1 2018

Key Features

UK businesses can apply for a share of £1 million for early-stage, human-centred research and design projects to influence future R&D activity.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £1 million

Opens: 13th Aug 2018

Closes: 19th Sep 2018

! This scheme is now closed


The aim of this competition is to help businesses that want to explore opportunities to innovate based on customer, user and stakeholder needs and behaviours.

It is relevant to businesses wanting to generate new ideas for more useful and desirable products, services or business models. It is also appropriate for businesses that want to test their existing, undeveloped ideas with people, before committing to further research and development (R&D) investment.


Early-stage research and design projects can help businesses decide where to focus their innovation efforts. They can help to communicate ideas and provide evidence of market demand to support a:

  • business case
  • investor proposition or
  • application for R&D funding

Projects must work directly with customers or users to understand their needs and behaviours. These factors ultimately determine market demand and adoption so, by addressing them early, businesses can de-risk their R&D process.

Projects must use proven human-centred research and design processes, such as:

  • the Design Council’s Double-Diamond process
  • Ideo’s Design Kit for HCD
  • Stanford Design School’s Design Thinking Bootleg

Your project must aim to generate new ideas or to user-test and improve existing ones. You must use proven, human-centred research and design processes. You can include activities or work packages to:

  • understand human motivations and behaviour through observation, interviews, role-play, workshops and so on
  • identify high-value innovation opportunities and define what makes a desirable, fit for purpose solution
  • create ideas for new or significantly improved products or services
  • test and improve ideas by using fast, low-cost visuals, prototypes or simulations
  • clearly communicate ideas ready for further investment and R&D activity
  • document your findings to support further investment pitches or funding applications

Your project can explore innovations relating to physical or digital products, services or business models.


To be eligible to lead a project you must:

  • be a UK-registered business or RTO (non-profit research and technology organisations including catapults)
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results in or from the UK

Businesses can work alone or in collaboration with project partners. If an RTO is leading the application, they must have at least one business collaborator.

Funding Costs

Your project’s total costs can be between £10,000 and £40,000, including the requested grant value and the applicant’s contribution.

Projects must start by 1 January 2019, end by 31 March 2019 and last no more than 3 months.

You can apply for a grant to cover:

  • up to 70% of your total 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

If you are sub-contracting:

  • sub-contracting costs must not be more than 70% of the total project costs
  • sub-contractors can be businesses, universities, RTOs, PSREs, research council institutes, public sector organisations or charities.
  • you can 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


Innovate UK will not fund:

  • projects that are not early-stage, such as the creation of final design specifications for production
  • projects that validate or develop only the technical feasibility of ideas rather than their desirability and usefulness to customers