The chance opportunity of a creative economy engagement fellowship in 2018 transformed my career. I transitioned from working as a design historian in the academic sector to founding a training and consultancy business to service the gap in support for an inclusive approach to designing products and services. The values of engagement and creativity were central to my teaching practice, and these, along with a proactive focus on diversity have become key drivers for my business.

The first years of a start-up business venture are fraught with challenges, but I engaged with the innovation support eco-system here in the North East and set about my mission, defining the values that I would embed in my business. As my target market sector addresses diversity, disability and inclusive design, a robust ethical stance is crucial. In order to develop my leadership role in this field, I attended NIBE’s event celebrating Global Ethics Day and joined the discussion about the values that are embedded in our businesses.

As we heard businesses share examples of their values, the model of Creative Leadership came to mind with its values of Empathy, Clarity and Creativity. This initiative is being pioneered by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at London’s Royal College of Art. Centre director, Rama Gheerawo, explains that; “the world is full of challenges and changes, discriminations and disparities” but that “evolving our leadership mindset from outdated models of yesteryear to become visionary, empathic and creative, will be one of the most transformational achievements this century.” The centre is forming a Creative Leaders Circle, and offers a platform for those in leadership, aspiring leaders, and those who were never encouraged to be leaders. They are also using design principles to co-create a manifesto and inviting people across all job titles, abilities, genders, ages and cultures, to envisage, enact and enable new models and pathways for global leadership. This is a new community, and as I continue my journey as a leader this open and ethical approach has great appeal. The circle is open to all to join and their first event will take place on 18 November 2020. (

The World Economic Forum lists creativity, critical thinking, and emotional
intelligence among the top ten skills in demand in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and these align with design thinking and design research methods. The Design Council champions the power of design to tackle the biggest challenges of our time and bring about real, positive change in people’s lives. The turmoil of the pandemic highlighted the potential for new ways of thinking and doing, something that my training at the Royal College of Art has instilled. This community promises to provide peer support, and I hope to see other representatives from the North East business community there too. Do reach out to me at to continue the conversation on your business and leadership values, and particularly in embedding inclusive and design-led approaches.

Dr Jo Gooding – founder and director of Design Research Associates.

Jo set up the company following a Creative Economy Engagement fellowship. This explored the challenges facing design innovation in the NHS. The territory between the spaces of academia, healthcare, business and third-sector organisations is complex. Jo is developing a service to support inclusive design innovators to overcome these barriers.

Jo became fascinated by the history of disability objects when she researched the design of NHS glasses. She saw that changes in delivery of ophthalmic services brought a revolution in eyewear. Spectacles are now seen as accessories rather than merely medical devices.

Jo is signatory to the manifesto “Supernormal Design meets Extraordinary Bodies”, and an honorary research fellow at Kingston University. Jo trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert museum and has a doctorate in design from Northumbria University. She taught design students at a variety of institutions across the North East and has also worked in the museum sector on creative and academic engagement projects.