Co-design should be considered a benefit, not a threat

The issue of free-pitching has again raised its head. As the national strategic body for design, we are opposed to free-pitching and always ensure that whenever we commission creative work, it is paid for. Through programmes such as Designing Demand, we actively and unambiguously promote best practice.

However, what is more troubling from discussions in Design Week is the conflation of co-design with free-pitching as a threat to the industry.

Co-design is a benefit, not a threat. It enables designers to work more closely with users, communities and those at the front line of goods and service delivery to gain vital insight, and so better define innovative design-led solutions to difficult-to-solve challenges.

It is a valuable and natural extension of user-focused design and, as designers move to the forefront of innovation in new areas such as the public sector, co-design will not only become more desirable, but necessary.

There were many examples of this in our Designs of The Time programme. For example, when consultancy Engine worked with pupils, parents, teachers and the local community on a project to define the needs of a school, the co-design process helped distil many diverse requirements and opportunities into one clear vision.

It was all boiled down into a booklet called Dear Architect, and has proved invaluable in providing a well-researched, fully owned and insight-driven starting point for the full rebuild of the school.

In this instance, as in the many business case studies documented by the Design Council, a co-design approach has allowed design and designers to be part of the early strategic and formative stages of a project.

An upside for our industry is that this all creates more work for professional designers and results in better-tailored solutions for the end-user, too. It’s a win-win situation.

David Kester, Chief executive, Design Council, by e-mail

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