What is a design ecosystem?

Design Ecosystem Fellowships FAQs

Date: Wednesday 30 March 2022

The Design Ecosystem Fellowships are Future Observatory-funded awards for up to six researchers to map transformative design ecosystems in the UK. 

The call for researchers is here.

The call is currently open and the deadline for entries is 23:00hrs on 30th April 2022.

Following an open Q&A session on 22 March, here is a list of frequently asked questions to support your application.



1.   What is a design ecosystem?

To develop new products or services requires multiple actors – governments, the private sector, universities, individual entrepreneurs and others – to work together effectively. Each set of interconnected actors can be considered an innovation ecosystem’. Innovation ecosystems are not flow diagrams that illustrate movements through time in a system. Rather, they emphasise relationships, at a given time, within a system.

‘Design ecosystems’ aim to embed design into these networks to enhance productivity. They therefore consider connectivity between the private/public/third sector and design education and research, design funders, other design agents (such as design centres, associations, existing networks and clusters), design support programmes (such as museums and exhibitions, festivals, awards, conferences) and design users.

2.   Can I propose a new design ecosystem, without any existing published research around it?

Yes, this is encouraged, provided you can evidence that the ecosystem is operational and supports environmental principles.

3.   Is there a design ecosystems template that supports net zero objectives that I can use as a primary reference?

While there is existing research around design ecosystems, we encourage originality in approach. A central strand to this research is defining a design ecosystem blueprint in your own terms.

Readings might include:

Whicher, A., 2017. Design ecosystems and innovation policy in Europe. Strategic Design Research Journal10(2), pp.117-125.

Whicher, A. and Walters, A., 2017. Mapping design for innovation policy in Wales and Scotland. The Design Journal20(1), pp.109-129. 

Na, J.H., Evans, M., Zitkus, E. and Walters, A., 2018, August. Design in Action: Understanding the Drivers and Barriers to Strategic Use of Design for Innovation. In Academic Design Management Conference: Next Wave (pp. 127-140). 

4.   The call emphasises regional design ecosystems – can I apply with an international ecosystem?

While we ask for a regional focus to your research, we acknowledge that design ecosystems may well operate across multiple regions, as well as internationally. We encourage you to map these expanded connections. However, your research must have strong links to the UK, with the majority of partners based in the UK.

Digital and online ecosystems will also be considered.



5.   Who is the adjudicator of the fellowship?

Future Observatory.

Future Observatory is a new national programme of research, debate and training coordinated by the Design Museum in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. 

6.   Would I have resources assigned to me at the Design Museum?

The Design Ecosystem Fellows are the recipients of an academic financial grant, but remain based at their home institution. The Design Museum will facilitate workshops, feedback sessions and collaborate on the graphic translation of your research.  

7.   Should my primary institution be able to provide resources for the research? 

The awards cover 100% of costs. As such, we do not expect the fellow’s home institution to provide additional support alongside the core funding. If there are ways that a fellow can achieve added value by capitalising on organisational resources, the applicant should describe this within their submitted application.

8.   Is the application open to one fellow in each instance, or can a dual application be made?

Dual application or job share models are possible, with a maximum of two applicants per fellowship. 

9.   What are the expected equivalent hours of the main researcher?  

The hours dedicated to the project are applicant-led and should be based on feasibility of achieving the proposed project. Please include your intended FTE within the project budget. 




10. How soon must I be ready to start the research after being awarded the fellowship?

No later than 10 June 2022, i.e., one month after notification of award.

11. What is the research schedule/timeline?

Answer: Your 6-month fellowship award will cover:

·       10 June 2022: Research periods begins

·       10 June – 10 July 2022: Inception phase for project set up

·       Mid-July 2022: graphic translation workshop at the Design Museum

·       10 July – 10 November 2022: Investigation and analysis phase

·       Mid-September 2022: Preliminary presentation of research

·       10 November – 15 December 2022: Reporting and graphic translation phase

·       15 December 2022 – 3 January 2023: Christmas break

·       w/c 16 January 2023: Presentation of final report and graphics at AHRC Townhall




12. What research outputs are required on completion of the fellowship?

Each fellow will submit (a) a written research report and (b) a graphic translation of their design ecosystem. 

13. When is the deadline for research outputs?    

Each fellow must email a final copy of their report to futureobservatory@designmuseum.org by 11:00 on 16 January 2023. All fellows will be invited to give a short presentation of their research at an AHRC Townhall event on the w/c 16 January 2023, to share their findings with wider Future Observatory, AHRC and UKRI research networks.

14. Where will the research be published?

On completion, the research will be published on the Future Observatory website. The online publication will be accompanied by an announcement across Design Museum and UKRI channels.




15.  What does the monetary award (up to £20,000) cover?

The nature of the scheme means that only the following costs can be requested:

·       salary costs and pension of the fellow

·       estate costs, with a cap of 10% of the proposed budget

·       a small amount of justified administrative support for the fellow. This will require sufficient justification in your application

·       data usage/collection costs. Applicants must be clear which costs relate to de novo data collection, analysis of new data and/or maintenance or use of existing data

·       Indirect costs (including indirect costs associated with the fellow)

·       travel and subsistence costs.

The scheme does not support the undertaking of early-stage academic research, and therefore costs of research assistants and research-related costs cannot be requested. Project students are not eligible for this particular opportunity. 

16. What is the payment schedule for funding?

Three payments will be made on a quarterly basis: the first payment will be made by 30 June 2022; the second payment by 30 September 2022; the final payment by 31 December 2022. 

17. By what date should all project funds be spent?  

16 January 2022. 

18. Is there scope for additional funding as part of the fellowship beyond the initial request of up to £20,000?

No, the total budget proposal must not exceed the £20,000 funding. All costs must be inclusive. 

19. Can the cost of open access publishing be included in the budget?

Yes. However, open access charges should only be incurred during the period of the fellowship.

20. Will the cost of the graphic translation be exclusive to the funding award, or do I need to budget for this as part of the application?

The graphic translation costs do not need to be included in the £20,000 project budget. This aspect of the research is covered by Future Observatory. 




21. What is the value of a graphic translation for my research?

The fellowship will culminate in the translation of your research into a compelling interactive visualisation, working with the Future Observatory team and leading UK graphic designers. This unique visualisation will allow your research to reach new audiences across government, industry and the public sphere. This will enhance the opportunity to inform decision making on the most pressing policy problems of our time. 

22. What is the process for graphic translation of my research?

A graphic translation workshop will take place at the Design Museum in mid-July for fellows to explore the process of visualising complex research data. The graphic translation phase of the research formally begins on 10 November 2022. At this stage, fellows will meet with graphic designers identified by Future Observatory and begin the process of graphically translating their research. 

23. Will the researcher work directly with the graphic designers? 


24. Can I work with a graphic designer that I have an existing relationship with?

A designer will be identified and commissioned by Future Observatory, based on portfolio evaluation and an interview process. 

25. Who has overall creative control of the graphic translation? 

Fellows will work in collaboration with graphic designers and members of the Future Observatory team to develop a graphic translation of the research. Ultimately, the fellow has final creative control over this translation.  

26. Will each fellow have a unique graphic translation for their research?

Yes, each graphic translation is driven by the unique characteristics of the research.




27. Do I need a PHD to apply?

Not necessarily, we welcome equivalent research and industry experience.

28. Do I need to be employed by a higher education institute to apply?

No, we encourage non-university-based applicants.

29. Can I apply for the fellowship if I am already receiving AHRC funding?

Yes, provided your projects are notably different. 

30. Do I need to be working in the field of design to apply?

We understand ‘design’ in the broadest sense and welcome applications from those whose research engages product design, fashion and textiles design, architecture and the built environment, service design, systems design, innovation and industry management, manufacturing, waste management, circular economy and net zero transitions. 

31. Do I need to be a founder or active participant in the design ecosystem about which I am reporting?

No, however given the timeline of the research, we advise that you have established and working relationships with actors in your chosen ecosystem. 

32. Does Future Observatory have an EDI statement?


33. Does AHRC/UKRI have an EDI statement?





34. How will my application be assessed?

On receiving your application, we will check to make sure it is within remit. It will then be reviewed by a panel. This panel will include Future Observatory’s Programme Director (Justin McGuirk), Curatorial Director (Cher Potter) and Programme Manager (Elizabeth Thornhill) and at least two independent experts from the UK; along with panel observers including AHRC’s Head of AI and Design (Samantha McGregor) and Senior Investment Manager (Harry Kerr). Following this shortlisting stage, applicants will be invited to a 30-minute online interview on 5 May or 6 May 2022. 

35. When will I know if I have been successful?

10 May 2022. 

36. How many fellowships will be awarded?

Up to six fellows will be selected. 




37. Who will be my main point of contact on the Future Observatory team?

Cher Potter, Future Observatory Curatorial Director 

38. How often will I meet with the Future Observatory team?

Fellows will have monthly progress meetings with the Future Observatory team. However, additional feedback sessions can be requested.

39. Will the I have access to an AHRC representative during the project?

Yes - Harry Kerr, AHRC Senior Investment Manager.



40. How can I participate in the wider Future Observatory Network?

As a fellow, you will be integrated into the Future Observatory network in the following ways:

·       You and your work will be promoted by the Future Observatory team, stakeholders and partners, as well as the AHRC and UKRI.

·       Your biography and research progress will be published on the Future Observatory website.

·       Your research will be featured in the Future Observatory public programme of symposia and round tables.

·       You will be invited to meet and exchange ideas with the AHRC/Future Observatory Design Exchange Partnership teams and the Future Observatory Researchers in Residence.

·       You will become an integral part of our network and invited to participate in future funding and public programming events as a valued alumnus.