Innovation by Design

Enterprise Ireland
18 months
Design support
Centre for Design Innovation


In 2007 Ireland’s Centre for Design Innovation surveyed more than 400 Irish businesses, their findings showed overwhelmingly that companies that used design were more successful than those that didn’t. On the whole the companies using design were less risk averse, more likely to be developing new products and services – and twice as likely to experience growth. Despite this positive effect they found just 15% of Irish companies had made design part of their business strategy.

Having published the report, the centre wanted to do something practical to help, so decided to put their research into practice and offer businesses a programme that would give them the necessary design skills to thrive.

To formulate the programme, the Centre brought together leading design practitioners from the US, UK, and Ireland with extensive experience of running business programmes. That meeting, combined with the research of organisations like IDEO, Ziba and Stanford’s D-School, and the example of the UK’s Designing Demand programme, formed the methodology behind a new innovation programme for Ireland.

The challenge was to create a practical approach and tools that organisations could use to innovate and grow.

Justin Knecht
Programme Manager, Centre for Design Innovation

How design helped

The result of the centre’s work was Innovation by Design, an 18 month programme of workshops, research and mentoring for six companies that began in June 2007. The programme was funded by the Irish government’s business support agency, Enterprise Ireland, and EU structural funds, grants to help reduce inequality amongst member states.

From a list of 200 applicants, six companies were chosen. These six were paired with one of two Design Associates, Gavin Pryke (Habitat, Virgin Atlantic) and Jonathan Ball (Design Council, LUMA Institute), human-centred design experts with a long track record in design support, industry and research.

The programme had a budget of €120,000 with participation costing each company €1,500 for which it received two network days, three workshops and 5 to 7 days of mentoring. The cost for each company, unsubsidised, would have been around €10,000.

The six participating firms spanned six different sectors – but all with the same goal of growing their businesses. They were:

  • Avenue Mould Solutions (Precision toolmaker)
  • Connacht Gold (Agricultural co-operative)
  • Infacta (Software developers)
  • Institute of Technology Sligo (Higher education institute)
  • Ireland West Airport Knock (International airport)
  • Mantis Cranes (Heavy machinery manufacturer)

The emphasis in the Innovation by Design programme was on companies learning by doing. Participants attended three workshops in total, and after each they had to put what they had learned into practice with the help of their Design Associate.

The first workshop on user-centred design is the cornerstone of the programme, dispelling myths about design, observing how clients actually behave, involving user experts, and prototyping potential ideas.

​The user-centred aspect forced us to get out of our nests here. We jumped across the counter and said ‘well, who are you?’ and ‘what are you thinking?’ and ‘why did you come here?'

Brendan McCormack
Registrar, Institute of Technology Sligo

The second workshop is about understanding and developing your brand. It introduces the concept of brand touch points and the building blocks of brand development.

The third looks at service design and customer experience, providing a simple blueprint for how to design and evaluate a service.

Following the workshop decks of cards highlighting key techniques were given to each company for future reference, and a website was created to provide a digital forum for the companies to communicate – this noncompetitive network proved to be of great value to the participants.

​Once I started attending the workshops I knew it wasn’t just about how things look. This was about everything we do. How our actual products work. How do our customers use the product? How do they find the products? How usable are they?

Robert Martin
Vice President of Marketing, Infacta

The outcome

  • 200 applications for design support
  • 6 companies supported through the innovation programme
  • 18 months of design coaching

The 18 month programme gave each company the opportunity to apply a design approach to understanding their customers’ needs – the key to identifying the right ideas to commercialise. The companies were then able to turn these insights directly into product or service improvements, for many the results were transformative:

Avenue Mould mapped its service offering, developed a well-received quick start manual for its customers and hired a new design firm.

Our communication is better with our customers. We’ve always listened, but we’ve taken it to the next step.

Des Forde
Sales Manager, Avenue Mould

Connacht Gold commissioned the Institute of Technology Sligo to develop a range of new product and packaging concepts. Elements of that work has already been incorporated into their product marketing.

Infacta rebranded the company and has hired a full time designer.

The Institute of Technology Sligo has successfully rebranded.

Ireland West Airport made adjustments to its check-in and queuing procedures, as well as fixing an issue with its luggage trolleys and developing concepts for sustainable and better designed trolleys to enhance the passenger experience.

Design is now part of what we do as a company, not just what marketing might do or finance might do.

Robert Grealis
CEO, Ireland West Airport Knock

Mantis Cranes have made over two dozen design improvements to a new crane design and put in place a new product development process.

The whole thing that you’re doing here is changing our company. Not just our marketing, but our development and the customer service we offer. In the beginning we thought it was about design, and then we realised, this is about our whole company, this is our whole strategy, this our whole business plan.

Robert Martin
Vice President of Marketing, Infacta

Justin Knecht, the Programme Manager of Innovation by Design, attributes much of the success of the programme to the Design Associates. “Programmes cannot be just a series of workshops, they require mentoring to facilitate the adoption of tools and define discrete projects. The content was practical, relevant, hands-on and able to be implemented immediately by the participating companies.”