On Tuesday 26 June 12 products were catapulted into the spotlight, and five were selected for additional funding. The Design Council Spark Showcase, presented by Deborah Meaden, was the culmination of 16 weeks of graft and learning for finalists on the product design accelerator programme.
The pride on the faces of this year’s finalists was evident, as they joined serial investor of Dragons’ Den fame, Deborah Meaden, onstage at the Design Museum in London. The room was filled with an exclusive gathering of design industry leaders, investors and previous finalists, but this was undeniably their night.
Once you are on the Design Council Spark programme you are always part of the Design Council family, no matter how many years ago it was.Sarah Weir, Chief Executive, Design Council
To get to this point they had conquered a competitive application process, a two-day boot camp, 16 intense weeks of workshops, and a final pitch to an investment panel. Now some of them would become awardees and receive a portion of the £200k prize fund, on top of the £15k they’d already received as finalists.
They needn’t have worried about a further interrogation courtesy of Deborah’s feared Dragon’s Den persona. Abandoning it for this celebration, her speech exuded warmth and congratulation from the outset and evidenced a genuine belief in design. Deborah became involved with Design Council after realising that everybody she did business with was using design in some way, whether they knew it or not, she said. “We need to remind people that they design every day.”
Deborah sees the design mentality as one of a ‘fixer’, on a mission to constantly improve things they come across. “Those people that walk around and think, ‘that’s annoying, can’t we do that better’, those people will transform their businesses.” The mentality is not the preserve of the trained designer, a point echoed by Design Council CEO Sarah Weir who said, “You can come from anywhere into Spark.” This year's cohort was an unusually diverse group.
The final awardees reflected diversity. Stopadoor, a product that prevents trapped finger injuries, was designed by surgeon Pulathis Siriwardana. Dryphoon, a device that dries and cools a glass to the temperature that creates the perfect drink, was created by Gary Smith, an ex-barman and IT specialist. Former PR consultant Judith Cook developed Elba, a stylish bra for wearers with dexterity challenges. And finally, ALIE, a malleable VR controller, was the only awarded product with a traditionally trained designer on the team behind it. A special commendation also went to Flit-E-bike, a folding e-bike by Hinton Bikes and Alex Murray.
Well-designed products improve things in both big and small ways, and this approach is at the heart of the Spark programme. Amongst other things, 2018’s finalists have created products that will: improve the lives of women with mastectomies; bring sustainable food practices into the mainstream; better support the posture of female horse riders; even decrease lemon wastage. This focus on impact is exemplified by the partnership with Arthritis Research UK, who fund a number of finalists. This year Judith Cook’s Elba lingerie was awarded their portion of the prize fund.
The charity is best known for its research into new medical treatments. CEO Liam O’Toole was on hand to explain their involvement in Design Council Spark: “17.8 million people are living with the pain, fatigue and weakness associated with Arthritis,” he says. “We will get a cure one day, but in the meantime, we want to find ways to help them continue to live their lives independently. Inclusive design can help solve many of the challenges they face.”
Products like these, that help people keep their everyday independence are becoming more and more important as we all live longer.Liam O’Toole, CEO, Arthritis Research UK
The showcase, which was also open to the public the next day, demonstrated the power of applying a programme of design thinking to ideas. As Deborah Meaden pointed out, lots of people have ideas, but most of them give up in the beginning. The Spark programme propels its participants forwards by providing expertise, encouragement and focus. “That momentum was so important,” says Judith Cook. “It has been an amazing motivator, and it’s very bittersweet that it’s coming to an end. For me, now is the time to focus back on the product and continue applying all those processes we’ve learned. It’s so exciting to think that my product could be out there on the market soon.”
In the atrium of the Design Museum, as the guests filtered out at the end of the night, Morag Myerscough’s colourful rotating billboard endlessly proclaimed “Designer. Maker. User.” An apt valediction for the finalists as they start the next part of their journey to product design success.
Design Council Spark is a support and funding programme designed to help you turn your bright idea into a commercially successful product.
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