Design Foundations Round 5

Key Features

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £2 million for people centred and systemic design projects, across a range of themes and innovation areas. These are to influence, inform and de-risk their future R&D activity.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £2 million

Opens: 29th Apr 2024

Closes: 26th Jun 2024


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £2 million in innovation projects that use people centred and systemic design methods. This funding is from Innovate UK.

These will be to influence, inform and de-risk their future research and development (R&D) activity.


The aim of this competition is to help businesses use people centred and systemic design methods, laying foundations for innovative ideas with the potential to deliver significant benefits. These can be ideas for new or significantly improved products, services, places or business models.

To be within scope of this competition, your proposal must be one or more of the following three categories:

  1. Defining innovation opportunities. You will use people centred and systemic design methods to identify, understand and prioritise needs and innovation opportunities that are relevant and valuable to your business, and to plan innovation activity to respond to them (including generating, testing and improving new ideas),
  2. Generating new ideas. You recognise a specific need or opportunity to innovate, and will use people centred design methods to verify it, and respond to it by generating new or improved ideas,
  3. Testing and improving ideas. You have an innovative idea and will use people centred design methods to simulate, test and improve the quality of the experience and benefits that it offers at every stage of its lifecycle.

Your project must explore opportunities and ideas from the perspective of the people who will be involved with or affected by them. Their experiences, motivations and behaviour must be allowed to shape the challenge and ideas. This is to make sure that:

  • the most important and valuable problems and opportunities are being addressed
  • proposed solutions are more desirable, equitable and beneficial
  • new ideas are more likely to be adopted or promote positive changes in behaviour

Your project must also include activities to identify and involve relevant stakeholders sufficiently early and at appropriate points throughout the project.

Your project team can reflect the characteristics, culture and lived experiences of the people they are designing for, or take steps to bring those perspectives permanently into the project.

All prototyping activity within your project must:

  • focus primarily on making discoveries about the quality of experience, the likelihood of the idea being adopted or its potential to promote positive changes in behaviour
  • be as quick and low cost as possible, and aim for the lowest level of fidelity and functionality necessary to get the required feedback
  • be used to share ideas and make discoveries early in the design process, so they can be acted on before it becomes prohibitively expensive or time consuming to do so

Successful applicants are encouraged to respond to feedback and new discoveries made during the research and design process. This might include abandoning or rethinking their original ideas and changing the focus of planned R&D activity. Innovate UK will consider justified project change requests submitted via a project’s allocated monitoring officer.

Portfolio approach

Innovate UK want to fund a variety of projects across different technologies, markets and location. Innovate UK call this a portfolio approach.

Innovate UK reserve the right to select a portfolio of successful applicants, subject to meeting the quality threshold, that:

  • represent a range of themes, sectors, design applications and outputs
  • are located throughout the UK
  • represent a range of company sizes

Specific Themes

Your project can focus on one or more of the following:

  • net zero
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • other emerging or advanced digital technologies
  • health and wellbeing
  • food and agriculture (except primary production)

This list is not exhaustive.


Your project must:

  • have a grant funding request of between £40,000 and £80,000
  • have a grant request that matches your project costs
  • last between 3 and 6 months
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • start by 1 November 2024
  • end by 30 April 2025

Lead organisations must agree to contribute a minimum of one day and up to two days, in support of Innovate UK activities. These activities are to promote the use of design in business innovation, or to help us improve our products and services. This activity can include, for example, taking part in interviews, supporting the creation of case studies or contributing to seminars or showcases. You will not be required to share confidential information or intellectual property.

Projects must always start on the first of the month and this must be stated within your application. Your project start date will be reflected in your grant offer letter if you are successful.

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian or Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian or Belarusian source.

You will be made ineligible if you exceed the Minimal Financial Assistance limit. You must submit a complete declaration as part of your application.

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size
  • collaborate with at least one other UK registered organisation

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be a UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Your project team must include appropriate expertise in people centred and systemic design. Lead organisations without this capability are encouraged to work with designers as project partners or subcontractors.

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once partners have accepted the invitation, they will be asked to login or to create an account in the Innovation Funding Service. They are responsible for entering their own project costs and completing their Project Impact questions in the application.

To be an eligible collaboration, the lead and at least one other organisation must apply for funding when entering their costs into the application.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition, but they are limited to no more than 80% of the total eligible costs.

You can work with multiple subcontractors on a single project. Each subcontractor must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project.

A subcontractor can be a business of any size, academic institution, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO).

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must also provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you.

Innovate UK expect all subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

Number of applications

business of any size can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further two applications.

An organisation that is not leading an application, can collaborate on any number of applications.

Subcontractors can contribute to any number of applications. Lead organisations are advised to be mindful of their chosen subcontractors capacity to deliver should they be involved in more than one successful application.

Use of animals in research and innovation

Innovate UK expects and supports the provision and safeguarding of welfare standards for animals used in research and innovation, according to best practice and up to date guidance.

Any projects selected for funding which involve animals will be asked to provide additional information on welfare and ethical considerations, as well as compliance with any relevant legislation as part of the project start-up process. This information will be reviewed before an award is made.

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.


Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • are the design of experiments, policies or research methodologies
  • do not follow best practice design methods and principles as described in the competition scope
  • focus on the final finish or specification of an idea where fundamental design decisions have already been made for example, where new customer feedback or discoveries will have little influence on the design outcome
  • seek only to validate technical feasibility or progress the technology readiness level of an idea, rather than improving the quality of the experience or its benefits for people or the planet
  • are likely to be harmful to people or the planet
  • are proposals to create prototypes or demonstrators, in cases where the prototype requires a majority of the project cost or time to build
  • is a demonstration to be made fully functional at considerable effort or cost when partial or simulated functionality would suffice
  • is a demonstration intended primarily to test technical feasibility or performance rather than the customer experience and benefits
  • will only be shared with stakeholders late in the project for example, with no time allowed to make changes in response to feedback)

Innovate UK cannot fund projects that:

  • involve primary production in fishery and aquaculture
  • involve primary production in agriculture
  • have activities relating to the purchase of road freight transport
  • are not allowed under De minimis regulation restrictions
  • are not eligible to receive Minimal Financial Assistance
  • are dependent on export performance, for example giving an award to a baker on the condition that they export a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • are dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example if we give an award to a baker on the condition that they use 50% UK flour in their product

Funding Costs

Innovate UK have allocated up to £2 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

Your total project costs will be 100% funded. Total project costs detailed within your application must not exceed the maximum project size. If your total project costs do exceed the maximum, then your application will be made ineligible.

You can make reference to any additional voluntary contribution in your application answers. It must not be detailed in the finance section.

Academic institutions must add 100% of their costs into the application.

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the Company accounts guidance.

Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.