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Looking back to look forward, what is next for design in policy?

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Today marks 75 years since Winston Churchill’s government set up the Council for Industrial Design, a new organisation to inspire confidence and promote design as a means to kick-start Britain's industrial post-war economy. Over time, as its brief expanded, it simply became known as the Design Council. Sixty years after its creation, I became its first Chief Design Officer, which was where I first worked on design for public services before joining Policy Lab in 2014.

A view from a window of our office. You can see Big Ben.
View from the Policy Lab’s Office, where Winston Churchill lived briefly in the 1940s when the Design Council was created.

Reinventing practice

Design comes in many forms. In the Policy Lab we use it as an approach to policy-making alongside ethnography, digital and data science. The development of the Design Council Double Diamond has been really useful in unifying these different disciplines in one single approach. Its simplicity is its strength. Our latest adaptation of the double diamond for policy below shows this in the policy context.

A double diamond. Two diamonds next to each other. The one on the left has 'discover' written in the wide part, then 'diagnose' in the thin. The second diamond has 'develop' in the wide part and 'deliver' in the thin
Policy Lab’s approach to policy design challenges using Design Council double diamond

As a designer, in order to apply design in policy I needed to unpack long-held assumptions about what design was and how it worked in practice. I also needed to understand economics, public policy, organisational development and the role of systems leadership in order to bring these different practices together. In the Policy Lab we therefore wrote about, and then created a new role called the ‘policy designer’ - and over the last few years have seen this role evolve in our team. Many people ask us how our work is different from Behavioural Insights and digital service design or experience design. Policy Design as a practice operates across the boundaries of policy, systems and organisational design space. Through our projects we are exploring new blends of skill-sets to improve policy-making. For example on our Maritime Autonomy project with the Maritime Coastguard Authority, we have been using speculative practice to design a regulatory environment.  In our Open Justice project with HM Courts and Tribunals Service we developed scenarios to explore possible and desirable futures with citizens. And in our social housing work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, our work meant residents’ voices directly shaped the Social Housing Green Paper. Like these, most of our projects apply design in the earliest stages of policy development and we have needed to make many changes to adapt design practice to better suit the policy context.

In Policy Lab we call this finding ‘next practice’ for government, where you are working in new ways in order to move beyond your previous ‘best practice’ approaches. We continue to do this, so five and a half years into the Policy Lab, we have also been thinking about how our practice should change and what the next five years will bring.  

An artists impression of a new room as described in the blog
Winston Churchill’s former private office at the Treasury Building which is now an innovation space called SKYroom developed with Policy Lab.

Looking to 2020 and beyond

And so here we are on the cusp of another new decade, what opportunities lie ahead?  In the last month or so the Design Council’s current Chief Design Officer, and former Policy Lab co-founder, Cat Drew and the Point People have been hosting a range of conversations. They have been debating the evolving nature of design as a tool for re-imagining how we want to live in the future. Applying design in policy-making is one exciting area of emerging practice and there are many others too.  

75 years on from the Design Council’s inception as an organisation to promote good design in industry, design practice continues to evolve to meet the emerging challenges of our times.

A couple of team members sat in the Royal College of Art during a presentation
Workshop at the Royal College of Art (Originally founded as the Government School of Design) in May to help shape the future of Policy Lab.

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