Ben Griffin at Innovation UK tells us about the Design Foundations grant funding scheme and how businesses with early-stage design projects can benefit.

Ben Griffin is Innovation Lead for Design at Innovate UK's national design strategy and support programme.  He was one of the speakers at the latest Workspace Business Insights Dinner, held at Kennington Park last month.

He’s responsible for the Design Foundations grant funding scheme – he’s currently ploughing through entries for the first funding round. They received three times the expected amount of registrations.

Innovate UK is a business-led organisation, which works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy.

‘Since 2007, we’ve committed over £1.8 billion to innovation projects that have returned more than £11.5 billion to the UK economy – that’s a £7 return for every £1 invested,’ Ben Griffin explained in the New Design magazine. ‘We’ve supported 7,600 businesses and helped create 55,000 jobs.’

And in 2017, they’re taking it one step further. Design Foundations is Innovate UK’s first-of-its-kind grant funding competition that aims to deliver up to £3 million of support to UK businesses for early-stage design projects.

Ben on the Business Insights panelAlongside experts from Dyson and Chargifi, as well as Brooke Roberts-Islam


These individual projects are expected to range from total costs of £20,000 to £100,000 and grants given are of between 50 and 70%. We asked Ben Griffin a bit more about the grant-funding scheme and for some useful tips for businesses looking to apply to the second funding round in May.

What do you mean by design?

There are many different design disciplines, but our strategy focuses on the benefits to business of early-stage, human-centred design processes (or ‘design thinking’).

Innovation can be described as the successful exploitation of new ideas to create value. But ideas will only succeed if customers consider them to be useful, valuable and desirable. So, where do the best ideas come from, and how can you decide quickly which ideas are worth pursuing and which should be abandoned?

This is where early-stage design comes in.

It provides a methodology and tools that allow you to identify customer needs (both articulated and unarticulated), focus on the problems that really matter, generate a broad range of possible solutions to those problems and validate those ideas quickly and at low cost.

In so doing, it lays the foundations for more successful innovation, de-risks the process and helps you justify your thinking to potential investors.

Can you give some examples of where design has been important in early-stage innovation?

Ultimately, a human-centred design approach is important because people don’t buy technology – they buy what technology does for them. Technology can make new products and services possible, but it’s people that determine whether or not they’re successful.

Businesses can use design processes at the start of the innovation journey to:

  1. Understand customer motivations and behaviour
  2. Make sure they’re focusing on what really matters to customers i.e. solving the right problem
  3. Generate new product or service ideas and validate them quickly and at low cost
  4. Communicate their ideas more effectively to get buy-in from key stakeholders and to help secure investment

What's a scenario in which a new and growing company might benefit from the funding programme?

Perhaps you have an innovative technology but aren’t sure of the most appropriate application, or are struggling to convince investors of its potential? A Design Foundations project could help you identify viable applications and communicate the benefits of your technology in a more compelling way.

Perhaps you have products or services in the market already but are wondering what to do next? A Design Foundations project could help you identify the most valuable opportunities, generate ideas and decide which of those ideas to pursue. It can help you (a) Do the right thing and then (b) do the thing right!

Perhaps you’ve identified an area of opportunity or have an exciting idea, but you want to clarify and validate your thinking before investing further. A Design Foundations project could help you do just that, and move towards a well-communicated proposition that you can use to secure further investment.

Any tips for businesses looking to apply?

Early-stage design can be the start of something great – but it needs the right conditions to flourish. We encourage applicants to consider not only the design process itself, but also their organisational culture and processes to insure that design outputs have maximum impact and value. These are just some of the questions that should be asked:

  1. Are key stakeholders on board?
  2. How will decisions be made? Soft factors such as the quality of the user experience must be given appropriate weight alongside hard factors such as technical performance and cost.
  3. Are exploration and failure tolerated?
  4. Are you prepared to challenge your assumptions and ideas?
  5. What outputs are needed to support next steps?

Specific documentation for round two isn’t posted on the main Innovate UK site yet, but interested parties can go to for the latest information and events.

You might also find a LinkedIn group useful where updates will be posted and people can ask questions: Design Foundations at KTN

Workspace Business Insight Dinners are organised in collaboration with Knowledge Peers.

An engaged audience of Workspace customersCome and see what it's like for yourself at our next Business Insights Dinner


They are designed to be an interesting mix of ‘live’ case studies of senior directors from New and Growing Companies (NGCs) who have encountered a relevant challenge, and a Q&A with industry experts. Directors, founders and other senior leaders from customers across Workspace’s portfolio are invited to attend these complimentary events.