Case study: Collaborating on an Innovate UK Design Foundations Project

Startups | Innovate UK

Three people standing in front of town market. They are smiling into the camera.

L-R: Wendy Walker, Frances Brown, Ophelia Gamble 

Discover how we won funding from Innovate UK and successfully collaborated on a Design Foundations project aimed at revitalising high street markets.

In May 2023 Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, announced a new round of Design Foundations funding. The aim of this competition was to help businesses use people-centred and system-aware design methods to lay the foundations for the innovation of new or significantly improved products, services, places or business models. 

Find out about IUK's current Design Foundations competition.

Because applicants were encouraged to work with design experts, a number of companies who were aware of Nightingale’s strong track record in providing rigorous design research for early stage ideas approached us asking for our collaboration on an application.

One such company was The High Street Experts (THSE) a small but highly experienced team that have years of experience in providing practical and effective support and advice to high street retailers and street markets. They wanted to further develop the tools they offered and felt the funding combined with our expertise would allow them to do that.

As a partner in their joint grant application we translated the funding criteria into a sensible project plan that would enable them to explore their innovative idea using people centred design methods. Most importantly we ensured the research would deliver robust outputs THSE could use to develop their business. 

Together we were able to navigate the complex application process and successfully win funding.

Watch the recording of our free webinar to learn about our experiences of securing and delivering a design foundations project.  


What design research methods were used and why?

We designed a project made up of 5 distinct work packages, each one building on the one before. The aim was explore how THSE could grow their business and provide the benefit of their expertise to a wider range of markets through the design of tools that fit the needs of all user groups in the market system - local authorities, market operators, market traders and shoppers.

Nightingale's clear and methodical working style has kept our project meeting all deadlines on time alongside working on the end report during the process meaning bringing the project to a close has naturally come together with no last minute rush.

Ophelia Gamble, The High Street Experts

Drawing on our experience of delivering research projects we guided THSE team through the stages, upskilling them on each of the methods to develop their capabilities and enable them to deliver elements of the research themselves.


We carried out discovery research to explore the current situation and gather data on user needs. 

Desk research: We reviewed government papers and previous research to gather facts around markets: their history, current challenges, and recent government initiatives to improve them.  

InterviewsWe carried out research interviews with representatives from each of the user groups at a range of market locations to understand what they need in order for markets to thrive.

Surveys: We designed online surveys for shoppers and market traders to determine whether the themes and trends identified in the interviews exist in a larger audience and uncover further insights.


We facilitated a synthesis workshop to enable both teams to identify key themes from the analysis of the discovery outputs and understand what types of tools might support the different user groups.


We lead an Ideation workshop involving both teams to build on the outputs from the synthesis workshop and develop a design brief for a prototype tool.

A low fidelity basic prototype was created from the brief. 

Testing and iteration

We used paper prototyping to test the design of the tool on site with users at a range of market locations. We developed a set of recommendations for refinements from the output of the testing which were used to update the prototype design. 

A second round of testing was carried out on the iterated prototype to gather reactions and feedback on ease of integration with current systems as well as wider use of the tool.

Exploitation plan

In the final work package we facilitated a commercialisation workshop to enable THSE to identify options for developing the prototype into a tool and highlighting potential markets to explore. 

What was the outcome?

The project has allowed the High Street Experts to uncover product concepts with enormous potential. They've been able to explore these with users in situ gaining essential insight to inform their next steps. 

It has also given them data and evidence that they can use to support local authorities in revitalising their markets and their high streets.

The THSE team has also gained skill in research methods and a practical understanding of the value of design research that will ensure the successful development of their business.

Nightingale's knowledge and experience of research has been invaluable for meeting the outcomes set within the project scope. Frances has created a research blueprint template for my business to implement in future work packages. By using her unique , critical thinking style Frances has developed my thought processes in project management too, supporting me to work in a more effective way.

Ophelia Gamble, The High Street Experts

Want to know more? - watch our webinar

We'd love to be a research partner for your grant funded project