Cardiff Met lead innovative project to help SMEs

Cardiff Metropolitan University’s PDR centre will be leading an innovative, new transnational collaboration that will enhance the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Atlantic Area region, which covers 36 Atlantic regions of France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom

The transnational project, named USER-FACTOR, was officially inaugurated on 20th and 21st March and is a collaboration between Cardiff Metropolitan University’s PDR (the Cardiff Met-based International Centre for Design & Research), Scottish Enterprise, Enterprise Ireland, Galician Agency of Innovation, SPI (Sociedale Portuguesa de Inovacao), the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Brittany, Department of Finance, Northern Ireland, and Innovalia Association.

USER-FACTOR is a three-year project funded by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme, aiming to strengthen innovation in SMEs by supporting them to use design as an early tool for user-driven innovation. This, it is felt will lead to the most beneficial products all-round. Through a knowledge exchange process and using a service design method, the partners will develop a pilot programme to support SMEs to use design and involve users in concept development and prototype testing.

This will have a positive impact on the Welsh economy, which comprises 99 per cent of SMEs, which are the backbone and provide a substantial source of jobs and economic growth. In Wales, SMEs account for two-thirds of employment and so any improvement will have a colossal impact on the economy and is therefore one of the 11 thematic priorities for the Cohesion Policy in 2014-2020.

Design is an accessible tool of user-centred and market-driven innovation. A recent study by Design Council (Design Council Support and Business Survival and Growth, 2017) illustrates that businesses using design:

  • survive longer (91% of supported businesses still trading after 5 years, compared to 49% of a control group);
  • grow twice as much (supported firms grew by around 40% between 2008 and 2016, more than double that of the control group);
  • are more productive (turnover growth exceeded employment growth.)

However, as shown by the Innobarometer 2016 study, 56% of European businesses still do not use design and a further 14% use it only for styling. Over three years, USER-FACTOR partners will develop, test and evaluate design support pilots with 200 SMEs.

Dr Anna Whicher, manager of the project, emphasises the project’s focus on long-term effects. She said: “By using design methods in our knowledge exchange process, we will build capacity within the innovation agencies so that they can offer design support beyond the funding period. Having design integrated more widely in business support, we can expect SMEs to become more profitable and grow faster thanks to development of products and services that are more desirable and sustainable.”

As part of the European Union’s Cohesion Policy, INTERREG Atlantic Area supports transnational cooperation projects in 36 Atlantic regions of France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, contributing to the achievement of economic, social and territorial cohesion. The Programme’s overall objective is to implement solutions to answer regional challenges in the fields of innovation, resource efficiency, environment and cultural assets, supporting regional development and sustainable growth.

PDR is a design and innovation research institution established at Cardiff Metropolitan University in 1994. Since then the centre has developed a world-wide reputation based on the team’s ability to develop new knowledge in product design and development and to apply and transfer such knowledge within both academia and industry.

Follow the project’s progress on Twitter @user_factor