The Design Innovation Network hopes to put design at the forefront of innovation

A new UK-based network has launched to bring designers, innovators and business leaders closer together.

Government agency Innovate UK KTN has launched the Design Innovation Network (DIN) to help ensure that design is embedded within innovation processes rather than considered as an afterthought.

The new initiative will encourage “innovators” such as established businesses and start-ups, to embrace design as part of the development process, according to DIN leader and KTN head of design Abigail Hird.

“We all know that innovation is risky,” Hird announced at the network’s launch event. “So many projects fall short of the impact they could have.” Problems include scaling effectively, failing to raise investment or creating unintended consequences, she explains.

DIN is set to bring together experts from the fields of innovation, development, technology and design to solve some of these problems. “Good design offers an alternative,” Hird says. “It asks challenging questions up front.”

Innovate UK KTN is the result of a partnership between the Knowledge Transfer Network and Innovate UK. It aims to help UK businesses through strategy and launch UK-based products and services.

“As designers and innovators, we need to up our game”

According to Hird, the new network will aim to have a 75:25 ratio of innovators to designers. So far, around 450 members have signed up. Conversations with members have helped to set the opening agenda for the community, Hird explains.

The network will not simply be a “design talking shop”, Hird adds. Instead, it will encourage organisations to think about their innovation process through design-centric approaches and tools, she explains.

Hird adds that design is being defined broadly to encompass a series of mindsets and methodologies. Crucially, it will go beyond “visuals and aesthetics” and individual-focused outcomes to consider wider society and the planet, she says. Hird adds: “As designers and innovators, we need to up our game.”

One of the main questions will be around necessity and how design can inform our needs. As Hird says, design asks “are we doing the right thing?” rather than simply “are we doing the thing right?”

While innovation projects will be addressed at an individual level, wider design activities will also be considered. According to the network’s manifesto, it will “explore how design needs to change, and develop tools to maximise its impact”. Areas of interest include decarbonisation, food supply, critical materials, and inclusion. DIN’s insights will also inform Innovate UK’s design strategy.

The network’s advisory board comprises a range of designers and experts across multiple disciplines, from Special Projects founder Adrian Westaway to Kinneir Dufort CEO Merle Hall. Other board members include policy member for design at think-thank Policy Connect Shiza Naveed and UCL policy fellow Rowan Conway.

More designers also spoke at the launch event, offering insight into how design could be used to prompt positive change. Speakers included Design Council design director Cat Drew and UAL professor of service design Alison Prendiville.

You can sign up to the network on Innovate UK KTN’s website.

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