How Britain jumpstarts design in SME’s

Business Week reports on a network of regional programmes, headed up by the UK Design Council that help harness the creative energy of small businesses as an engine for national growth.

How can small and medium-sized businesses grow more competitive? Britain’s Design Council reckons it has the answer: Designing Demand, a support program that helps businesses boost their performance through the strategic use of design. The brainchild of Design Council Chairman George Cox, the program, which is being initiated nationwide this year, is supported by $40 million in funding from England’s nine regional development agencies.

To date 1,000 businesses, from high-tech startups to well-established brand names, have completed the program. And Cox hopes to reach more than 6,500 by 2010. “There are legions of small businesses, which account for more than half of the [British] economy, which are not making full use of innovation,” Cox says. “The goal of Designing Demand is to show them how.”

Here’s how it works: Interested companies apply to the Design Council to take part in a free, one-day workshop to show how investing in design might affect their businesses. A team of four independent experts in branding, product development, and design management, led by a Design Council design associate, is dispatched to the company to identify areas where design could be used to develop new products, services, or branding methods. They act as mentors to management during the day, highlighting potential design opportunities and offering advice on how to implement them. If the company wants to use any of the team’s recommendations, the Design Council will help refer them to independent local designers whom the company will then pay for their services.

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