Pioneering Research Challenge

Design Innovation: An Entrepreneurial Programme of Research and Education in Design Business and Innovation Studies


Led by Anne Boddington, Professor Mike Hobday and Dr Andrew Grantham this programme of research has emerged through collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Business. Linking to and building on our international networks in Europe and the USA and on expertise and current research activity from across the university, we are developing an integrated and entrepreneurial programme of research, learning and enterprise activities focusing specifically, though not exclusively, on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro businesses and on the convergence of design, innovation and management.

Drawing on our business, cultural and innovation networks we are also linking the expertise and experience of the University’s Profitnet programme, KTP activity and the Centre for Work & Learning (CWL) within the University, and building on these with particular reference to the Creative Economy in partnership with organizations such as the Business of Culture, Wired Sussex, the Royal Society of Arts and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Through this convergence and partnership we are aiming to achieve a creative and inspirational programme for the university. Through it we are questioning and developing our respective theoretical formations, our pedagogic approaches and gradually transforming the ways that we work with one another, with our students and with external organizations at all levels, but focusing particularly at postgraduate and doctoral level.

This initiative has been supported by investment from the University of Brighton’s “Research Challenge” initiative designed to stimulate new and emerging fields of research.  


Most observers now accept that design plays a transformational role in industrial innovation (Tether, 2008).  In our current economic climate the convergence of design, innovation and management studies raises questions both about the intellectual and theoretical implications of this integration and their relative position, rate of change and communication within 21st century Higher Education. If we examine ‘Innovation Studies’, a medium-sized subject area which researches and teaches innovation around the world, design is generally treated in passing or quite often entirely ignored. By contrast, leaders of design theory and practice have extended their subject into areas of strategy, branding, product development and organisational change. In management circles, ‘thought leaders’ are beginning to describe management as a process of designing. This recognises the holistic and integrative aspects of managing that make it creative and synthetic rather than a purely linear and rational process of analysis and decision-making. 

Innovation Studies as a subject emerged after World War II and has now spread to most corners of the world and is closely linked to business and public policy organisations.  There is now a plethora of scholarly journals and social scientists working on almost all aspects of innovation, but few have systematically linked design to innovation, especially in the area of SMEs and micro-enterprises.  Today, innovation studies extend beyond industrial technologies to examine innovation in organisations, business strategies and government policy. Like the modern design field, innovation studies now takes a more holistic approach to value and change creation, also exploring the impact of digital and information technologies on business, learning and research.

Emergent and critical epistemologies of design and ‘design-thinking’ draw on the science and theorising of design beyond ‘style’; firstly, as central to and extending beyond engineering (rather than as distinct from it); and secondly as conceived by systems analysts and innovation and management theorists, as extensions of design science. Leading scholars propose synthetic and humanist approaches, building on the work of Herbert Simon and Horst Rittel and recently explored by contemporaries such as Armand Hatchuel (France), Per Galle (Denmark) and Terrence Love (Australia). These scholars have located design as central to transforming business, technological and economic development.

The recent application of critical social science to design is radical, destabilising and often resisted, but is also a major opportunity for new developments of design-innovation theory, history, education and the development of research frameworks, management and applied innovation improvements.

Our goal is to explore and build an evidence base that supports the re-conceptualisation of design and 'design thinking' as business strategy; the role of design in creative, cultural (and other industries), policy and the wider applications and implications of design and ‘design thinking’ in terms of future trends that impact they may have on digital, social and environmental contexts.