In June 2005 Hilary Cottam was awarded the title "Designer of the Year" by the Design Museum, London, for her work redesigning prisons, schools and healthcare services. The public, who had overwhelmingly voted for Cottam, knew that they had seen a good thing.
The design industry, however, was in uproar. Cottam is not a trained or traditional designer of "things'. Instead, she has applied a design approach to some of the UK's biggest problems: prisoner re-offending rates, failing secondary schools and the rising burden of chronic healthcare. At the Design Council's RED unit, where she is Director, she forms multidisciplinary teams - with designers working alongside policy makers - who use the design process as a means of collaborating with pupils, teachers, patients, nurses, prisoners and prison officers to develop new solutions.
RED is applying design in new contexts. We use product, communication, interaction and spatial designers' core skills to transform the ways in which the public interacts with systems, services, organisations and policies.
RED is not alone in doing this type of work. A new design discipline is emerging. It builds on traditional design skills to address social and economic issues. It uses the design process as a means to enable a wide range of disciplines and stakeholders to collaborate. It develops solutions that are practical and desirable. It is an approach that places the individual at the heart of new solutions, and builds the capacity to innovate into organisations and institutions.
This new approach could be key to solving many of society's most complex problems. But the community of practice is small, and its emergence has already caused controversy. There are those who argue that it's not design because it doesn't look or feel much like design in the familiar sense of the word. Its outputs aren't always tangible, and may be adapted and altered by people as they use them. It is a long way from the paradigm of the master-designer.
Companies and public bodies are, however, increasingly faced with more complex and ambiguous issues. At the same time there is a growing desire among designers, both young and old, to tackle society's most pressing problems.
Through our work at the Design Council we are in a position to stimulate demand for new design-led approaches to complex problems, and to show that the potential market for a new design approach is clear. But is the design industry ready?
Colin Burns, Hilary Cottam, Chris Vanstone, Jennie Winhall
Transformation Design: http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/mt/red/tra...nFinalDraft.pdf
The Design Council: https://www.dexigner.com/directory/detail/15