Fifty-five local businesses heard how innovation and good design could add value to their operations, and make them more competitive, at the latest meeting of the southern area Export Network Club organised by Invest Northern Ireland.

The Club meets twice a year to give business people the opportunity to come together to share experiences, network and hear how Invest NI can work with them to develop customised business solutions.

Guest speakers at the recent event were Richard Stewart, Director of Engineering Research and Development at Ulster Carpets and Alastair Eves, Director of the Design Group in Invest NI.

Richard Stewart outlined what resources are necessary to drive innovation and how to avoid some common pitfalls, drawing on his experience of Ulster Carpets’ approach of continuous improvement. Ulster Carpets was the winner of the All Ireland Innovation awards, which were held for the first time last year.

In his presentation, Alastair Eves of Invest NI’s Design Centre told the
audience that design, when used effectively, is a key competitive tool to add value and differentiate products and services, innovate and build distinctive brands.

“In today’s world businesses are dealing with an unprecedented speed of change, more demanding customers, and more competitors. In this context ‘designing’ is a key thinking skill: a process, which applies creative thinking to solve problems and produce ideas to keep businesses ahead of the field.”

The benefits of good design were presented in four case studies of local companies which have recently participated in Invest NI’s Design Development Programme.

This programme partners companies with design consultancies to help them gain competitive advantage by addressing particular aspects of design. Recent successes have included helping a candle manufacturer develop new concepts for packaging to aid marketing, and assisting a local ice-cream maker to develop a premium range of products to complement their existing range.

Mark Bleakney, Manager of Invest NI’s Southern Local Office, commented: “This meeting of the Export Network Club was an opportunity for our export-focused client companies to hear at first hand the benefits of taking an innovative, design-led approach to their businesses. The Network Club has proved to be a valuable forum for sharing ideas about best practice and demonstrating how Invest NI can work with companies to address their particular needs.”