Design support for your business
Find out where you can get support and funding for your business' design projects
Design is a powerful business tool. It does so much more than make your products and services look pretty. It can make them work better, sell better, and it can generally transform the way your business operates.
When properly applied, design can unlock your business' potential and help you:
- attract investment
- find new opportunities in existing markets
- compete more efficiently and enter new markets
- find new routes to innovation
- increase turnover and your bottom-line profit
If you're not sure how to integrate better design in your business, this guide will help you to identify and access design support in Northern Ireland. This includes Invest Northern Ireland's design services, various funding opportunities, consultancy support, practical design advice and training.
Design support in Northern Ireland
An overview of Invest NI's Design for Business programme, and how to access support for design projects in Northern Ireland
Invest Northern Ireland (NI) can offer design support to certain businesses in Northern Ireland. Support is available for a range of different areas including:
- new business
- new product development
- digital and new media
- service design
- packaging design
- entering new markets
Businesses who meet the qualifying criteria can apply for support to Invest NI's Design for Business programmes: DesignAdvice, DesignActive and DesignForward.
DesignAdvice offers up to one half day's free design advice, usually at your own premises. It gives you an opportunity to:
- receive expert advice from experienced design professionals
- understand your specific design needs
- plan your next step
DesignAdvice provides the ideal platform to discuss your design needs prior to applying for DesignActive.
DesignActive offers support through a range of workshops, mentoring and up to seven days consultancy from an experienced design agency. The support is based around your design needs and includes a final exhibition of work and a follow-up evaluation workshop.
Participation in this programme is through a competitive application process. You will have to contribute £1250 plus VAT towards the cost of the programme.
DesignForward allows you to build on the work created on DesignActive and offers up to ten additional consultancy days and one additional mentoring day. Through DesignForward, you will continue to work with your dedicated mentor and access expert design consultancy to test your prototypes or concepts, refine them further and implement the project.
Participation is through a competitive application process, and you will have to contribute £1800 plus VAT toward the cost of the programme.
Find out more about the Design for Business programmes or call the Invest NI Helpline on Tel 0800 181 4422 to see if you are eligible to apply.
Sources of advice and design information
Find advice and help to make your small business' design project a success
Expert advice and support can help you make the most of the design in your business. It can help you increase sales, enhance your business' profile and make it more competitive.
Design for Europe
The Design for Europe website brings together advice and examples of good practice in design. It aims to provide a platform for sharing knowledge and skills to innovate through design in business, the public sector and policymaking.
The website contains:
- articles and features on design policy and practice from across Europe
- industry events and workshops announcements
- case studies that demonstrate the impact of good design
- learning materials and tools to help organisations use design more effectively
- a collection of expert advice on how to implement design-led innovation
Visit Design for Europe.
The Design Council website provides free practical advice on design. In addition to their best practice guidance, you can access networking opportunities and read case study examples of how others have used design in their business. Browse through Design Council's knowledge and resources for businesses.
Arts & Business Northern Ireland
Arts & Business Northern Ireland (NI) supports collaboration between business and the arts. As part of this work, they provide advice and consultancy support to businesses including help with brand development, community engagement and creative training for employees.
Find out more about Arts & Business NI.
Design support from Invest Northern Ireland
Invest NI offers a range of Design for Business programmes, including DesignAdvice, DesignActive and DesignForward. See more on design support in Northern Ireland.
Design support from nibusinessinfo.co.uk
Browse through our range of design guides, including:
Funding for design projects
Find funding support for your design project to help improve processes, products or services
If your business wants to use design to improve its processes, products or services, you may be able to get financial support for your project.
Business finance and support finder
You can search our Business Support Finder to find publicly funded sources of assistance. Support may be available in a number of forms, including financial assistance and free or subsidised advice services. Search the Northern Ireland business support finder.
European funding for design-related projects
The European Commission provides a range of funding to increase the awareness and adoption of design. It mostly supports design indirectly, usually as part of innovation funding and R&D opportunities, such as those through the Horizon 2020 programme.
Innovation Vouchers offer businesses funding of up to £5,000. You can redeem the vouchers against the cost of specialist expertise from universities, colleges and publicly funded research institutes. Find out more about Invest Northern Ireland Innovation Vouchers.
In the video below, Ian Hawthorne - owner of Hawthorne Crafts - explains how his business benefited from an Innovation Voucher.
Recognition for good design
When you successfully apply good design, seeking recognition through awards can be a good way to validate the success of your project.
As well as publicising your achievements, winning design awards and gaining recognised standards could help:
- build your brand recognition
- boost market sales
- increase customers' satisfaction
- create desirability of your products and services
- maximise return on design investment
Design takes many forms so it's important to explore the different award options (eg web design, graphic design, branding or packaging).
Local, national or international design awards
When seeking recognition for your design project, you should first decide whether to enter awards at a regional, national or worldwide level.
For example, you could enter the regional DANI Awards in Northern Ireland for digital design projects, or the global Dieline Package Design Awards for packaging design. Professional bodies, trade associations and local media are a good starting point when looking for awards to enter.
To find out more about the benefits design can offer your business, how to manage a design project and how to measure its success, see our guides:
Training support for design
When embarking on a design project, you will have to choose a person or a team to lead this work. Most common options for businesses include:
- employing a full-time designer - if you have resources and demand for such a role in your business
- hiring a design agency - as and when required for particular projects
- up-skilling an existing employee - perhaps someone with previous experience or understanding of design, or simply someone passionate about the business brand and its success
Benefits of design training for your business
There are many benefits of up-skilling and building design capabilities of your existing staff. For example:
- An existing staff member will have an understanding of how the business works, how the business sees its product/service developing, at what stage and at what pace.
- They will also have established relationships with colleagues, which can help with efficiency, productivity and teamwork. Employing an agency could mean relationships need to be built from scratch.
By training a current staff member you can also choose who is best suited to the role of in-house designer and decide on what you would like them to specialise in before sending them on design training courses, eg graphic design or web design.
Basic design courses and qualifications are available in all Northern Ireland regional colleges.
Support for learning
The Department for the Economy offers a range of training and development programmes aimed at assisting businesses in improving their workforce's skills. Find support for training your staff.