Designing research ecosystems: part 2.


Sam Wilkinson, Sustainability, Head of Applied Research & Innovation

Unleashing business.

In the first part of this article, the core mechanisms of the UK government’s Innovation Strategy were outlined. A central pillar focuses on unlocking the potential of emerging technologies and delivering on national innovation missions by leveraging private investments in R&D.

Alongside the incentives and measures outlined in the strategy, there is a call to arms for industry to take the lead.

Our own innovation missions over the next decade bring sustainability to the core of the business – such as delivering net zero pathways for our clients to mitigate against the worst effects of climate change, and to prepare for the future through adaptation and resilience.

To respond to the UK innovation strategy and its call to unleash business, I think our own missions can be approached by elevating what good design is.

Innovating in our practice can help us respond better to these challenges and we can do this by continually reimagining what great buildings are.

A minimal definition of a good design could be one that meets all the users’ needs now. Yet we should always expand this to think about what users might need in the future, what they might want, how it affects their lives, how things are made, by who and from what, how well it operates now and under unexpected conditions

To pick up on one insight mentioned in the strategy, design is core to successful innovation:

Great design means putting the needs, wishes and behaviours of people at the heart of the innovation process, so that new ideas are truly desirable as well as being technically feasible and financially viable. Design brings ideas alive and makes them tangible, providing the impetus for growth and, ultimately, value to shareholders. Good design is for people and the planet, an increasingly critical focus.

This is echoed by the Design Council’s report on Innovation by Design – How Design Enables Science and Technology Research to Achieve Greater Impact.

Drawing a link between creativity and innovation, design skills can accelerate commercialisation and increase the value of research by helping to explore more ideas, clarify communication, improve prototyping, strategise, secure funding, and reduce risk.

Research and innovation do not occur in isolated teams. Ideas originate from passionate and creative individuals or through dynamic social interactions from all quarters when there is time to learn and opportunity to play, accelerated by supporting the development of design and research skills.