Research project

Design in Action

Design in Action (DiA) is a £5m Knowledge Exchange (KE) Hub for the Creative Economy, funded in 2012 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to demonstrate design as a key strategy for economic growth and innovation within industry. A further £500k was awarded from Creative Scotland to support Scottish SMEs to apply design innovation and strategy in both the creative and non-creative industries.

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Start date

October 2012

Completion date

December 2016

Design in Action is delivered by a consortium of six Scottish universities, with a team of 29 academics and professionals and is led by a senior directorate and support team within Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art at the University of Dundee along with doctoral students, early career researchers and co-investigators located across DJCAD and the partner institutions. 

It is one of four KE Hubs in the UK and the only one in Scotland.  

The final project report can be accessed here.

Aims and objectives

Design in Action aims to promote, research, and create opportunities for the utilisation of design as a strategy for economic growth within industry. We develop collaborations between SMEs, academia, and designers, creating a fluidity of knowledge that overcomes cultural and infrastructural silos that has restricted such co-creation in the past.  

Our objectives are:  

  • To curate and facilitate intensive residential design-led, knowledge exchange events, Chiasma, around a specific sectoral call, encouraging co-creation as a method of innovation;  

  • Scoping current issues affecting each sector via workshops, round tables, and interviews with market experts in both business and academia, tailoring each Chiasma call to ensure it’s both on point and purposeful;  

  • To allow Chiasma participants the opportunity to apply for KE grant funding including further business and design support to take the resultant (and sheltered) IP to prototype and launch stage, providing a cohesive and complete pipeline process from conception to market and beyond;  

  • To host a series of high-profile design speakers in the form of public lectures across Scotland, including cross-institutionally with our academic partners, and hosting an annual Scottish Design Summit;  

  • To develop and maintain a network of designers, academics, policymakers, funding organisations and businesses; promoting to them the benefits of adopting design within their infrastructure via networking events, seminars and think pieces.  


Since it began in June 2012, DiA has involved hundreds of businesses in its seminars, workshops, annual Design in Business summits and 15 residential Chiasma, and has created 15 design-led businesses, of which three have launched already turning over £2m+ and employing 34 people.  

Since attending Chiasma, the following companies / projects have launched:  

Beer52 - A monthly craft-beer delivery service that launched in September 2013, six months after founder James Brown attended our Food Chiasma in Elgin. It broke all previous sales records when it was featured on Groupon UK, selling out in under 45 minutes. Since then, the business has gone on to have a £1m+ turnover and continues to grow month by month. They were recently awarded an additional £45k funding the 2015 Scottish EDGE Awards and are currently looking for VC investment of £250,000 so they can expand into the US market.  

Know Sugar – A health-focused social initiative which was presented during our first Chiasma in Feb 2013 and officially piloted as a pop-up shop in Dundee for two days in August 2014. The purpose of Know Sugar is simple: to use co and user-centred design to educate and inform the public about the dangers of sugar overconsumption and the benefits of a low-sugar diet, encouraging better dietary choices in the long-term.  

UAN Wool - A luxury product range of cushions, pads, pillows, and bedding all made from natural, specially selected Scottish sheep’s wool by Rural Economies Chiasma attendee, Julie Hermitage. The products are currently awaiting Allergy UK endorsement as the health benefits of natural wool include reduction in allergy and asthma symptoms.  

UAN officially launched at the 2015 Royal Highland Show and has received press coverage in The Scotsman, The Courier and on STV News.  


The sector scoping process and Chiasma delivery has also enabled our researchers to publish and present all over the world. The research that has emanated from Design in Action includes papers - and subsequently successful grant applications - on such disparate topics as IP, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, textiles and the circular economy and arts and humanities business models.  

Follow on research awards and outputs resulting from DiA include:  

  • Follett, G. and Rogers, J. (2014-15) New Business Models (Service), AHRC Grant, £57k.  

  • Maxwell, D., Speed, C. & Campbell, D. (2015) ‘Effing’ the Ineffable: Opening up Understandings of the Blockchain. British-HCI 2015, 13-17 July 2015, Lincoln.  

  • Ballie, J. and Woods, M. (2015) Circular by design: A model for engaging fashion / textile SMEs with strategies for designed reuse. Unmaking Waste Conference, 22nd – 24th May, Adelaide.  

  • For what it’s worth: Explorations into early-stage IP Berthold, H. and Townley, B. British Academy of Management Conference, Belfast, 9-11 September 2014.  

A full list of research outputs can be accessed here  

Public Engagement

An important part of DiA’s remit has been to promote the economic benefits of adopting design within industry to a wide audience. As of July 2015, we have hosted 14 public design events (including two Scottish Design Summits) to a total audience of 3500 people.  

Previous speakers have included:  

  • Katharine Hamnett  

  • Sebastian Conran (in partnership with V&A Museum of Design Dundee)  

  • Josephine Rydberg-Dumont, IKEA  

  • Stanley Wood, Lead Designer at Spotify  

  • Ian Callum, Director of Design at Jaguar (with V&A Museum of Design, Dundee)  

  • Mark Hogarth, Design Director Harris Tweed Hebrides  

  • Deyan Sudjic, Director of Design Museum  

  • Jason Bruges, Jason Bruges Studio  

  • Alice Rawsthorn (with V&A Museum of Design Dundee)  


External team members

  • The University of Abertay
  • The Glasgow School of Art
  • Gray's School of Art, Robert Gordon University  
  • Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh
  • University of St Andrews