28 October 2009

On 28 October Designplus and PDD hosted a forum for senior figures from West London design consultancies to discuss innovation in West London and the opportunities arising from a new initiative, West London Innovation.

West London Innovation is led by Brunel University and the chamber of commerce and development agency for the sub-region, West London Business. The host, PDD is one of the UK’s leading product design consultancies and a high profile member of the West London innovation community. Innovation is a hot topic for all organisations, from government departments to SMEs. West London Innovation will explore the emerging challenges, opportunities, methodologies and success stories arising from these dynamically changing times.

Why is the Design Consultancy sector key to innovation?
The UK design consultancy sector’s considerable economic impact can be measured not just in financial terms (£11.6 billion turnover in 2004–05 [1]) but more broadly in terms of its impact on client companies’ development of new products and services. Design, as part of the Creative Industries, is recognised as one of the UK’s most important economic engines for future global success, with ambitions to position the UK as the Worlds Creative Hub (2).

What points came out of the forum?
West London may lack the cool cachet of Shoreditch or Soho , but our region’s design consultancies are positive about the benefits of being based here, such as access to blue-chip clients and transport links. The West London design community recognises that the environment is changing for design and innovation, and has an openness to the possibilities offered by cooperation and open innovation.

The sensitive issue of Universities unfairly competing with small businesses elicited mixed views, with some senior figures simply viewing the issue as part of the competitive landscape, albeit one that requires more clearly differentiated offers. Certainly Universities need to respond with much clearer explanations of what is on offer. This is partly addressed by the LDA commissioned London Design Map (3), a project led by Designplus at Brunel. However there is still much work to do within Universities and their Design schools.

The value of networking and collaboration between businesses and universities was acknowledged, with West London Innovation seen as a useful framework for this to take place. There was also discussion of the somewhat contentious issues raised by British Design Innovation, a professional membership organization for the design consultancy sector. London Board members of BDI took part in the forum and were able to discuss their position.

The issue of demonstrating added value or impact quickly emerged as the key issue in the context of innovation, economics and location. Organizations such as NESTA (4) and, as reported by the forum, the Advertising industry itself are actively investigating the measurement from creative industry activity and innovation’s impact.

In the Design Business the potential for a fully coordinated approach to impact measurement is complicated by having four major organizations representing the industry. This possibly provides an opportunity for West London, as the region could be a working model of networking and collaboration in action with a great track record of innovation performance to tap into.

It was felt that any geographical boundary to West London is largely irrelevant in the context of innovation; however the region does perhaps have the resources and ability to operate as a networked innovation organism more effectively than other regions.

What are the actions?
West London Innovation book: This is the working title for one of the West London Innovation initiative’s central outputs. It will act as a neutral resource to gather case studies demonstrating facets of innovation and the value of design from a client perspective, or demand side, as well as the supply side. The forum discussion underlined the importance of this resource.

The West London Innovation launch event at the Porsche Centre on 24th November will kick start the process of gathering content for the West London Innovation Book.

Events, projects and professional development:Designplus will be developing further networking events on the subject of measuring design’s impact as a component of innovation, with the possibility of future Professional Development courses. We will also continue to explore connections within the Westfocus Universities to unearth existing expertise and opportunities which can feed into an evolving body of knowledge. For example we have just completed a joint proposal with Brunel and Kingston Design courses to explore enhancing entrepreneurship within Major Projects to be part funded indirectly by SEEDA (5) Notes

  1. The Business of Design: Design Industry Research 2005, Design Council/DBA, 2005
  2. Creative Britain – New Talents for the New Economy, DCMS, 2008
  3. The London Design map launched in May 2009 is an interactive resource to allow exploration of the key qualities of 26 Design Schools in the London region (ref:
  4. NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) was tasked by DIUS to develop a UK innovation index to better understand and capture the contribution of innovation activities (
  5. South East England Development Agency funds HEEG (The Higher Education Entrepreneurship Group) which funds projects to enhance entrepreneurship in the region’s Universities.