Report urges EU and members states to use design for public good

Report urges EU and members states to use design for public good

Design is no longer just an add-on, but has evolved into a fully joined-up innovation methodology and with countries around the world adopting this thinking the European Union cannot afford to be left behind.  This is the message of Design Council and other members of SEE (Sharing Experience Europe) in a report published today, Design for Public Good, which encourages the European Union and its member states to adopt design-led innovation to create the next generation of public services and policy that can meet the pressing demands of the future.

The report follows the publication in March of the Design Commission report, Restarting Britain 2, which calls for design thinking to be used to improve UK public services. Design for Public Good now brings this message to the EU, but also extends it to look at the potentially huge gains design methodology can bring to policymaking as well as services.

The report describes the key benefits of design thinking for government as follows:

  • Design-led innovation is a joined-up process, with no inefficient handover from analysis to solution to implementation.
  • Rather than jumping straight to expensive and risky pilots, design process tests iteratively, starting with low-cost, simple models (prototypes) and designing out risk with each new version.
  • Rather than disjointedly patching together incremental solutions as problems arise, design thinking looks at the entire system to redefine the problem from the ground up.
  • Design thinking starts by understanding user needs in order to ensure solutions are appropriate, waste is avoided and end users buy into them.
  • While the factors that cause silo structures in government may be stubborn, design methods offer uniquely effective ways of understanding which teams and departments are relevant to a problem and engaging them in collaborations.

Design Council and its partners argue that, with a strong track record of pioneering work from several of its member states, the European Union has a chance to lead the field and create a sustainable, thriving public sector even in a time of crisis.

The UK government’s new digital service,, this year’s recipient of the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award, is one of a number of best-practice examples from the UK, Denmark and Finland that make up the report’s case studies. These are structured using a new tool, the Public Sector Design Ladder, which divides projects into three categories:

1. Design for discrete problems – designers are hired for one-off jobs
2. Design as capability – design becomes part of the culture of public sector organisations
3. Design for policy – design is used at the highest levels to help create policy

The argument is that, in order to reach step 3, with its potentially massive efficiency gains, one must go through the previous two steps – which also offer benefits. The report recommends that the European Commission should promote use of the ladder and fund work on developing it.

The Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, wrote the report’s foreword, in which he comments: “Design is a source of competitive advantage and can help organisations transform their performance. That is why design forms an integral part of the UK Government’s plans for innovation and growth.”

By Sara Bean