Government departments are seeing design’s potential

Lynda Relph-Knight

As commissioner of the Cox Review, Gordon Brown has supported design since those halcyon days before he became Prime Minister. It is great to see that the message is now filtering through to the Civil Service, with individual Government departments acknowledging design as a mover for change.

Witness the Home Office’s support of the Design Against Crime initiative – conceived in the late 1990s by Dr Lorraine Gamman at Central St Martins College of Art and Design. The Design Council has espoused the cause, which counts Sebastian Conran and Michael Wolff among the design champions leading the Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance, and though the Home Office is reportedly still wary of design’s ability to combat crime, it sees it has a role to play.

Now the Department of Health is engaging design, with the Design Council, in the war against healthcare-associated infection (see News, page 3). This is a tall order, but designers will rise to the challenge, as they did through the Furniture of the Future contest, run by the council with the Department for Education and Skills, which led to Shin and Tomoko Azumi’s 2003 design of a school desk-and-chair combo for Keen Group.

The Azumis’ design enabled more flexible teaching in schools, to enhance learning. But the Design Bugs Out challenge is arguably greater, given huge public concern about hygiene standards in health centres.

Like the Design Against Crime programme though, it offers designers greater scope to show the breadth of their thinking. It’s not just about products, but the processes we badge ‘service design’ can come into play.

This is not the first venture to this end. Lucid’s Cleanyourhands campaign for the National Patient Safety Agency won the Grand Prix in the 2005 Design Effectiveness Awards and work by the Design Council’s former Red Unit explored ways to improve healthcare through design. But let’s hope that it rams home just how far-reaching those improvements can be.

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