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European Commission

Developing design support actions to strengthen innovation in SMEs

USER-FACTOR is a three-year project funded by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme, which aims to strengthen innovation in SMEs by supporting them in using design as a tool for user-centred innovation.

Our Design Policy Team is leading the project in collaboration with seven European partners from regional government departments and other innovation agencies.

Through a knowledge exchange process and using a service design method, USER-FACTOR partners will assess current support offerings and the individual needs of SMEs. Building on these findings they will develop, test and evaluate a design support pilot action, tailored to support 25 SMEs in their regions. The project will result in the participation of 200 SMEs overall and contribute to transnational knowledge in areas of:

• SME business development through user-centred products, services, processes, and business models.
• Advanced support services for SMEs by integrating design tools and approaches with existing offerings.
• Collaboration between SMEs, academic institutions and research/innovation centres.

Knowledge generated throughout the project will materialise in the publication: ‘The Design Impact Report’ featuring case studies of good practice in developing design support actions.

To date, User-Factor partners created a ‘Guidebook of Good Practice in Developing Design Support’ to empower innovation support agencies in their desire and ability to integrate design. The publications share examples of programmes from partner regions and reflect on critical success factors and pitfalls in moving forward the design support schemes.

Within the project framework, we had undertaken an in-depth evaluation of Scottish Enterprise ‘By Design’ grant support mechanism to explore the impact and customer experience of the scheme. The research through the use of surveys, interviews, and workshops, targeted 400 SME’s who had received support during 2017-2019. The evaluation revealed that as a result of this support:

• 64% of companies launched a new product or service
• 63% of companies expect to make over £100k over 3 years
• 68% of companies collaborated further with a design agency
• 71% increased their investment in design