DESIGN INNOVATION FOR NEW GROWTH (DING): design as a strategy for growth and innovation in the creative economy of the Highlands and Islands.

Lead Research Organisation: Glasgow School of Art
Department Name: The Innovation School


Scotland has faced longstanding economic issues with low levels of entrepreneurialism, start-ups and innovation and, due to the complex challenges faced by different regions, sectors and types of organisation, a tailored approach to policy support has been recommended. The Highlands and Islands (H&I) region faces particular innovation challenges, including the dispersed working communities and technological infrastructure of the region, which can limit opportunities in the creative economy. The crucial role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in supporting regional economic development has been emphasised, but as the recent Dowling Report (BIS, 2015) acknowledged whilst business and university collaborations are critically important in supporting innovation, collaborations are complex to initiate and sustain. This is particularly acute for the creative economy where it is common for workers to be self-employed and there is a preponderance of project-based temporary employment and 'bulimic' patterns of work.

The applicants prior project Design in Action (DiA) brought together academics, entrepreneurs and designers in residential innovation events called 'Chiasma' guided by strategic design principles and enabled them to support the development of innovative products, processes and services in SMEs and micro-businesses in Scotland ( Chiasma provided enriching opportunities for multidisciplinary audiences to work collaboratively, co-produce knowledge and learn collectively. The DiA project highlighted the importance of developing safe spaces for knowledge exchange and promoted successful tacit knowledge exchange of skills and experience, which encouraged a sense of shared understanding and values, of reciprocity and of trust. A key finding from DiA was that the team encountered challenges in bringing together designers, academics and entrepreneurs who were often meeting for the first time, and pushing them into forming a new, risky start-up together. To ameliorate this challenge, we will engage existing networks and communities to provide a more stable starting point for any collaborations and business propositions.

Working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Design Innovation for New Growth intends to propagate design as a strategy for business growth and innovation with new audiences in the Highlands and Islands (H&I) region. The DING team, in consultation with HIE, have identified a clear opportunity for the delivery of knowledge generated in DiA within their established XpoNorth creative industries networks (

Planned Impact

The DING team has developed a pathway to impact by outlining an innovative process of engagement with academics, creative practitioners and businesses in the H&I region. The project will support and develop the existing creative networks in the region, and connect them through collaborative working with wider interested networks and investors in Scotland. We have pro-actively engaged with gatekeepers in the region and the KE agenda has been co-developed with stakeholders at HIE. The DING team intends to build long-term relationships that can respond quickly and imaginatively to the key concerns presented. The team support the shift from the old, often uni-directional, academic-to-beneficiary style of research and engagement, which can be "dismissed as unresponsive to people's needs, intellectually presumptuous and undemocratic" (Times Higher Education, December 2014), towards stakeholders being invited to co-construct projects.

Creative Industries Practitioners: This project aims to mitigate and offset issues of precarious creative work by offering opportunities for a supportive, safe context to build capacity in design-led techniques. This will offset risk by offering a sustainable network, linking practitioners to new business and support opportunities and potential cross-sub-sector collaborations. By involving academics, creative practitioners and businesses in collaborative projects they will be exposed to new knowledge, skills and experience from other stakeholders which are crucial to fostering relational exchanges.

Creative Economy Policymakers and Supporting Institutions: The learning generated from DiA will be shared directly with creative industries stakeholders and policymakers in the H&I region. This will enhance a sustainable creative economic network that, in turn, will lead to improved opportunities for business innovation and growth and will raise the profile of the region as a creative and innovative place to do business. DING will create new opportunities for existing creative communities to work in new collaborations thus overcoming silos and helping to join up support infrastructure.

Scottish Creative Industries Partnership Strategy: Currently the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership, which is led by Creative Scotland and involves the support agencies and Scottish Government, is working on a new strategy. Both DING partners, HIE and Creative Scotland, have highlighted the opportunity to feed DiA outcomes through DING into the new strategy.

HEIs: This follow-on project involves the partnership of two academic institutions in Scotland, GSA and Abertay University, which continues the cross-institutional partnership developed as part of the DiA programme. This will support ongoing development of expertise in the field and demonstrate pathways to impact for applying such expertise.

Design: Academic researchers from the field of design will benefit from enhanced understanding of applying design as a strategy for business growth and innovation; emerging roles for designers in tackling complex issues and engaging dispersed geographical communities and knowledge of how to integrate design-led innovation into collaborative ways of working.

KE events: Delivering a series of matchmaking, design-led KE workshops with academics, businesses and creative practitioners will connect the skillsets and capacity across creative networks towards new collaborations, new business ideas and new communities of practice.

Design Showcase: At the end of the project, a final Design Showcase will be delivered at XpoNorth 2018 to share successful collaborations and pathways to impact, focused on the value of design in this process.

Outputs: This will include a final research report, targeting a mixed audience of creative practitioners, creative industries support services and policy makers, as well as a special issue journal on creative collaborative working in distributed geographic context


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Description DING Studio and DING Open Studio - Workshop with stakeholders across the Highlands & Islands creative economy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact DING Open Studios
We recruited key partners in Craft, Orkney and Shetland to co-develop challenge-led workshops, working through provocations and visual mapping with targeted cohorts to reveal key opportunities for creative growth. Shetland - Collective Innovation - We invited Shetland's creative leaders to a facilitated discussion on a collective innovation strategy for Shetland's creative industries. Orkney - Festival Innovation - We invited Festival leaders to join a full day of design innovation activities aiming to connect and stimulate growth across Orkney's festivals. Craft - Challenges and Trajectories We invited experienced makers and craft experts to a design innovation workshop addressing craft in the Highlands & Islands. DING Studios
We also developed our Creative Growth Model as a series of conversational tools for framing creative businesses and their networks through innovation challenges and trajectories. Shetland: setting trajectories for a cohort of creative learners in Shetland; design innovation surgeries for local creative projects and businesses. Orkney: co-creating innovation challenges and trajectories for festival innovation; design innovation surgeries for Orkney festivals. Craft: design innovation surgeries for early career craft makers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017