Skip to content

Sparking the next generation of product inventors

Sparking the next generation of product inventors

8 January 2015 Written by By Mat Hunter Chief Design Officer, Design Council, 2010-2015

Read Mat Hunter's inspirational keynote speech from the Spark launch event in November last year. The deadline for Spark applications was 31 January 2015.

"This year, the Design Council celebrates 70 years of improving lives by design.

"Back at its creation, in 1944, the Churchill government recognised the opportunity to combine two great strengths of the UK: great manufacturing and great design. The following decades broke new ground in generating world-beating products for domestic and international consumption, and in informing a market of consumers what great design was as well as why they should purchase it. The goal was to improve lives here and abroad, thereby driving UK economic recovery.

"But by the 1980s, British manufacturing was not in the best of health. Policy-makers began to feel that the service industries - financial, business consulting and others - might be the future engine of growth. And as we entered the information age, the value of the material world to drive innovation and economic growth seemed to be at an all-time low. We were entering the ‘knowledge economy’, where ideas and bits of information were apparently everything.

"But here we stand, in 2014, and the physical world matters more than ever. We do not sit at home or at work with virtual reality goggles, or jacked into the matrix. Our food is not reduced to scientifically optimised pills that my childhood books of the 1970s and 1980s assured me was the future of nutrition. We do not move around via a teleporter from Star Trek. Atoms, I can assure you, are alive and well. The internet augments our physical reality - not the other way around.

"OK, I hear you say, we didn’t get dematerialised by the information age - but all the physical stuff gets designed and made in Asia. We are no longer a manufacturing nation - we are postindustrial.

"Well that’s simply not true. Not only is the UK in the top 10 of manufacturing economies in the world, but we are leaders in high value manufacturing. Manufacturing is the third largest sector in the UK economy after business services and retail, with particular strengths in the aerospace and automotive industries. Companies such as Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Land Rover, JCB and many others are world leaders in their fields, designing and making products that are the envy of the globe. And more than that, shifts in manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing, and in the macro-economics of global supply chains, mean that more is being made locally now than in recent decades.

"Ultimately it comes down to this - that great physical products are being designed and made in the UK. Our great capabilities in design and manufacturing are as relevant as they ever were and we simply want to build on this. We believe that product innovation must ever more be at the heart of the UK’s economic success.

"In recent years, especially in London, we have seen huge growth in the creation of startups. The money, networks and knowledge required to develop a great idea into a product or service that can be delivered around the world has lowered almost beyond belief. Silicon Roundabout is seen by some as second only to Silicon Valley in being the best place to launch a tech-led startup.

"So our vision with Design Council Spark has been to create a support programme for ideas that don’t purely exist in software form. Ideas that primarily are delivered through physical product, but that may also incorporate digital technology. We believe that, with atoms as important as bits, we need to shine a light more brightly on those that have great physical product ideas. And one key feature of this fund is that any profits generated from our stakes in resulting ideas will be reinvested, so that the fund might become sustainable and help even more product ideas come to reality.

We want to find those people that have amazing ideas and the passion to make something of those ideas.

"Not everyone who has a great idea thinks of themselves as an entrepreneur. One of the things that I have been most proud of in the numerous programmes that we have delivered with startups is that many of the people who have entered our programmes have just considered themselves to be normal people with an idea that they believed in and the passion to see it succeed.

"So as much as we know that having a great idea takes a little bit of genius, and developing it requires a whole lot of passion and commitment, we also know that opening our doors as wide as possible and helping would-be inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs to gain the confidence in their ideas and abilities as they develop their products is the way to ensure that we make the most of the diverse - and sometimes hidden - talent of our nation.

"We want to find those people that have amazing ideas and the passion to make something of those ideas. If you are based in the UK, with a product idea that you believe can change the world - or even just a great idea that consumers will really like - then we want to hear from you."

Subscribe to our newsletter

Want to keep up with the latest from the Design Council?

Sign up