Designers sought to improve public services

The Design Council is seeking consultancies to team up with public services providers, as part of a new Government-backed initiative to improve public service delivery.

The Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills has put forward an initial £200 000 to support the Design Council’s Public Services by Design scheme, with the goal of bringing a range of design skills to bear on the emergency services, prisons, healthcare, education and the workplace.

Consultancies including Engine, What If, Ideo, Think Public and Live/Work are advising the Design Council on the initiative.

DIUS Secretary John Denham (pictured) launched the scheme last Wednesday, a week after the Design Council issued a tender to find designers to work on two trial projects: the new DIUS-backed Adult Advancement and Careers Service, and a visitor management system for DIUS.

‘They are very open briefs,’ says Emily Thomas, Public Services by Design project manager. ‘The projects are likely to require different design skills as they progress.’

While service and innovation design will be central to the scheme, Thomas claims that there will be opportunities for ‘most’ design disciplines, including branding and graphics.

‘Branding is very important to the public sector, but is used too much as an add-on,’ says Thomas. ‘There are ways of making it more strategic and less about logos.’

If the trial projects are deemed a success, the Design Council will launch up to 15 further public-service projects before rolling out the scheme nationally in 2010. Government economists are working on ways of measuring the impact of design on public services – an issue which Thomas says the Government has ‘struggled with for a long time’.

Launching the initiative, Denham said, ‘We want to see the contribution that can be made by the design community [in changing] culture and behaviour. We’re behind the pilot to show to a wider audience the contribution that design can make, so it becomes part of a standard set of tools that people work with.’

Public Services by Design is modelled on the Design Council’s successful Designing Demand programme, which, since its foundation in 2006, has seen millions-of-pounds-worth of design contracts created by small- and medium-sized enterprises looking to add value to their businesses.

‘We hope to have the same impact in design spend as Designing Demand has,’ says Thomas.

Designers’ reactions to the launch:

• ‘I was very impressed about being in a room with policy-thinkers and designers all sharing a language and ambition. There was a lot of consensus from such a mixed group. The challenge is in shaping the culture of an organisation, not in redesigning the service, which is the easy bit.’
Joe Heapy, Director, Engine Service Design

• ‘It’s exciting that the Design Council is recognising our work and giving us the opportunity to talk about it to a bigger audience and grow our market.’
Ben Reason, Director, Live/Work

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