The APDIG Manifesto was officially soft-launched at our Spring Reception at the Design Museum last night.
Together with the Design Special Interest Group (of Creative Industries KTN), we asked a room of designers, technologists, policy makers and academics to contribute – via the medium of the post it note – to our recommendations to government on behalf of design and designers.
The aim of the manifesto is to create an engaging, thought-provoking, and in places utopian document. We asked participants to be provocative. What would designers do if we were a political party?
This slightly esoteric goal has some context within the makeup of the APDIG. The Design and Innovation Group is comprised of Parliamentarians from across both benches and both houses. We are supported by highly respected organisations from across the design field – national museums, the skills sector, design trade associations and government funded design bodies. Together, we lobby for a greater role for design in government. A cross-party manifesto presents a unique opportunity to outline our ideas for how design can impact on policy making at every level.
To prepare for our session, we divided up a space according to existing departmental responsibilities – Health, Education, Defence, Energy and Climate Change – and so on. This in itself proved too controversial for some – but it was intended as a provocation. We may well be in the business of ripping up silos, but it helps to have an overarching structure to critique.
The audience were asked to write down their policy idea and then stick it to the notice board – in the appropriate policy area if possible. The ‘Other’ area unsurprisingly received the most attention.
As the evening progressed, we distributed smaller stickers (akin to those at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition) and asked our guests to vote on those the six they felt to be the strongest. This was intended to give a rough idea of how the audience felt about the policies suggested. The most popular tended to be those - such as the below - that sought to elevate the role of the designer from where many feel it is now – someone who comes in right at the end of the process to ‘make things look pretty’, or worse, indicative of design as a process that barely exists.
In policy terms, we also received a suggestion that we ‘View Design as a Strategic Capability, as we do Materials and Manufacture – without this, the other two are reduced and vulnerable’.
There were also challenges – that ‘we should [re]design how ‘things’ are measured – value, GDP, productivity are too constrained. The purpose of design is to live better – not to add value’.
The most utopian policy – yet the most cognizant – was the appointment of Chief Design Adviser, with the same gravitas as the position of Chief Scientific Adviser. It would indeed be fantastic, but within reach, to see the incumbent outline the role of design to other guest speakers on Newsnight.
We also saw – as is often the case – acute concerns about what design is and how it should be thought of, a constant challenge for the APDIG in how we set out our stall to government. How can we reconcile the call that ‘design is not an end. It’s a way / method / ethos. Its principles need to be embedded across all fields’ with a request to ‘stop lumping everything together as ‘design’… It de-values each area (they are not the same)’?
Some success stories. The Government Digital Service, friends of the APDIG, was frequently referenced. One note stated that ‘UKBA should be integrated into the gov.uk platform to make the information more accessible’ (they did it about a month ago). Information design - the very basis of the majority’s interaction with government – plays a crucial role in how we conceive public services in the future [Are they clear? Legible? Who are they designed for?]
We were surprised to see some areas completely neglected. Health, for example, is a particular area of interest for policymakers wishing to engage with designers. There have been several fruitful partnerships between the NHS and the Helen Hamlyn Centre. Ageing and obesity are set to be the enduring public health challenges of the 21st century.
Early this year, the Cabinet Office took up the Design Commission’s recommendation that the UK should follow the example of Finland and establish a Policy Lab at the heart of government, tasked with using Service Design methods to rethink public services.
Of course, the manifesto is something of a creative experiment, and we now put these suggestions back to our members to continue to develop our ideas. Please do follow our progress and let us know what you think.