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The Project

USER-FACTOR is a three-year project funded by the Interreg Atlantic Area Programme, aiming to strengthen innovation in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by supporting them to use design as a tool for user-driven innovation. Through a knowledge exchange process and using a service design method, the partners will develop a pilot programme each to support SMEs to use design and involve users in concept development and prototype testing.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the EU economy, providing a substantial source of jobs and economic growth. They represent 99% of all businesses in the EU, and it is estimated that in the past five years, they have created around 85% of new jobs and provided two-thirds of the total private sector employment in the EU. The improvement of SMEs competitiveness can therefore have a colossal impact on the economy, and as such is one of the 11 thematic priorities for Cohesion Policy in 2014-2020.

Design is an accessible tool of user-centred and market-driven innovation. A recent study by Design Council (Design Council Support and Business Survival and Growth, 2017) shows that businesses supported to use design:

  • survive longer (91% of supported businesses still trading after 5 years, compared to 49% of a control group);
  • grow twice as much (supported firms grew by around 40% between 2008 and 2016, more than double that of the control group);
  • are more productive (turnover growth exceeded employment growth).

However, as shown by the Innobarometer 2016 study, 56% of European businesses still do not use design and further 14% use it only for styling.

About Graphic
Design Maturity European Companies in USER-FACTOR partner countries. Source: Innobarometer 2016

During three years, USER-FACTOR partners will develop, test and evaluate design support pilots with 200 SMEs to help them become more innovative and competitive. Through this interregional learning process we are aiming to mainstream design support in business and innovation support organisations in the Atlantic Area and share best practice with the rest of the European regions.


In a series of knowledge exchange workshops we will identify good practice in innovation and design support, develop pilot programmes using service design methodology and implement them with 200 small and medium businesses. We will then evaluate their performance and share our learning with business support organisations and policy-makers to ultimately mainstream design support for businesses and ensure long-term impact.

  • 6 knowledge exchange workshops:
    • Identifying Good Practices (Edinburgh, March 2018)
    • Developing Design Support Pilots (Dublin, October 2018)
    • Implementing Design Support Pilots (Santiago de Compostela, March 2019)
    • Capitalization – Planning long-term impact (Rennes, June 2019)
    • Monitoring & performance assessment (Tenerife, September 2019)
    • Evaluation – Design Impact Report (Belfast, April 2020)
  • 24 stakeholder & buddy meetings
  • 40 events & Final Conference (Lisbon, November 2020)
  • 2 Publications on Design: Handbook of Good Practice and Design Impact Report
  • 24 case studies of good practice
  • 24 media appearances
  • 884 people involved
  • 8 Design Support Pilots
  • 200 SMEs in Pilot Actions

Target Groups

Project’s main goal is to strengthen innovation in the Atlantic Area by transferring models for design and innovation support between business and innovation agencies. As such, the beneficiaries are both business and innovation support organisations exploiting complementarities across the Area and SMEs participating in pilot programmes, and later benefitting from improved innovation services.

Being ‘user-centred’ throughout the process means that we would like to collaborate with broad range of stakeholders in our regions including:

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship support organisations
  2. Business associations, such as chambers of commerce and industry or small business federations.
  3. Design actors – design centres, associations, membership organisations, networks and clusters.
  4. Policy-makers related to business, entrepreneurship, innovation and design.
  5. Funding bodies for innovation and entrepreneurship.
  6. Education, academia & research institutions – relevant universities, design research centres, research centres for economy or social science.
  7. International networks.
3. Design actors – design centres, associations, membership organisations, networks and clusters.
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