The Government is enlisting design to combat social ills

The launch of Design Bugs Out marks another significant breakthrough for design in its engagement with the public sector (see feature, page 21).

The proposals by the design group/manufacturing teams involved and the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre to improve hygiene in hospitals will get a fair airing, courtesy of their sponsors at the Department of Health and the NHS Purchasing Supply Agency.

The third party, the Design Council, has meanwhile brokered a deal that means the innovators retain copyright in their ideas rather than transfer them as a matter of course – an important precedent for the public sector.

The venture’s success echoes a willingness in Government to embrace design in its broadest sense. While the Central Office of Information commissions communication and branding design for the Civil Service through complex ‘frameworks’, others are identifying key issues.

The Designing Out Crime collaboration between the Home Office and the Design Council is, for example, starting to bear fruit, with Sebastian Conran exploring with the HHC how best to cut down the horrendous number of ‘glassings’ in pubs, among other things.

The £1.6m funding for Designing Out Crime was pledged by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who last month attended a presentation on crime by school students working with the Sorrell Foundation, proving her commitment isn’t just to the design establishment.

More recently, the Home Office hooked up with the Design Council and others to address data theft from mobile phones. Central St Martins College of Art and Design’s Design Against Crime Research Centre is already examining mobile theft generally.

These examples show design is being taken seriously by Government as a way of allaying social ills. The Design Council is doing its bit, as are some designers, but it is up to the design community at large to develop these themes. The rewards to society are huge, not to mention the benefits to the design business.

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