This following content is derived from Davey, Wootton et al (2004) "Design of the Surreal World", submitted to the European Academy of Design (EAD) 2005 conference, 29–31 March 2005 : University of the Arts, Bremen, Germany

Socially Responsible Design

A new model of SRD

A new SRD model has been developed from the experience of researchers working within the Design Policy Partnership. The Design Policy Partnership developed an expertise in the field of design-led crime prevention through Design Against Crime. This project involved working not just with designers and crime prevention experts, but also with schoolteachers and lecturers to embed crime prevention within education. The development of collaborative projects to address issues of social responsibility (e.g. sustainability, socially responsible decision-making, health, financial exclusion, developing world issues, environmental quality, gender equality, economic vitality and social inclusion) provided further insight into SRD thinking and activities. Following a comprehensive analysis of the recent and more established literatures on SRD and CSR, the authors were able to present a new SRD model and position it within the existing CSR literature.

Figure 1: The Eight tenets of Socially Responsible Design

(Copyright ©2001 A.B.Wootton. All rights reserved)

The model identifies eight core features of the modern experience upon which design impacts, and maps the domain of SRD as follows:

  • Government – design can help to make the process of national, regional and local government more responsible or representative. This might involve helping to increase efficiency, enabling more people to vote or facilitating the participation of under-represented groups.
  • Economic policy – design can contribute to national, regional and local economic policy by promoting sustainability and responsibility.
  • Fair Trade – design can provide support for workers rights and reduce exploitation of poor economies, though interventions in relation to finance, investment, manufacture and trade. This might involve establishing supplier sourcing criteria or partnering in the supply chain.
  • Ecology – design can help reduce pollution and minimise environmental impact, as well as use green technologies. This might involve developing “green buildings” that improve air/water quality, encouraging building reuse, introducing recycling or creating environmentally-friendly packaging.
  • Social inclusion – design can reduce discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, age, class, education, wealth, etc. and combat social exclusion by understanding people’s particular needs. For example, ethnic minority housing that meets needs specific to family size and religion might be developed. Products that are easier for older people to use have been produced (e.g. Oxo ‘Good Grips’ range).
  • Health – design for health promotes better service delivery and patient care, and develops methods of improving people’s health within society at large. This might involve improving the quality of medical resource provision, developing devices that enable medicines to be administered outside of the healthcare system and helping produce equipment that prevents injury for vulnerable groups (e.g. cooker monitor for older people).
  • Education – design can improve the quality and efficiency of delivery. This might involve architects and interior designers designing schools to better facilitate learning or design professions providing support for school projects.
  • Crime – design can be used to reduce the incidence of crime, alleviate fear of crime and minimise the impact of crime.


These issues relate to the wider domains of:

  • Government, at a national, regional and local level
  • Business and commerce at global, national, regional and local level
  • Non-government organisations (NGOs) such as charities, pressure groups, etc.
  • Health and education at a national, regional and local level.


The level and domain in which SRD is practiced will depend on the nature and aims of the organisation, and the context in which it is undertaken. Clearly this context changes over time, and more organisations may deal with issues at a global level due to the process of globalisation and the development of pan-national systems, such as the European Community.

The new model enables different design approaches to be located within an overall framework, without dictating the focus or approach. However, the model makes clear the potential for SRD, and allows progress within the eight areas to be evaluated.

Crime is addressed within the new SRD Model, as crime and the fear of crime remain a significant negative factor impacting on people’s quality of life. Cities all over the world face problems of insecurity and lack of safety, arising from urban violence, burglary, vandalism and other forms of crime (CEN, 2002). Dealing with the consequences of crime, and implementing measures to prevent future problems, places a huge burden on society—the total cost of crime in the UK is estimated at £60 billion per year (Brand & Price, 2000).

There is evidence that design can have a key role to play in reducing crime and improving feelings of safety (Davey, Cooper & Press, 2002). The design features that are now incorporated into today’s cars, for example, have all contributed to a significant reduction in car crime—improved locks, smart alarms, immobilisers and tracking systems. In the retail sector there is evidence that store layout and the design of display systems are among the many design features that can reduce both the opportunity and inclination for theft (Design Policy Partnership, 2001). In fashion, new technologies are enabling personal security and communication devices to be incorporated within innovative clothing designs (Davey et al, 2003).

Recognising the value of design in preventing crime, the UK Home Office, Design Council and Department of Trade & Industry, initiated the Design Against Crime programme. Design Against Crime is an international programme of research and policy initiatives that aims to increase our understanding of this issue, and embed crime prevention within design through education and professional practice. It is a research programme offering new ideas, approaches and models for design professionals, industry, educators at school and degree level, and national and regional government. This work is currently supported by the European Commission’s AGIS (2003) programme and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Sustainable Urban Environments programme.

Design Against Crime is considered part of SRD because it urges designers to use their particular skills—their ability to innovate, understand the user and anticipate the consequences of products and services—to address crime, fear of crime and related social issues. Professor Ken Pease (2001), a UK criminologist, believes that designers have a unique mix of skills to address these complex issues, observing that:

"Designers are trained to anticipate many things: the needs and desires of users, environmental impacts, ergonomics and so on. It is they who are best placed to anticipate the crime consequences of products and services, and to gain the upper hand in the technological race against crime.” (p. 27)

Design-centred crime prevention solutions focus on the role of human behaviour, attitudes and emotions in preventing crime and feelings of insecurity. Consequently, such solutions must be tailored to their specific context and address crime problems in innovative, often subtle ways. The involvement of design professionals enables crime prevention to become more than the simple addition of security devices to existing designs—such as locks, alarms, fences or CCTV—and encourages a more empathetic and holistic approach. In the planning and design of products, services and environments, such an approach considers aesthetics and human sensory experience, addressing legitimate users as well as potential misusers; use as well as possible abuse (Town et al, 2003).

For example, a subtle solution to young people congregating and ‘hanging out’ around public amenities—a frequent cause of anxiety, especially for older people—has been the use of classical music played softly in problem areas. Unlike other solutions, such as fencing or the removal of public seating, this does not harm the visual aspect, nor inconvenience legitimate users. Importantly, such approaches also do not provoke confrontation that could escalate the problem. Another, perhaps more proactive approach, is the design and construction of a ‘youth shelter’ in an location acceptable to residents and young people, providing them with a place they can gather safely, and to which some sense of ownership can be engendered—encouraging responsibility (Town et al, 2003).

Unfortunately, crime prevention is often not considered until after a crime has occurred, rather than during the design stage of the product, service or environment’s development. This inevitably results in crime prevention solutions being ‘bolted on’ rather than embedded within the design. Studies of new product development have shown that making any changes after a design is finalised is highly expensive (Gause & Weinberg, 1989). The incorporation of design against crime thinking at the design stage is much more cost-effective than solving problems when they arise in use. It also prevents environments being degraded by the addition of unsightly crime preventative measures, such as razor wire. While such measures may reduce vulnerability to actual crime, they invariably increase the fear of crime as well (Town et al, 2003).

Designers must consider the potential for their designs to be misused or abused. They therefore need to think not only about the user, but also about the potential abuser or misuser. To achieve this, designers must incorporate ‘attack testing’ into the design process and learn to think thief—to anticipate potential offenders’ actions, and understand their tools, knowledge and skills (Ekblom & Tilley, 2000). The designer’s aim is to out-think the thief and develop design solutions that ‘short-circuit’ potential offending behaviour. However, this must be achieved without reducing the design’s value to legitimate users, increasing fear of crime, creating social problems, or causing the seriousness of the crime to escalate (Town et al, 2003).

Design Against Crime case studies reveal that designers respond effectively to briefs, where addressing crime is seen as a method of providing competitive advantage for the client, protecting brand image or reducing costs arising from retail theft. They also have a role to play in creating better environments and regenerating deprived areas (Davey et al, 2003; Davey, Cooper & Press, 2002). Independent evaluations confirm the value of design-centred crime prevention approaches. In relation to Secured by Design (SBD), a study commissioned by the Home Office reported that on both new build and refurbished SBD housing estates, the incidence of recorded crime was considerably lower than on the non-SBD counterparts (Armitage, 2000).

An evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of 12 design-led crime prevention initiatives, found that 8 had a desirable cost-benefit analysis. For these 8 studies, the economic return for every economic unit invested (national currency) ranged from a low of 1.31 monetary units to a high of 5.04. The initiatives to improve surveillance, target harden premises, etc. had tangible benefits that could be measured in monetary terms, such as fewer repairs, savings in insurance claims and fewer vacant buildings. There were also intangible benefits that were not measured, such as improved employment opportunities and increased attractiveness and value of an area (Welsh and Farrington, 1999).



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