Design as part of R&D?

[A perhaps very high level and political post... emerging from recent thoughts about how to frame my work in the R&D public policy in Europe] Can design be perceived as a component of Research & Development? Or is it mostly about "production" and commercialization of products? What are the design phases that can be part of R&D?

All these questions take an increasing importance in my work lately. Working with European companies, I often face them for a very simple reason: in countries such as France, Research and Development benefits from a series of financial incentives (such as tax credit). Since it's not possible for States to directly help companies (although sometimes they try to do so), they have to figure out how to support their national firms in compliance with what the European Commission can accept and stated as regulations. This is why offering financial devices such as tax credits on R&D expenses/investment can be a good way to help. The underlying agenda is that backing companies to fund research project may facilitate the emergence of innovation (I won't comment on this as this is another hot potato in political/economical theories).

Once you've said that you want to facilitate R&D, you have to deal with an important question: what activities can be considered as R&D? The answer generally lies in arid documents that define what constitutes R&D or not. Although different countries have different ways to formulate it, the common definition stems from something called the "Frascati manual":

"Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications. The term R&D covers three activities: Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Applied research is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience, which is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed. (...) The basic criterion for distinguishing R&D from related activities is the presence in R&D of an appreciable element of novelty and the resolution of scientific and/or technological uncertainty, i.e. when the solution to a problem is not readily apparent to someone familiar with the basic stock of common knowledge and techniques for the area concerned."

The definition is quite broad and the document gives lots of examples of what is considered as being part of R&D but my experience in France was that you had to follow certain criteria that are largely based on technology: what is the technological problem? how did you solve it? what prototypes have you put in place to solve it?, have you secured the IP through patents?, etc. In the end, this puts the emphasis on technological research, and it's hard (but possible to stretch it a little bit for creative industries (web, video game for instance). What it means is simply that if you have a bunch of existing techniques (say... open source components and IP) and you try to innovate by tying them together to create something new and original, you will have trouble showing that it is "R&D" as defined by these criteria (so you're sorta forced to create a new technology).

Therefore, it's interesting to look more closely at the document and see what they have to say about "design and R&D". See how it is summarized in this other EC document:

"The Frascati Manual includes some industrial design activities in this definition of R&D. Specifically, the Manual states that prototyping and industrial design required during R&D should be included in R&D for statistical purposes. Design for production processes and the less technical design activities are however not considered as R&D. Forms other than industrial design, such as service design, are also not included. (...) From a designer’s point of view, design includes some research (for example to identify user needs, preferences and behaviours). This means that there are overlaps between the concepts of R&D and design, but that there is no common view as to which is the overarching concept of which the other is part."

Still digesting the implications of this, I am highly interested in the recent announcement Mark reported about the EC public consultation on design as a driver of user-centred innovation. Why do I blog this? all of this means sounds boring and formal but these discussions and definitions have a great importance in innovation in Europe. Based on what is considered (or not) as R&D, some work can be funded (or not). And it has lots of implication about my daily work (when I carry out research studies for european clients OR when I work on a project about how such definition impacts web companies R&D).