Scant discussion exists in the literature about the relative design merits of various R&D schemes, and most authors treat programme design as a black box. In this article, we assess the design features of three major forms of R&D support: entitlement schemes, competitive grant schemes and industry R&D boards. We use a combination of evidence to comment on how well these schemes perform in terms of firm engagement (how does the scheme recruit business interest?), project selection (what criteria are used and who selects the projects?), payment structure (how is financial support structured?) and administrative costs (what is the burden?).