Cardiff Met’s PDR centre will be leading a new transnational collaboration to enhance the competitiveness of SMEs in the Atlantic Area region.

The Atlantic Area Region covers 36 Atlantic regions of France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom

The transnational project, named USER-FACTOR, is a collaboration between Cardiff Metropolitan University’s PDR, 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 SMEs in the Welsh economy who provide a substantial source of jobs and economic growth to the country.

Design is an accessible tool of user-centred and market-driven innovation.

A recent study by the Design Council showed 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), and 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 the development of products and services that are more desirable and sustainable.”

PDR is a design and innovation research institution established at Cardiff Metropolitan University in 1994. Since then the centre has developed a worldwide 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.

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