Co-design and creativity win public- sector contracts, say designers

Be opinionated, creative and up for co-designing if you want to win public tenders, advise consultancies with proven track records in public-sector design.

Speaking at the Liverpool Design Symposium last Wednesday, consulting director at The Team Peter Mills argued that public procurement officials are more open to creativity and design than they have been in the past, and are looking for designers to show them the ‘big picture’.

‘They want creativity and sparkle and are realising that these come in many forms,’ says Mills. He advocates raising your public profile through the use of Twitter, as well as blogging, writing articles and giving public talks. ‘It is easier to sell yourself if you have a point of view. You will put some people off, but attract others,’ says Mills.

Think Public head of design Paul Thurston agrees that it helps ‘to be seen as a leader in your area. Some organisations don’t often buy in design services, so they want to make sure they are getting the best’.

Mills also recommends offering to design with the client ‘because they won’t reject their own work and it also prevents you wasting time and money on dead-end ideas’. As an added boon, co-designing helps the client to fulfil their internal training remits.

‘The UK public sector is leading the way worldwide in co-design, particularly in the NHS,’ says Thurston, who cites work ‘hailed internationally’ and frequently winning design effectiveness awards.

Mills describes the potential benefits of working for public services, particularly during the downturn in the private sector.

Unlike private clients, ‘They do pay within 30 days of the invoice,’ says Mills. ‘Tell them how you can save them 5-10 per cent, because that is how much their budgets are being cut by,’ he advises.

However, the Forum of Private Business revealed last week that a significant proportion of councils are failing to pay their suppliers on time (, 6 November). Oldham and Brentwood councils are among the worst, honouring just 62 per cent of invoices within a 30-day period.

Nevertheless, Mills is intent that, despite this and the ‘very, very painful’ tender process, going for public-sector contracts is worth it. ‘We may not be surgeons, but we can still contribute,’ he says.

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