Design Ecosystem Fellowships

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

The aim of the scheme is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of production systems that support environmental sustainability, circular economies and waste reduction – a process that is key to achieving UK and global net zero targets.

The Call for Researchers is currently OPEN. Full details below. To apply, download and complete the application form and return it along with the any additional material to

Future Observatory Design Ecosystem Fellowships 2022– application form

Deadline for entries is 23:00hrs on 30th April 2022. Entries received after this deadline will not be accepted. Incomplete entries will not be considered.

Frequently asked questions to support your application.

Call for Researchers

This programme invites researchers to map existing design ecosystems that support environmental sustainability, circular economies, the reduction of waste and achieving net zero goals. Fellows can apply for funding of up to £20,000 to spend up to six months reporting on a design innovation ecosystem within the UK, including recommendations on how these ecosystems might be enhanced or energised.

Proposals must draw on previously existing research carried out by the applicant into the operations, connections and interdependencies within an identified design system.

Fellows will:

Identify and map an existing ecosystem in which design research achieves impact through partnerships with, for instance, local authorities and businesses, be it locally or nationally

  Draw on existing research networks and industry collaborations as a foundation to further investigation

  Work alongside Future Observatory Programme Director, Curatorial Director and Programme Manager to scope and direct activities across industry, academia and government

  Develop a deep, broad, and practical understanding of design in relation to production, distribution, consumption, policymaking, and priority areas for future research within a defined geographic area

  Produce scholarly articles, technical reports, models, maps or datasets to demonstrate an identified ecosystem - written, digital or multimodal formats are welcome. Analysis will be published through Future Observatory channels

  Support the Future Observatory and graphic design teams to translate findings into a compelling interactive visual format, to be published through Future Observatory and AHRC channels.

Your 6-month fellowship award will cover:

  Inception phase for project set up, 1 month

  Investigation and analysis phase, 4 months

  Reporting and graphic translation phase, 1 month (with an additional two weeks if required) *

*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. 

Context: New Models for a New Century

In 1989, John A. Walker produced an iconic diagram of design’s Production-Consumption Model in his book Design History and the History of Design. The model (pictured below) illustrates an industrial manufacturing system by which design has been framed and exercised from the Industrial Revolution onwards. It begins with the design process, progresses to manufacturing and circulation, and ends at consumption. This linear model can still be seen as a basis to analyse current design practices.

Design History’s Field of Research: Production-consumption model by John A. Walker (1989)

However, looking toward future design practices, which aim to resolve issues in the current manner of design production and post-consumption, does this model still suffice? At Future Observatory, we increasingly understand it does not.

New, more circular and regenerative models for environmentally sound design practices are urgently required for the 21st century – models that introduce new processes, actors and relationships into the field. (2021)

 The Circular Fashion Ecosystem, Institute of Positive Fashion, source

Design Ecosystem Format

The ecosystem format is increasingly adopted as an approach to understanding the dynamics that underpin innovation. To achieve and sustain the development of new products or services depends on the ability of multiple and interconnected actors – governments, the private sector, universities, individual entrepreneurs and others – to work together effectively. Each set of interconnected actors can be considered a local system or ‘innovation ecosystem’. The ecosystem format allows us to think beyond linear models and consider feedback loops and interdependencies between actors.

Like innovation ecosystems, design ecosystems can be used to understand, and assess where targeted intervention might improve products, services and production processes within a system. However, the latter aims to further embed design in productive networks to drive change and enhance environmental performance. Design ecosystems therefore consider connectivity between the private/public/third sector and design education and research, design funders, other design agents (design centres, associations, existing networks and clusters), design support programmes (museums and exhibitions, festivals, awards, conferences) and importantly, design users. 

Eligible Costs

The Future Observatory Design Ecosystem Fellowships will provide up to six months of funding with an overall limit of £20,000 (100% full economic cost) per project.

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

  salary costs of the fellow

  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.

Application and Eligibility

Applications will be accepted from 17th February 2022 until 23:00hrs BST on 30th April 2022.

An online Q&A session will be held on 22nd March at 13:00hrs BST for interested applicants. To join this session, please state your interest by email to  

The application can be downloaded below. Once complete, please email it to, using the following title format: (name)_DEFellowship.

Future Observatory Design Ecosystem Fellowships 2022– application form

We invite applications from all those who have a PhD or equivalent research experience, and expertise in one of the following areas:

  academic design research

  the design economy and its diverse sectors

  systems design

innovation and commercialisation policies and processes

  core UK national priorities around achieving net zero

Future Observatory is committed to creating an open, fair and diverse research environment for all. We invite candidates of all backgrounds to apply for this role. We accept applications from researchers connected to university departments and policy and innovation hubs, as well as independent researchers with a proven track record in research. We actively encourage the mapping of regional ecosystems outside of Greater London.

Person Specification

You must:

  have considerable experience in design innovation from academic and/or industry perspectives

  have considerable experience of and insight into relevant policymaking bodies and environments

  have relevant subject matter and analytical expertise and skills

  be able to work effectively at pace to deliver expected outcomes

  have excellent written and verbal communication skills, with the ability to translate complex information into meaningful narratives that are accessible to a non-academic audience

In addition, we welcome applications from individuals who can demonstrate:

  excellent stakeholder engagement and collaboration skills

  the ability to design and lead on knowledge exchange activity between research, policy, business, government and funder communities.

  ability to translate complex information into a meaningful and engaging narrative that is accessible to non-academic audiences

Evidence of how you meet selected criteria must be provided in your application.


Applications will be reviewed and selected, and applicants notified by 10th May 2022.

On receiving your application, we will check to make sure it is within remit. It will then be reviewed by a panel. This will include Future Observatory’s Programme Director, Curatorial Director and Programme Manager and at least two independent experts from the UK; along with panel observers including AHRC’s Head of AI and Design and Senior Investment Manager.

Applications will be reviewed against the following criteria:

  robust methodology evidenced in applicant’s existing research

  identification of, and familiarity with, an emerging design or innovation ecosystem that is likely to lead to significant new understanding around design production and consumption, and contribute towards net zero policy in the UK

  value for money in terms of resources requested

Following a shortlisting stage, we will invite applicants to interview virtually on 5th or 6th May 2022. Interviews will last 30 minutes.


Please contact us at should you have any questions related to the application.