Innovate UK KTN is pleased to share the news that  15 design exchange partnerships have been funded as a result of an innovative new pilot  The pilot is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Design Museum’s newly established Future Observatory, a new national programme of research, debate, and training to show how design research can drive Britain’s future prosperity.

This pilot offers the opportunity for early career researchers and research organisations to collaborate with UK non-academic partners including SME, micro, public, and third sector organisations, embedding highly qualified arts and humanities-led design researchers on short-term, intensive placements.

The programme’s mission is to harness design research to accelerate solutions for the most pressing societal issues, from achieving net-zero to tackling the housing crisis.  The programme was launched in November 2021 in Glasgow to coincide with COP26.

Across the UK, these 15 design exchange partnerships pair academic researchers with non-academic design partners, including small and medium enterprises (SME), and micro, public and third sector organisations.

This is to address challenges, including decarbonisation, waste reduction, and circular economies.

The research developed as a result of these 15 design exchange partnerships will be showcased as part of the Design Museum’s Future Observatory programme.


About the 15 Design Exchange Partnerships

Design exchange partnerships are innovation partnerships that pair academic researchers with non-academic design partners. Further project information on each partnership project is outlined below.


Sustainability Visualised: Net Zero at a District Council Level

University of Hertfordshire and Community Services, St Albans City and District Council.

St Albans City and District Council are implementing sustainability targets where a bewildering array of actions need to successfully interface with the diverse requirements of; council departments, local businesses and residents.

How can design thinking and data visualization aid this process, helping the council realise its net-zero ambitions?


ZeroCity+ An urban game

The University of Reading and Urban Transcripts.

A digital urban game that embeds Design Council’s beyond net-zero report findings in relation to the societal, behavioural and organisational culture change. It promotes values and impact-led net zero+ goals across stakeholders in public participation for decision-making with co-design workshop approaches.


Interaction and Service Design of a Virtual Health Hub for Patients with Cardiovascular Disease

Ulster University and Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT): The Cardiac Assessment Unit (CAU).

Embedding design research within healthcare to synthesise complexity and strategically develop a virtual health hub for patients with cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the conceptualisation of; a real-time app to manage the flow of patients and service design for a cardiology virtual assistant enabling remote patient engagement across hospital sites and diagnostic equipment.


Digital Timber for Affordable Housing

The University of Cambridge and PLP Architecture.

This research explores how engineered timber, already the most sustainable way of building, and natural material that stores carbon in its cells as it grows, can improve the way we live. This is through the design of sustainable, adaptable and flexible interiors for future living.


A Double Diamond Approach Towards Sustainable Manufacturing for Repair and Reduction of Waste

Brunel University and Geo Kingsbury Machine Tools.

This project aims to utilise the double diamond design Method to adopt more sustainable production practices for high value components using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM).


Going circular: Harris Tweed Hebrides repurposing British waste textiles

The University of Hertfordshire and Harris Tweed Hebrides.

The project will embed sustainable and circular economy practices amongst Harris Tweed Hebrides’ network of weavers to; deliver Net Zero wins and create new revenue streams through the design and manufacture of unique woven products.

There is an emphasis on upskilling, empowering and the rehabilitation of women prisoners.


Accelerating Net Zero housing at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

University of Hertfordshire and Welwyn and Hatfield Borough Council.

A project to transfer specific design methodology to housing schemes to maximise Net Zero outcomes. In addition to reducing carbon emissions and costs, the project will ensure better thermal comfort and quality of life for housing occupants and irradiation of fuel poverty.


Digital Equity Through e-Waste Reduction

University of the Arts London (Creative Computing Institute) and Power to Connect.

This is a collaboration between Power to Connect, a not-for-profit addressing the lack of access to online learning within deprived communities, and UAL’s Creative Computing Institute. The aim is to develop a data wiping solution, ensuring that second-hand devices can be repurposed and given to young people, thereby reducing e-waste and addressing digital inequity.


Sustainability by Design: Developing a Model for Design-led Local Government to Achieve Net Zero by 2030

University of the Arts London (London College of Communication) and Southwark Council.

In order to help councils to tackle the climate emergency in communities and become carbon neutral, we will operate as a ‘designer in government’ in Southwark, London. The aim is to help co-create and co-deliver local policies and services that empower local stakeholders to play their part in achieving Net Zero by 2030.


Beyond Net Zero Goals: Regenerative Fashion

University of the Arts London and Elvis & Kresse.

Elvis & Kresse create high-quality fashion accessories from rescued waste materials, operating with the highest social and environmental standards. This project documents and supports the company’s climate ambition to become net regenerative by 2030, diversifying its products through regenerative agriculture and regenerative fashion practices within a rural ecosystem.


Making Better by Design: Translating Net Zero+ in a Craft SME Context

The University of Brighton and Posh Totty Designs.

Net zero+ and UN sustainable goals are excellent global vehicles to promote and deliver sustainability. However, translating them down into practical approaches that SMEs can take is a design challenge. Making better by design will apply university developed community co-design research approaches to translate net zero+ ambitions into a making SME context.


Circular Bio-Economy and Food Waste: Designing a Blueprint for Social Housing Estates

University of Kent and LEAP.

Food waste can become renewable energy and fertiliser. This partnership will exchange technological knowledge and design skills to co-design; a circular bio-economy waste food system (anaerobic digestion, composting and food growing) and a blueprint allowing repeatability of this process for a London social housing estate, together with the residents.


Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre (LOPC)

De Montfort University and Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

This project explores concept designs for redeveloping Leicester’s 150-years old LOPC, located on a 15-acre flood plain in the city. Designs will evaluate flood resilient buildings and their activities facilities to achieve LOPC’s ambition for a state-of-the-art site that embeds Net Zero into all aspects of its operation.


The Value of Nature Based Enterprise

Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow City Council.

The Value of Nature-Based Enterprise partners with Glasgow City Council’s Centre for Civic Innovation to co-evaluate and strategically develop nature-based businesses and social enterprises launched following a pilot nature-based accelerator. This aims to establish developmental evaluation processes using design-based relational mapping methods to connect and grow Glasgow’s sustainable enterprise eco-system.


Reducing the Environmental Impact of Hospital Curtains

Brunel University and Sustainability Division, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

By applying a design thinking approach, the project delivers an innovative solution that reduces CO2 emissions and landfill waste caused by the making and disposal of single-use hospitals’ curtains. The partnership enables the trust sustainability team to gain competencies on how design can drive innovation for sustainable healthcare.

For more information about Future Observatory at the Design Museum, and to sign up for the newsletter for programme updates, click here.


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