Time for some street life

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The iconic fashion designer/activist Katharine Hamnett gave an inspiring and entertaining talk at the University of Dundee today in an event hosted by Design In Action. Her talk laid down the gauntlett for Scotland to value its textiles industry and use it to build a distinctive sustainable fashion industry. Her 300 strong audience included many of tomorrow’s fashion designers, and it is hoped that they will take up her challenge. But to do this they need to be encouraged and actively supported.

In answer to a question about how Dundee can use the V&A’s presence to build a vibrant sustainable fashion industry and market, she called on the City Council to give the City’s designers access to empty shops – she was calling for a design-led pop-up retail renaissance in the city. Who could disagree with this? We have some great designers and would-be designers in the city – why not give them a chance to give the city a bit of street life?

Cities – all cities – are in the fashion business. And if Dundee does not appreciate this and address its specific challenges, then the V&A is unlikely to succeed as the magnet for tourism and other growth that the City’s economic future depends on.

The highly influential American economist Richard Florida makes the compelling but controversial case that cities need to attract specific types of people to succeed and develop in the future. These he terms “the creative class” – “people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content”. They are attracted to cities that have talent, technological infrastructure and are tolerant. All good news to Dundee then.

But this mobile and highly independent creative class expect something else too. They are attracted to experiential activities, described as Street Level Culture: a “teeming blend of cafes, sidewalk musicians, and small galleries and bistros, where it is hard to draw the line between participant and observer, or between creativity and its creators.”

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We are attracted to places like Brixton Food Village, or Bergen’s fish market, or the Union Square farmers’ market in New York, or the Edinburgh Festival precisely because of the spectacle, surprise and shifting character of the street. Dundee needs to encourage and enable vibrancy on its streets. A tired and low key farmers’ market merely underlines the challenge that faces the city.

We have empty properties and some great streets. We have a hugely talented aspirational creative community who would be willing to set up pop-up fashion shops, street food fairs, street performance and much else besides.

The City Council should work to strip back regulation, work with other bodies in the City Centre to identify and make available properties and locations, and invite the people of Dundee to literally reclaim their streets for vibrant enterprises and cultural activities. Because civic regeneration is not about iconic architecture and ambitious town planning. It is about giving the people who live in a city the opportunity to bring their street to life. With their life – their ambitions, their talent, their distinctive character; to design their future city. Design is not an activity done to people, it is done by them to give form to their values and dreams.

Dundee is a city of design. UNESCO says so.

Time to prove it.

Don’t bully designers

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Design requires courage: personal and professional, and perhaps we should tell this to our students a little more. As educators we tend to emphasise just one side of its dualistic nature by highlighting the successes, the award winning achievements and plaudits of commentators and critics. The annual New Designers event in London that I recently attended is a well established celebration of this culture of success. The other side of design requires a slightly thicker skin.

Headlines throughout the world yesterday and today have focused on the Team Scotland parade uniforms for the Commonwealth Games designed by Jilli Blackwood, and not in a good way.

  • “Couldn’t they just go back to blowing up blocks of flats?” asks Stephen Daisley of STV News: “First Glasgow 2014 proposed an uplifting opening ceremony in which the Red Road flats would be blown to smithereens; now Commonwealth Games Scotland wants to kit out our athletes in apparel so gaudy it would make Dame Edna Everage blanch.”
  • “If you thought Australia’s Commonwealth Games uniform was bad, it isn’t a stitch on the host country’s horror design” is the view of Fox Sport in Australia. “Scotland’s athletes will attend the opening ceremony in outfits that appear to have been inspired by doctors’ scrubs and picnic rugs.”
  • “Team Scotland’s got the blues” says Christina Miller at the Huffington Post, arguing that the designer’s skills perhaps don’t lie in the realm of fashion: “The expanse of turquoise fights for attention against the busy tartan that seems to have been draped here, there and everywhere, while the stone bag punctuates what is, quite frankly, a visual disaster. When describing her work, the Jilli Blackwood website says, “… blurs the boundaries between ‘Fashion and Art’ and ‘Art and Craft'” suggesting that yes, Jilli Blackwood might be a successful textile artist, but perhaps her forte is with interiors and art.”
  • “Costume is not for faint hearts”, asserts an editorial in the Herald: “The designer of the Scottish Commonwealth Games uniform has succeeded in putting Scotland on the fashion map – a 19th century fashion map. ‘There will be no mistaking that this is the Scottish team,” says designer Jilli Blackwood. Unfortunately, she is correct. Brigadoon meets Laura Ashley appears to be the theme and shouts from the rooftops that every Hollywood film travesty of Scottish dress is true. The only missing touch is blue-daubed faces a la Braveheart.”
  • “P45 for the “designer. That is just a shocking combination, total embarrassment” is one of the quotes used on the Sky Sports website, followed by “What a shame for the athletes who have worked so hard to get to the Commonwealth Games for a designer to put them in this!!”
  • “It’s the uniform that everyone’s taking about. It’s the kit for the Instagram WTF generation.” The Guardian really doesn’t hold back: “It’s Pixar’s Brave meets Alexander McQueen’s Highland Rape. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – the more you stare, the more you see. You can probably still see it when you close your eyes. Yes, Scotland’s Commonwealth Games uniforms have made quite the impression on the Guardian fashion desk. That’s before we get started on designer Jilli Blackwood’s getup.”

These are just a sample of the many news items currently running on this story. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the media is treating this story in a trivial personalised way, as that is how it treats much of design, especially fashion. A particular approach in much of this coverage (and I’ve excluded some of the nastier stuff) is to rubbish the designer herself through questioning her expertise, her taste and overall professional approach. Mind you, treatment of Jilli Blackwood is relatively mild compared with how Australians have responded to the design of their Commonwealth Games swimsuits.

For any student designer reading this, how would you feel if you and your work was discussed in this way? How would you feel late at night after an evening of reading this kind of stuff about you? Do you think it’s fair? Do you think it’s right? Is there a better, more intelligent and more sensitive way of commenting on another person’s creative labours?

I have found no commentary which seeks to understand or inform readers about the design brief, the strategic design objectives of the commissioning body, the negotiated process of design that surely took place, the constraints put in place, or indeed anything about design itself. No, all we have are cheap barbs about the designer. There is simply no attempt in any of this so-called ‘journalism’ to explain ‘the facts’ of design.

Jilli Blackwood is by no means the first designer to be treated in such a bullying, shabby and ill informed way. “A puerile mess, an artistic flop and a commercial scandal” yelled Stephen Bayley in The Daily Telegraph in 2007. He was venting his spleen on this particular occasion on the design of the logo for the London 2012 Olympics. Designed by Wolff Olins, public reaction to the logo at the time of its launch was almost universally negative, so Bayley was very much running with the mob. But the key point here is that the mob was wrong. The logo was a central design feature in the branding of the games which history has shown to be the most successfully branded Olympic Games of all time. The logo’s flexibility, its very concept, provided a consistent visual focus and identity for the games. It worked.

The whole point of design is that in creating something new, it is an act of courage. Sometimes the process of design gets it right, and sometimes wrong. And very often you have to wait a fair time to figure out which it is. Some design is wholly the work of “a designer” or a design team. Some design involves no designers at all. Most design is a rich and dynamic negotiated process in which “the designer” needs every last atom of her or his courage to negotiate the trade-offs and compromises that are part and parcel of design.

What designers don’t need – what they really don’t need – are smart arses who should know better sniping from the sidelines, especially from fellow ‘creatives’. I am sure Jilli Blackwood is like every other professional designer I know, a person who constantly and critically appraises what she does, simply with the objective of doing it even better next time. The design community can either join the mob and weigh in with their pitch forked personalised ‘criticism’ or create a culture of ‘critical friendship’ which is in evidence in professions such as architecture. Bullying designers through global media is not a way to go.

 

Riders on the storm: navigators of new enterprise communities

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This Tuesday evening I was invited to be one of four Ideas Experts at the showcase event of Nightriders in Glasgow. Initiated and hosted by Snook, Nightriders is a mentoring and support programme for emergent entrepreneurs “designed to help people see in the dark and navigate their way through Scotland’s enterprise support landscape”. It was an inspiring and uplifting evening, and there is a Storify which captures the spirit of the evening and the reactions of those who attended.

It should be easy to navigate your way from a sound idea to a viable sustainable business. But the reality is that it is far from easy. In Scotland there are around four hundred bodies and programmes set up to support new enterprise. Nightriders has been established to help those who have a business idea, but don’t know where to start. And it draws directly on the experience of the Snook founders who had find their own way through the tangle of advice and support to establish one of Scotland’s leading Service Design companies.

Nightriders is a novel approach to enterprise support that harnesses the power of networks, design thinking and business skills. It is not seeking to replace existing programmes or support structures, but rather “we are focusing on building confident communities who will take their ideas to the next level on their own or with these existing organisations”. That’s all well and good and reads like good copy – but when one of the Nightriders said ‘This is the most confident I’ve ever felt’, and you could sense she was speaking for them all, then it’s a claim worth taking seriously.

Scotland is currently enjoying something of an enterprise revolution, with a remarkable turnaround in entrepreneurship in the last few years. Scotland wasn’t just a poor performer in terms on new business startups in the UK – but in Europe generally. But things have changed. Between 2012 and 2013 there was a 19% increase in new business registrations, and the current total of 340,000 businesses operating in Scotland is the highest since records began. Indeed I have celebrated the achievements of some of Dundee’s creative entrepreneurs in another post on this blog.

Interestingly, we have entrepreneurship going full throttle in two different age groups. Gen Y wants to control its own destiny, and sees start up culture as the indy alternative. This is an enterprise culture that is well analysed and discussed. But far less attention is paid to the enterprising Boomers. The baby boomer generation accounts for over 1.8 million people in Scotland – but 40% of them have yet to save for their retirement. With the corporate and public sectors trying to shed these older more expensive employees, there may well be over one million people financially unprepared for their retirement. Increasingly, we will see baby boomers, retiring into work. For both of these age groups entrepreneurship is driven by both individual and social motivations. From the evidence of this week, Nightriders is meeting the needs of these diverse new enterprise communities.

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Nightriders works by linking business skills together with design thinking, all underpinned by the power of networking. In doing this, it provides a highly refreshing contrast to many business start up programmes that focus purely on business skills for an individual entrepreneur. What was remarkable in Tuesday was witnessing the fearless approach of the Nightriders, presenting ambitious but well thought through proposals.

Too many businesses are simply not designed. They may be planned. They may just happen. But the priority must be to apply the thinking, ideas, methods and tools that we all use every day – those from design and networking – to helping create sustainable enterprise.

There is a considerable challenge we face – particularly in the so-called creative sector. 75% of visual artists in Scotland earn less than £5,000 per year. There are indeed many reasons for this, not surprisingly the over-supply of artists in the first place. But on the evidence of this survey reported on this week in The Scotsman, the vast majority of those working in Scotland’s creative industries do so as hobbyists rather than sustainable entrepreneurs. With the right kind of support, that could fundamentally change. Nightriders represents a new model of support that meets the needs of Scotland’s new enterprise communities.

Invasion of the one person maker enterprises

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Interesting blog post over at the Royal Society of Arts that picks up on recent UK employment data. An edited extract is below.

“New data from the Business Population Estimates highlights a remarkable amount of growth in the number of one-man makers… The population of manufacturing firms with zero employees (i.e. just the owners) has increased by nearly 40 percent over the past 3 years alone, mostly in the last 12 months. By 2013 there were 50,000 more one-man makers than there were in 2010. This stands in stark contrast with the other manufacturing firm sizes, which have all shrunk in number… But what’s causing the boom? One explanation is that the proliferation of 3D printers is finally taking hold…”

OK, if it was me I would have preferred the phrase “one person makers”, but let’s move onto the substantive argument here. There is very little data to go on, but to claim that 3D printers have created 50,000 new one person manufacturing enterprises seems speculative in the extreme. However, I would say that there is something interesting happening and that technology has something to do with it – but enabling it, not causing it.

I’ve made the case before that in our world of Kickstarter, social media, flexible production systems, Amazon, Etsy and the like, then it has never been easier to finance, promote, manufacture and distribute. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review – Economies of Unscale: Why Business Has Never Been Easier for the Little Guy – makes this very case: “in a world with economies of unscale, we are empowered to take advantage of an extensive array of new, amazing services to build sustainable companies.”

From my perspective, one of the most significant aspects of the new enterprise landscape are the opportunities for collaboration and co-operative enterprise. We are not simply witnessing the invasion of a hoard of solo businesses all out for themselves like neo-Thatcherite zombies. In my home city of Dundee, collaborative networks and workspaces like Fleet Collective and Vanilla Ink provide co-operative frameworks that enable and support individual enterprise. And of course we find them throughout the world. Ironically as the UK Co-operative Movement lurches into an ever-worse crisis, so the principles of co-operation are being applied in new and highly relevant ways by a new generation of makers. These new entrepreneurs are not out for themselves. They are out for each other, recognising the value of sharing expertise, skills and celebrations of success. And money.

Kickstarter isn’t driving change – but it’s enabling that change to transform the financing of enterprise, pulling the gift economy into the mainstream. The latest data from Kickstarter suggests this is not trivial finance. To date over $1 billion has been pledged on Kickstarter, and design projects alone have brought in $127 million of support. The success rate for design projects is a remarkable 38%. Kickstarter’s first month of operating in the UK (which is the only data available) shows something else very significant. For US projects, 78% of backers have been from the US and 22% outside of it, yet in the UK 39% of backers have come from within the UK and 61% have come from outside of it. The gift economy transcends immediate family and friends. It transcends the idea of nation. The gift economy is global.

The new making economy is very diverse, and increasingly female. More than half of the 573,000 people who joined the ranks of the self-employed between 2008 and 2013 are women. A new generation of self-employed multi-tasking enterprising mothers have been dubbed mumpreneurs, and are driving change and new patterns of work and childcare in many communities. So, a trivial development perhaps? Well, not trivial when data suggests mumpreneurs contribute £7.4bn to the UK economy each year. Again, this is all tied in to collaboration and mutual support.

Yes, 3D printing does represent an emergent revolution in the world of manufacturing, and this will surely transform opportunities for makers in the years ahead. But it is the far more significant and well established revolution in the world of entrepreneurship that is promoting and sustaining new business in the manufacture of crafted, bespoke and small batch production. In co-working spaces and on kitchen tables people are collaborating and supporting each other to make a living making things. And that collaboration and support is fanning out across the world. It’s an internationalism of making – in the making!

Jewellers in name only?

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Last week Robin Bell, a jeweller in the Vanilla Ink collective in Dundee wrote a provocative well argued post about the declining skills of jewellery graduates in the UK. After some discussion, I joined the fray. You can read the whole discussion here. This is not an academic discussion, so no links or references; if you want those I’m happy to provide. I confess: I was angry at first because I had been inaccurately represented, but writing this post was useful in developing a balanced view on the critical issue of where – not just jewellery – but design education is going.

I welcome the opportunity that Robin has given us to discuss a critical issue: what is the role and responsibility of an Art School in the early 21st century? Does it exist primarily to equip students with vocational skills, or does it have another role to play in our culture and economy?

Some contributions here have, perhaps necessarily, been anecdotal and personalised. Views were attributed to me, for example, which simply run counter to everything I have ever believed or expressed, but no matter. Anecdote and personalisation get discussions nowhere. I am interested in debating where art schools are going, and to do that we need to understand fully where they’ve come from and where they are now. If we don’t attempt to grapple with the economic imperatives and cultural politics of the Art School, then we cannot propose viable alternatives.

I am not writing this from a defensive position, so let me be clear from the start: Robin’s assessment is largely correct. I think it’s important for us to understand why this is the case, then to discuss how things can be different.

I believe in public education as the most vital resource we have. That is why I work in it. Some things we do for very good reasons. Some things we don’t do as well as we could for other reasons. I apologise for this being a long post, but a bit of disentangling is necessary.

Design Schools are one of those wonderful British Victorian inventions, proposed in Parliament in 1832 just before the abolition of slavery. Progressive ideas were clearly on a roll back then. Britain may have been the workshop of the world, but it was a workshop producing rubbish designs. Design Schools were established to provide the very specific skills needed by our new economy, and in every city they were tailored to the needs of local industry. In Stoke, the art school provided the model makers and pattern designers needed by the potters, in Birmingham it met the needs of the jewellery trade, in Sheffield it was metalwork and cutlery design, in Leeds it was weaving, knitwear and printed textiles. Art & Design Schools had a vital and highly focused function: to provide vocational skills training.

In the twentieth century, this role necessarily began to change. The rise of youth culture from the 50s meant that Art Schools became more of a creative environment for people who “didn’t fit” conventional education. They didn’t want vocational design skills or even become visual artists. So they set up The Beatles and The Clash instead. From our Art Schools arose a new culture.

When Art Schools dropped the old National Diploma in favour of honours degrees, then their role began a significant and profound change. Degrees are not about acquiring a vocational skills based training. Their function is to enable students to acquire and develop the skills of critical thinking and to apply this to knowledge within a given discipline. That is the very specific purpose. Now the discipline itself can be the location for professional and vocational practices, but expertise in those practices is not acquired through studying the degree. For example, you would be ill advised (in all senses of the term) to seek professional medical help from a medical student. I used to hang out with a fair few of them, and frankly they would be pretty low down on my list of people to turn to. Similarly an individual completing their law degree would not be the first person I would consult about a thorny contractual dispute. The degree does not equip them with professional expertise, only disciplinary knowledge and broader intellectual skills that can be applied and refined within a professional context. That is what degrees do.

The next big shift came in the late 80s and early 90s when we moved from an elite to a mass higher education system. Up to this time higher education was enjoyed only by the privileged few. And what a privilege it was! Those of us to enjoy it were actually paid by the government to be a student. Many art and design courses enjoyed student numbers in single figures, in some cases with staff numbers almost matching.

In 1981 there were 4,900 students on fine art degree courses in the UK. Twenty years later there were 14,000. From 2003 to 2010 the total number of art and design students rose by around a quarter to 173,825.

According to the Design Council, 185,000 people work in design in the UK. You don’t have to be a statistician to figure out that if around 25,000 students are graduating in design every year, and only 185,000 people in total work professionally as designers, then most of those 25,000 people will not work professionally as designers. Yes? Or did I miss a meeting? So this means that for the majority of our graduates an education based on vocational skills would be a profound waste of their time and money, which is why over the last two decades we have shifted the curriculum away (to some extent) from a skills focus.

Now, let’s consider something else. Let us for a moment assume that all those thousands of jewellery students graduating every year did so with fully rounded and comprehensive professional skills. Impossible of course, but let’s just assume it happened. What would the result be?

Almost certainly the result would be the total annihilation of craft based jewellery businesses in the UK. It’s a supply and demand thing. The data I’ve seen over a number of years indicates that as student numbers rise, in the absence of any barriers to entry within the craft economy, so incomes fall. We have seen precisely the same thing in the design consultancy sector. If you flooded the market with professionally trained jewellers then the competition would be so intense that prices would fall, and viability for anyone would be unsustainable.

But of course that won’t happen because of another development that we need to consider. All this growth in student numbers is what people wanted: they voted for it. It’s what I want. I see no value in a return to an elite system of higher education. None whatsoever. But they voted for something else too, in election after election from 1979: low taxes. The UK (including Scotland) votes time after time for a low tax economy. Now, what happens if you expand student numbers AND reduce taxes?

Well first you have to get money from elsewhere. Overseas students help to subsidise UK higher education. So thanks China for that. But only to a limited extent. So from the 80s began the slow inexorable privatisation of higher education. If taxpayers won’t fund it, then the students have to. That is why our students are in so much debt.

Allied to this we need to economise, change our methods and teach differently. Some of the methods we used in the past were frankly appalling and needed a total overhaul. Yes, years back students were at times assessed totally subjectively. That cannot happen now, nor should it ever again. The “sitting with Nelly” model of teaching may have worked when students just marginally outnumbered staff, but as a method it is no longer fit for purpose.

The module that two of my colleagues delivered recently to second year jewellery, textiles and interiors students getting them to design new services around mental health issues is exactly what we should be doing. At the core of the module was students’ material-based design thinking but applied in a different context. We want them to think as jewellers, but to apply that unique way of thinking to health care. So we have and we can continue to apply creative education to new highly relevant challenges and opportunities.

But the thing I have banged on about relentlessly for twenty years (and thanks to Crafts magazine for recently reprinting the piece I wrote for them on this back in the 90s) is the unique value of craft thinking, and the need to nurture and support this. Place it in new contexts, sure, but continue to champion its value as a source of knowledge, insight and value about our intimate relationship with the material world. This is the bit of our education that involves shiny and non-shiny objects.

It is also the bit of our education that is far less easy to do with less money. I enjoyed being the external examiner for the Jewellery Masters at Stockholm’s Konstfack. Great facilities, well resourced, good staffing, excellent quality of work. Also all the students, including those from overseas, paid no fees. Scandinavian countries consistently come out top in all global league tables on education and child care. They are high tax economies. If we want affordable, high quality, adaptable and convivial state provided higher education then tax payers have to pay for it. There is no alternative to that. But if they’re not prepared to, then we have to deliver it differently.

I have no idea what Art Schools will be like in 2025. All I know is that they will be totally different to how they are today.

I understand that London’s Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design will be awarding degrees in a year or so. They are one of a number of new private colleges and universities taking advantage of the new privatised climate in higher education. So, will Dundee have its own DC Thomson College of Graphic Arts? I would suggest there is a good probability of a private college in Dundee that will provide professionally focused degrees in creative disciplines, linked to a network of mentors and intern providers, and their graduates will be highly employable. Fees will be higher than English Universities but lower than in the US, so probably around £15,000 per year.

But let us imagine another model. Let’s carry on with the state provided Art School and acknowledge both its limitations (in terms of teaching professional expertise) and its strengths (research-focus and transferable skills). Professionally focused creative education is based primarily at a postgraduate level (as it generally has been in all disciplines) but this is delivered in a for more distributed way. Scotland’s University of Craft & Design is a virtual entity for the whole country. It stitches together craft and design businesses (who provide technical access to students), online delivery, community education providers and some existing University centres. You could, for example, be based in Vanilla Ink and do your jewellery masters, attending online courses from GSA, the odd seminar at DJCAD, and getting professional mentoring from people at Fleet Collective. This way the collective expertise of the creative economy is harnessed, valued and paid for!

We ALL have a stake in the future of creative education. It is being reformed and reshaped in front of our eyes. It is incumbent on all of us to provide positive, constructive ideas of the forms it could take in the years ahead. Let us acknowledge that Art Schools cannot do everything, and perhaps even should do less. Let us instead think of a new type of inclusive creative education embedded in communities and linked to positive ideas for changing the world around us. As Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Tim Brown – Change by Design

In our DJCAD Level 2 module Change by Design, we are asking all students to read the book Change by Design by Tim Brown. It’s an excellent book and well worth reading. If getting hold of it proves tricky, then make use of all the online resources below:

For more critical views of design thinking, take a look at my previous blog post on design thinking.

 

 

Design and public services

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On 25 June 2013 I was invited to take part in a panel to discuss design and public services at the Scottish Parliament organised by the Design in Action project. Other members of the panel included Lauren Currie of Snook and Jocelyn Bailey of Policy Connect. My short speech for the event is below. All photography by Alina Achiricioaei.

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Professionals who work in the public sector face a critical challenge: how can we develop new ways of thinking to transform public services? And this isn’t just a question for public sector professionals. It’s a question for those who receive these services – for individuals and communities often know far more about what’s needed than the professionals do. And it’s a question for the voluntary sector which increasingly provides these services. Frankly, it’s a question for us all.

As a society we have to do more with less. And do it better. But it would be a mistake to see our current financial hard times and the sole, or even the main driver of change. The whole point of public services is to improve the quality of life for the people: to reduce dependency, to increase resilience and independence and, over time, to reduce the inequalities that perpetuate poverty, ill health and unemployment.

So, do they work?

Between 1999 and 2010 spending on public services in Scotland grew by an unprecedented 5% each year. But inequalities over that period either increased or stayed the same. Figures released today from the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland reveal that more than one in every four children in my home city of Dundee are living in poverty, while one in five children across Scotland are living in poverty.

Something wasn’t working in public services even before the financial crisis.

Hugely committed and highly capable public sector professionals have been trying to deliver services that in too many cases are simply unfit for purpose. This is the context described thoroughly by Restarting Britain 2 and of course our own Christie Commission reports. Both advance the idea that what we need is design.

Service design is a new approach that applies the kind of creative thinking companies like Apple have used to develop their products, to the creation of services in commerce and – most crucially for us – in the public sector. Design puts people first: it is about both understanding their needs, and involving them creatively. It is solution oriented. It is a creative approach to problem solving. It is about low risk prototyping not high risk piloting. We try things out, quickly, learn what doesn’t work, apply what does. It is visual and engaging. It is physical. People understand it. And it is something that in the UK we are outstanding at. It is one of our national strengths. British designers are in demand all over the world. So it makes sense to use design’s full power to address these critical challenges.

But in what ways can design improve public services?

In Dundee there’s a brilliant new third sector project – Skill Share. It provides opportunities for people to share, learn and teach skills. It addresses issues of community development, of adult learning, of sustainable futures. And set up by one of our fantastically talented design graduates. It is a well designed, highly cost effective way of sharing passions and skills, bringing people together and encouraging volunteering.

I’m sharing the platform with another one of our graduates who set up Snook precisely to embed design thinking into policy making and public services. In the audience, my colleagues from Taylor Haig are actively using design to enable innovation in the voluntary sector. In Cornwall design has been used to raise citizen engagement with local government policy making. In Lambeth design has led to some major and highly effective changes in mental health services. In Sunderland, services for the unemployed have become far more joined up through design. We CAN transform the public services we provide and the experience of enjoying them through design.

And let me be clear – public services should be enjoyed. Not tolerated. We provide them not to create dependence, or confusion, or frustration. We don’t consume them. We enjoy them as a mark of the civilised values that we hold dear: that define us. We should enjoy our education, it should fill us with fulfilment, inspiration and a sense of wonder. We should enjoy our healthcare, it should improve the quality of our life and reduce our worries. We should enjoy the support given when we are out of work. It should help us focus on our strengths, help us find new direction and put us back in control of our lives.

So what stands in the way of us using design to transform public services?

First, there are key deficiencies in the political process that prevents long term reform and leads to disjointed incrementalism. Tackling this requires that Scotland develops and adopts a national design strategy.

Secondly, the public sector needs to significantly raise its design capabilities and literacy. Scotland already has some of the world’s best postgraduate service design provision both at the University of Dundee and Glasgow School of Art. It has amazing companies like Snook. So we need an alliance of these partners to collaborate more and provide the high level education and training that the public sector needs. Our new MSc in Leadership and Innovation at the University of Dundee shows what can be achieved when collaboration links our expertise in both design and the public sector. The first professional masters course in the world that provides design-led innovation for public sector professionals is a collaboration between our art school and school of education and social work.

Third we need to develop some key national priorities, focus our creative resources on them, and develop effective evaluation tools to quantify their impact. Design led transformation in public services must be evidence based.

So – strategy, education & training and evaluated national priority projects could represent a way of accelerating change.

Let me finish by referring to the Christie Commission report. Calling for the redesign of Scotland’s public services it said that “form must follow function. We must build communities around people and communities.” In the two years since the report’s publication we have already achieved much. But we have a way to go. Scotland has a history of a committed and passionate public service ethos. We have hugely capable professionals at all levels in our public sector. And we have a history of design-led innovation and design education that is the envy of the world. It is about time that we brought these remarkable national strengths together. To transform services.

And, more importantly, to transform lives.

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