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Exploring the value(s) of design-led Innovation Practice (RRDF17/DES/SMITH)

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  • Full or part time
    Mr N Smith
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The UK Design Council has identified that “Despite its prevalent use within policy and design literature, there is not yet a precise definition of what precise phenomena “design-led innovation” is describing.”

However, they have suggested that there are a number of common recurring concepts associated with definitions of design-led innovation. These tend to focus on the role that designers can play in framing problems in order to develop products, systems and services that address user needs and desires as their priority.

In our research, conducted through around 50 projects over five years undertaken using the Integrated Academic Practice Model 2 we have identified that design-led innovation practice reaches beyond simply using design and designerly approaches to help frame and deliver innovations solely focused on users. By exploring the strategic value of design-led innovation projects, we are starting to identify the impact that they have on multiple stakeholders, and not just users.

We would reason that design-led innovation practice delivers strategic value in three major value-frames;
1. Visualising strategy – this is about engaging a wide community of stakeholders in co-creating and envisioning alternative strategies framed by particular constraints or future scenarios.
2. Creative functionality – this capitalises on the knowledge and networks established in visualising strategy in order to drive organisational innovation culture-change.
3. Strategic Insight know-how – this is about deploying the designers’ capabilities as creators of compelling narratives to deliver the knowledge and assets required to drive new innovation within organisations.

Proposed research

The proposed research will undertake a critical and in-depth review of existing case-study projects and evaluate these against literature and other contemporary practice. We anticipate that the researcher will observe, map and reflect upon new and on-going projects (from their initial inception, establishment, undertaking through to completion) in order to explore these value-frames, to validate them, or re-define them. We anticipate that the researcher will work with all project stakeholders in order to understand value(s) from multiple perspectives.

We propose that the study will reveal new knowledge around the appropriate use of methods, tools and approaches that will enable more purposeful and targeted design-led innovation practice in future, focused on the particular value-frame being addressed.

Eligibility and How to Apply

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required (evidence required by 1 August 2017).

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please ensure you quote the advert reference above on your application form.
Deadline for applications: 20 January 2017
Start Date: 2 October 2017

Northumbria University is an equal opportunities provider and in welcoming applications for studentships from all sectors of the community we strongly encourage applications from women and under-represented groups.

Funding Notes

This project is being considered for funding in competition with other projects, through one of two types of funding packages available:
• Fully funded studentships include a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates for 2017/18 (this is yet to be set, in 2016/17 this is £14,296 pa) and fees (Home/EU £4,350 / International £13,000 / International Lab-based £16,000), and are available to applicants worldwide.
• As Northumbria celebrates its 25th anniversary as a University and in line with our international outlook, some projects may also be offered to students from outside of the EU supported by a half-fee reduction.


Chatzakis, E., Smith, N., Bohemia, E. (2016) A Multilevel Approach to Research ‘Obscure’ Innovation Processes and Practices. Design Research Society. Brighton, June 2016

Qin, S., Van der Velde, D., Chatzakis, E., McStea, T., & Smith, N. (2016). Exploring barriers and opportunities in adopting crowdsourcing based new product development in manufacturing SMEs. Chinese Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 29(6), 1052-1066.

Bailey, M., Spencer, N., and Sams, P. (2016) What on Earth is Responsible Innovation Anyway? – making it happen. Proceedings of the E&PDE 2016 18th International conference on Engineering and Product Design, Aalborg University, Denmark

Bailey, M. and Smith, N. (2016) Making it work; integrated academic practice. Proceedings of 20th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference; Inflection Point: Design Research Meets Design Practice, Boston, USA, 22-29 July 2016

Aftab, M., Bailey, M., Chris, J. & Spencer, N. (2015). Three-Stages Of Learning: Team Based Reflection For Improvement In Performance Of Multidisciplinary Teams, International Journal of Design Education. International Journal of Design Education, Volume 8, Issue 3–4

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