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Welcome to our guide to accessing EU funding for design projects. Created for SMEs, entrepreneurs, public servants and policymakers alike.

In this guide you will find direct links to European funding programmes as well as national points of contact who will be able to advise you through the application process.

We hope you find this useful in preparing your applications. Don’t hesitate get in touch with your national contact if you’re looking for more information – and let us know what sort of resources we could produce to help applicants.


Securing EU funding takes time and know-how, and it’s not for everyone. The opportunities are huge but it’s probably only right for you if...

  • You are able to invest a reasonable amount of time putting together applications
  • You are patient – it can take up to a year to get a project started
  • You are able to provide comprehensive accounts and financial reporting

If all that sounds doable, then you’re ready to dive into the world of EU funding.

How does the EU fund design?

The European Commission provides a range of funding to increase both the awareness and adoption of design. This can take a number of forms:

  • Design support – increasing design capabilities within organisations
  • Design promotion – encouraging the use of design by organisations
  • Design services – enhancing the skills of design service providers
  • Design education – ensuring the supply of skilled design professionals
  • Design investment – encouraging private and public investment in design
  • Design research & knowledge exchange – collaborative research and information sharing programmes
  • Design networking – establishing design centres, associations and networks

These apply across sectors, but funding calls tend to be tailored to meet the specific needs of business, the public sector or policymakers.

It’s also worth remembering that whilst there are some funds explicitly targeted at supporting design, more often design is supported indirectly, usually as part of innovation funding.

​Featured opportunity: Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 is the biggest ever EU research and innovation programme. It will make available nearly €80 billion between 2014 and 2020 with the aim of taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Horizon 2020 funding is split into eight sections (or work programmes), which show the EC’s main areas of focus. These are worth browsing through. ‘Industrial Leadership’, ‘Fast Track to Innovation Pilot’ and ‘Societal Challenges’ will be of particular interest for those seeking design funding.

The EC publishes every Horizon 2020 call for proposals on the Horizon 2020 Participant Portal. This site provides all the information needed to respond to a call, things like: opening and closing dates, overall budget and documents related to the call.

Every EU member state has a national contact point for Horizon 2020 who will be able to help you with your application. You can find yours using the EC’s directory.

How does the EU fund design?

The majority of the EU’s funding budget is managed through five major funds:

1. European Regional Development Fund
Aims to correct imbalances between regions. Its key themes include innovation research, support for SMEs and digital technologies.

2. European Social Fund
Supports projects that provide access to employment and professional skills.

3. Cohesion Fund
Aims to reduce economic and social disparities between EU members with a focus on transport infrastructure and energy.

4. European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development
Aims to improve the competitiveness of agriculture and forestry, as well as boosting economic activity and quality of life in rural areas.

5. European Maritime and Fisheries Fund
Supports the transition to sustainable fishing and help coastal communities diversify their economy.

Also of interest

Other funds that might be of interest are: Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs, an exchange programme for new and aspiring entrepreneurs, and Creative Europe, which provides extensive support for the cultural, creative and media sectors.

Tips to help you find the right calls

The sheer number of EU calls can be overwhelming, and it is not always easy to identify calls that match your funding needs.

The following tips may help narrow down your search:

1. Be clear about what you are looking for

Establish what your field of expertise and capabilities are. What type of project you would like to initiate or join?

2. Align your proposal to EU’s priorities

Understand why design is important for the EU. A good place to start is a report called Design for growth and prosperity (2012) by the European Design Leadership Board.

3. Contact the management of your organisation

Make sure that your project idea is in line with your organisation’s overall strategy. If your organisation has internal support staff dealing with European projects, make sure to speak to them too.

4. Scan open calls

The best way is often a keyword search. It’s worth trying a range of design-related search terms such as, prototyping, modelling, user-driven etc.

5. Ask trusted partners

You can often save a huge amount of time by finding out if they have identified relevant calls or are preparing a project proposal.

6. Get in touch with your national contact point

They can help you understand what is required and keep you up to speed on EU policy developments in your field. They may also know about relevant events like information days for particular calls for funding. You can search for your nearest contact in the Horizon 2020 directory.

7. Plan a timeline for your application

Calls for funding always have deadlines. Do you have enough time to take on the preparation of a competitive proposal?

8. Subscribe to the RSS feed for relevant calls

The Horizon 2020 Participant Portal allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds for funding calls . This means you’ll be notified when relevant calls are published.

9. Check if you can benefit from national subsidies

Your national contact point will be able to give information about whether there is any support available to help you make your project proposal.


This guide has been co-produced by Design for Europe partners Lancaster University and Luxinnovation. Luxinnovaton are also the national funding contact point for Luxembourg.