Design Exchange Partnerships

The Design Exchange Partnerships are AHRC-funded research projects integral to the Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme.

Each funded project brings researchers into collaboration with non-academic partners, such as local councils and businesses, to address the climate crisis.

APPLY NOW: Open call for Design Exchange Partnerships: Design the Green Transition 2023

Apply for AHRC funding to develop design-led solutions to specific challenges facing UK coastal and island communities in relation to realising green transition goals.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £40,000, plus a five to 10% non-academic partner organisation contribution. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost. You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for AHRC funding. The application closing date is 30 November 2022, 17:00 UK time

Building on the success of the Future Observatory Design Exchange Partnerships (DEP) 2021-2022 pilot round, AHRC is inviting proposals to a scaled-up DEP scheme, part of the Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme.

DEPs will connect directly with the wider Future Observatory: Design the Green Transition programme based at the Design Museum.

DEPs are three-way collaborative projects which seek to demonstrate tangible impact on local communities by stimulating the real-world application of high-quality arts and humanities-led design research to address challenges related to achieving green transition goals. DEPs aim to:

·      stimulate strategic partnerships that support career development and the development of hybrid skills

·      increase the diversity of voices and actors consulted in and contributing to addressing the climate crisis

·      enable the development of new products and services that have a positive impact in the real-world.

For this round, we are focusing on the green transition challenges faced by the UK’s island and coastal communities. In particular, we are keen to see this in places where investment can make the biggest difference to everyday life, for example, areas that experience high levels of poverty and deprivation, or that otherwise suffer from stunted productivity, lack of employment opportunities, poor community cohesion or lack of local agency.

For the purposes of this opportunity, a coastal community may be interpreted to include any coastal settlement within a UK local authority area whose boundaries include UK foreshore, including local authorities whose boundaries only include estuarine foreshore. Coastal settlements include seaside towns, ports and other areas that have a clear connection to the coastal economy.

Projects may focus on any challenges or areas that will support progress towards green transition goals, including but not limited to any combination of:

·      human, such as improving the design and delivery of green initiatives to more effectively support behaviour change

·      technical, such as design or development of new low or zero carbon building solutions

·      economic or commercial, such as redesign of markets to reduce costs

·      structural, such as infrastructure planning and decarbonisation provision.

We welcome proposals for, and will support a diverse portfolio showcasing, a range of different types of design intervention, from product or service level innovation through to strategic, systems-level design thinking. Examples of projects funded under the pilot DEP round are detailed below.

The project should demonstrate human-centred design research processes. You can include activities to:

·      develop high-value innovation opportunities and define what makes a desirable, fit-for-purpose solution

·      create ideas for new or significantly improved products or services

·      test and improve ideas by using fast, low-cost visuals, prototypes or simulations

·      clearly communicate ideas ready for further investment, and research and development activity

·      understand human motivations and behaviour through, for example, observation, interviews, role-play and workshops.

 Projects should demonstrate clear pathways to measurable outcomes of benefit to all partners both within the 12-month project period and beyond.

Application closing date: 30 November 2022, 17:00 UK time.

For more information and to apply, visit the Arts and Humanities Research Council website


2021-2022 Pilot Projects

1.     Sustainability Visualised – Net-Zero at a District Council Level

University of Hertfordshire and Community Services, St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council is implementing sustainability targets where a bewildering array of actions need to successfully interface with the diverse requirements of council departments, local businesses, and residents. How can design thinking and data visualization aid this process, helping the council realise its Net Zero ambitions?

2.     ZeroCity+ an urban game

University of Reading and Urban Transcripts

A digital urban game that embeds Design Council’s Beyond Net Zero report findings in relation to the societal, behavioural and organisational culture change, promoting values and impact-led net zero+ goals across stakeholders in public participation for decision-making with co-design workshop approaches.

3.     Interaction and service design of a virtual health hub for patients with cardiovascular disease

Ulster University and Western Health & Social Care Trust (WHSCT): The Cardiac Assessment Unit (CAU)

Embedding design research within healthcare to synthesise complexity and strategically develop a Virtual Health Hub for Patients with Cardiovascular Disease. Specifically conceptualisation of a Realtime App., to manage the flow of patients, and Service Design for a Cardiology Virtual Assistant enabling remote patient engagement across hospital sites and diagnostic equipment.

4.     Digital timber for affordable housing

University of Cambridge and PLP Architecture

This research explores how engineered timber, already the most sustainable way of building, and a natural material that stores carbon in its cells as it grows, can improve the way we live through the design of sustainable, adaptable and flexible interiors for future living.

5.     A double diamond approach towards sustainable manufacturing for repair and reduction of waste

Brunel University and Geo Kingsbury Machine Tools

This project aims to utilise the Double-Diamond Design Method to adopt more sustainable production practices for high value components using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM).

6.     Going Circular; Harris Tweed Hebrides Repurposing British Waste Textiles

University of Hertfordshire and Harris Tweed Hebrides

The project will embed sustainable and circular economy practices amongst Harris Tweed Hebrides’ network of weavers to deliver net-zero wins and create new revenue streams through design and manufacture of unique woven products – with emphasis on upskilling, empowering and the rehabilitation of women prisoners.

7.     Accelerating Net-Zero Housing at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

University of Hertfordshire and Welwyn and Hatfeld Borough Council

A project to transfer specific design methodology to housing schemes to maximise net-zero outcomes. In addition to reducing carbon emissions and costs, the project will ensure better thermal comfort and quality of life for housing occupants and irradiation of fuel poverty.

8.     Digital equity through e-waste reduction

University of the Arts London (Creative Computing Institute) and Power to Connect

A collaboration between Power to Connect, a not-for-profit addressing the lack of access to online learning within deprived communities, and UAL’s Creative Computing Institute, to develop a data wiping solution, ensuring that second-hand devices can be repurposed and given to young people, thereby reducing e-waste and addressing digital inequity.

9.     Sustainability by design: developing a model for design-led local government to achieve net zero by 2030

University of the Arts London (London College of Communication) and Southwark Council

In order to help councils to tackle the climate emergency in communities and become carbon neutral, we will operate as a ‘designer in government’ in Southwark, London helping to co-create and co-deliver local policies and services that empower local stakeholders to play their part in achieving net zero by 2030.

10.  Beyond Net Zero Goals - Regenerative Fashion

University of the Arts London and Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse create high quality fashion accessories from rescued waste materials, operating with the highest social and environmental standards. This project documents and supports the company’s climate ambition to become Net Regenerative by 2030, diversifying their products through regenerative agriculture and regenerative fashion practices within a rural ecosystem.

11.  Making better by design - translating NetZero+ in a craft SME context

University of Brighton and Posh Totty Designs

NetZero+ and UN Sustainable Goals are excellent global vehicles to promote and deliver sustainability; however translating them down into practical approaches that SMEs can take is a design challenge. Making Better by Design will apply University developed community co-design research approaches to translate NetZero+ ambitions into a making SME context.

12.  Circular Bio-Economy and Food Waste: Designing a blueprint for social housing estates

University of Kent and LEAP

Food waste can become renewable energy and fertiliser. This partnership will exchange technological knowledge and design skills to co-design a circular bio-economy waste food system (anaerobic digestion, composting and food growing) and a blueprint allowing repeatability of this process, for a London social housing estate, together with the residents.

13.  Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

De Montfort University and Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre

This project explores concept designs for redeveloping Leicester’s 150-years old Outdoor Pursuits Centre, located on a 15-acre flood plain in the city. Designs will evaluate flood resilient buildings and its activities facilities to achieve LOPC’s ambition for a state-of-the-art site which embeds net zero into all aspects of its operation.

14.  The Value of Nature Based Enterprise

Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow City Council

The Value of Nature-Based Enterprise partners with Glasgow City Council’s Centre for Civic Innovation to co-evaluate and strategically develop nature-based businesses and social enterprises, launched following a pilot Nature-Based Accelerator. This aims to establish developmental evaluation processes using design-based relational mapping methods to connect and grow Glasgow’s sustainable enterprise eco-system.

15.  Reducing the Environmental Impact of Hospital Curtains

Brunel University and Sustainability Division, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

By applying a design thinking approach, the project delivers an innovative solution that reduces CO2 emissions and landfill waste caused by the making and disposal of single-use hospitals’ curtains. The partnership enables the Trust Sustainability team to gain competences on how Design can drive innovation for a sustainable healthcare.