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Design students and grads support central government on early policy prototyping

Graphic design examples on a wall and on screen
  • Written byCat Cooper
  • Published date 29 June 2022
Graphic design examples on a wall and on screen
Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez-Cifre and Kat Smith

In its pilot phase, UAL’s Social Design Institute has been exploring and analysing how design skills and methods can support public policy design, including leading a new AHRC funded Design and Policy network. Early this year, Institute Director Professor Lucy Kimbell organised a knowledge exchange collaboration enabling 2 groups of UAL designers to work with central government’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Policy Lab - to bring creative expertise and fresh thinking to policymaking around supporting caring and carers.

For policy makers, working with creative students and graduates is a way to bring end user perspectives, rapidly generate new ideas and develop capacities in visualising and prototyping potential policies at an early stage, before further development.

Graduates help visualise early policy proposals

The focus of the project was around people falling out of the workforce as they take on unpaid caring responsibilities: addressing information gaps and helping people to be fully informed when taking on caring decisions. DWP had done extensive research and problem definition working closely with Carers UK and sector stakeholders including local authorities. At the start of 2022, working with Policy Lab, DWP were at the stage of needing to generate and test ideas through prototyping, a way of exploring, testing and revising concepts for future policy action and implementation.

Two 2021 graduates from BA Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, Jada Bruney and Jessie Zhang joined DWP and Policy Lab teams between January and March 2022 to develop and test new solutions to engaging potential carers at the start of their journey when they’re facing choices about work and care.

Jada’s creative skills in illustration/animation and Jessie’s in UX/UI (user experience design and user interface design developed through her diploma at UAL’s Creative Computing Institute) helped to develop, test and provide communication suggestions for policy ideas. These were included in the project’s final report for further development.

Two young women standing side by side at Central Saint Martins
BA Graphic Communication Design 2021 graduates Jessie Zhang (l) and Jada Bruney (r)

Purposeful design

Jada Bruney: “I was working on a more campaign and awareness type of section of this project, so I created some posters and was looking at how certain messaging could work; also doing a bit of copywriting too, so coming up with messages that were sensitive and appropriate, however they could give an impact straight away to an audience member; so thinking about ideas such as if there was a poster on a train platform, how would that look?.

It’s been quite an interesting time because we were working with quite a large group and it was definitely exciting, especially to understand more about how carers themselves, and their experiences and to be able to try to fix any empathy deficits through design.

I’m interested in narrative and voice and being able to tell a story with design is something that is very impactful and can make a lot of changes in society itself, and also change the outlook of people who may not understand completely how someone else lives, someone else’s experiences.”

Jessie Zhang: "And it’s also been really exciting that the work that we’ve been doing with DWP and Policy Lab is potentially really improving people’s lives in a meaningful way. And working in such a large network of stakeholders has been quite fascinating, learning about collaboration between partners and how to make sure that every person is given a voice.

One of the challenges that potential carers face is that current information landscape is difficult to navigate and so my role was to come up with ways to address that and how to improve access to information online that they need in order to make these informed choices about care and work. And from there a few strands emerged, so information navigation, humanising information as well as personalisation. So thinking about digital tools and resources that could exist within a larger framework in order to aid that journey."

William Downes, Behavioural Science Team, Department of Work and Pensions:

"The prototypes have helped me better imagine the range of what might possibly solve this problem. We’ve been researching and defining this problem since 2017. The prototypes have helped crystalise a range of fantastic ideas. They’ve helped us test out early ideas in a safe-to-fail environment, stimulating further creative, critical and strategic thinking. On a personal level, it has reassured me that we really can solve this problem, even if it is confusing and complex! ‘Seeing is believing’ captures it well I think.

Seeing a range of prototypes has helped manifest ideas, all of which have elements of value and truth, that can then be developed, tested and refined in parallel, informing further ideas.

I think it was really interesting seeing the range in approaches to the problem that usefully overlap/diverge with our thinking, e.g. among but not limited to:

  • discussion aids
  • leaflets
  • adverts/comms
  • simple behavioural illustrations to break down scary emotional complexity
  • tone and style of messaging
  • stimulating local social connections for distributing care e.g. via apps
  • data-driven approaches
  • empathy tools
  • visual metaphors
  • how to consider different cultures and ethnic backgrounds in design

In simplest terms, prototyping has helped take ideas out of our heads, verbal reports and theoretical frameworks, which has freed up space to have clearer thoughts and discussions about whether and how these might work in practice. It has provoked more precise, context-specific discussion about how ideas would work, and how users would respond.”

Students generate new ideas on how to support carers

A live brief set by BA Graphic Communication Design lecturers Dr David Preston and Stephen Barrett asked Stage 2 students to come up with ideas to help individuals understand how they can support friends and family with caring responsibilities.

The students worked in groups, combining their skillsets to come up with concepts and prototypes that could support people whose circumstances mean they could potentially become carers.

In March, teams from DWP and Policy Lab came to Central Saint Martins to meet the students who presented their ideas for supporting carers and encouraging people to recognise and support carers among their friends, families and social groups, encouraging them to make conscious and informed choices about work and care.

A person chatting in a group and pointing towards their right
Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez-Cifre and Kat Smith

Professor Lucy Kimbell, Director, Social Design Institute:

“At a crucial stage in the policy-making journey, these students have come up with a set of ideas which the civil servants have been looking at and talking to students about - which will hopefully help them as they develop their programmes of work to support carers.”

Dr David Preston, Platform Leader, BA Graphic Communication Design, Central Saint Martins:

“I think the students have an intrinsic motivation to make a real-world impact. So when they’re working on a project of this nature, that motivation comes to the fore and it really pushes them on to challenge their creative processes, to work with new mediums and to really create work that they are proud of.

This project has been very mutually beneficial in the sense that students have raised their game in relation to this kind of real-world problem, and for the client I believe, it’s helped them to cast their net incredibly wide in terms of thinking about the issues they’ve been thinking about, but also, not only thinking about them, but actually applying them and visualising them in incredibly exciting and provocative ways.”

Sanjan Sabherwal, Head of Design and Innovation, Policy Lab:

“Today we’ve heard about an octopus that can solve care challenges – which is a robot and an app – and I would never have been able to come up with that in government, so it’s really interesting to see.

We’ve seen a huge range of ideas and approaches, but I think all of them have touched upon different parts of the problem, and we’ve even had people kind of looking at things from a different demographic, whether that’s younger people, people from minority ethnic groups and their relationships to care, so it’s been a really diverse range of ideas too."