Several East Midlands product design consultancies have hit back at allegations that the commercial design activities of universities are undermining their business practice.
Claims made in British Design Innovation’s recent report Delivering the Innovation Dream (DW 2 April) have elicited responses from six East Midlands consultancies – 3di Consulting, Bluefrog Design, Redline Studios, Bramley Design, Canard Design and Brian Law Design. All contest claims that the local university,De Montfort, is competing with them on a commercial basis.
‘DMU has been very effective in brokering agreements between local small- to medium-sized enterprises and the design community. Over the past four years it has given me and other local design firms the opportunity to tender for several jobs,’ says Bramley founder David Bramley.
DMU reader in design innovation Peter Ford explains that what the university offers is a brokering service between SMEs and consultancies, funded through regional development agency schemes, but with ‘other resources’.
He says, ‘We sit on a project right the way through, and have a knowledge of what design and manufacture can do. If extra prototyping that falls outside the budget is needed, that’s where DMU comes in.’
Ford says that DMU’s main objective is to become knowledge-transfer experts, while helping local business and getting research kudos. ‘We never had an outright plan to set up a design capability. We thought [it] was a good idea to act as an intermediary, and we found ourselves being asked to do more and more.’
All six consultancies report that DMU, led by Ford, approached them directly, asking them to put together proposals for client projects coming through the various DMU-affiliated, RDA-funded schemes, including Improving Business by Design.
Ford and DMU, along with the RDA teams – depending on which scheme the project comes in through – match up the client with the most suitable design consultancy, though any group can get involved with the schemes.
However, Jonathan Butters, author of the BDI report and founder of Butters Innovation, says the schemes could be more transparent about getting external design consultancies involved. He recounts being told that Butters Innovation could not take part in the Manufacturing Advisory Scheme, led by the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform and theEast Midlands Development Agency.
‘I contacted [the East Midlands] Manufacturing Advisory Service and DMU, offering my company as a supplier, and they told me that they were capable of doing it themselves and didn’t need any additional resource. I have seen no published call for consultancies to become part of the initiative,’ says Butters.
Ford says, ‘It’s an intimate design community up here and we are still finding our feet with these schemes. When the EU framework is up and running, any group can apply via that.’
De Montfort University claims that, since 2004, more than £500 000 of regional development agency design scheme funds have gone to consultancies in Leicestershire and East Midlands