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Policy contexts and implications

Policy contexts and implications is one of the Social Design Institute's key focus areas.

Insights and ideas produced through design often have policy implications. Governments and public bodies are increasingly interested in experimentation and new forms of engagement with citizens and stakeholders.

We are exploring this through collaborative research drawing on traditions in design and the social sciences.

We aim to give designers, policy makers and organisations a better understanding of the relations between policy and design.

Watch a video of our webinar in May 2022 exploring different perspectives on the use of design in government and policy formation.

People sat around a blackboard
Make @ Story Garden (photo: Adam Razvi)


Design and Policy Network

Social Design Institute (SDI) hosts a new, multi-disciplinary network bringing together researchers and practitioners exploring and developing new forms of public policy design funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council between May 2022 and November 2023. This network brings together researchers in design, the humanities and political science with those working in public policy and design practice to identify the tensions and resistances between the two domains, identify where the capacities of design can be more effectively leveraged, and map out an agenda for future research, practice and knowledge exchange.

Find out more about the Design and Policy Network.

A group of people having a discussion
Policy Lab workshop in UK Civil Service, 2015. Photo: Lucy Kimbell

Using design skills to prototype public policy

SDI organised a knowledge exchange collaboration which enabled 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 policy-making around supporting caring and carers.

Two 2021 graduates from BA Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, joined the DWP and Policy Lab teams between January and March 2022 to develop and test new solutions to engage potential carers facing choices about how to balance their work and care responsibilities. In parallel, current Stage 2 students from the same course were asked to come up with ideas and prototypes to help individuals understand how they can support friends and family with caring responsibilities.

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.

Read the full story and hear from the students, graduates and policy-makers involved in the project.

Graphic design examples on a wall and on screen
Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez-Cifre and Kat Smith

Using arts in policy development

From September 2020 to March 2021, the Social Design Institute supported policy maker and artist Stephen Bennett to carry out a practice-based research project exploring the potential for the arts to be involved in policy development, funded by the Clore Leadership Foundation and AHRC.

See Stephen's findings and the resources he produced during the course of his research, alongside a series of blog posts including 'What is policy and why does it matter (to artists)?

Stephen Bennett next to his installation
Installation by Stephen Bennett shortlisted for the MullenLowe NOVA

Enhancing workforce development policies in Northern Ireland

A cross-UAL team, led by the SDI, worked with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) to support the design of 3 new sector-wide initiatives proposed by the NI Department of Health to enhance the career development of social care workers.

The team headed up by SDI Research Fellow Jocelyn Bailey, included Phillippa Rose (Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication), SDI Associate Hannah Zeilig (Senior Research Fellow at London College of Fashion) and students Laura Duarte (MA Service Design) and Bobbie Galvin (BA Graphic Communication Design). Together they coached the NISCC team in applying a social design approach to create content for the 3 policy proposals, starting from a workforce-centred point of view; and to visualise the proposals to clearly communicate NISCC’s thinking and intent.

Alongside the policy development project, UAL students studying graphic communication design at Central Saint Martins, led by platform leader David Preston, researched and generated innovative approaches to communicate the value of social care as a career option to people aged 18-25. This work has gone on to inform NISCC’s communications strategy.

Visualistion of social care career development pathway
A visualisation of the social care career development pathway in Northen Irelnd. Created for SDI by Bobbie Galvin.

Regulation of antibiotic use in India

With funding from ESRC and the Newton Fund, the Social Design Institute is investigating how anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in India can be tackled through ‘smart’ regulation, in collaboration with UK and international researchers from various disciplines, including pharmacology, law, public health, animal health and health policy.

Girl in a science exhibition
Cosmetic Science exhibition, Fashion Business School Summit, Kingly Court

Exploring the future of government

UAL supported the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre team developing the EU Policy Lab to explore the use of design thinking in policy development, in a project about the role of citizens and business and the future of government 2030.

Black and white storyboard imaging the future of the government in 2030.

PhD studentships

The Social Design Institute hosts 4 PhD students (Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, Daniella Jenkins, Charlie Mealings and Yemima Safra) jointly funded and supervised by UAL and the Department of Political Economy, Kings College London linking research in design, public policy and political science.

Daniella Jenkins
Daniella Jenkins, one of the PhD students hosted by the Social Design Institute


Many designers want to change the world. That might enable changing what public policy attends to and how public policy is made.

Professor Lucy Kimbell , Director, Social Design Institute
Designers and design expertise are increasingly visible in government and in the development of public policy. Studying and contextualising the expanding role of design is necessary to help us better understand contemporary governance and democratic practices.

Professor Ramia Mazé , London College of Communication

How should design intervene in the public sphere?

Social Design Institute Director Lucy Kimbell’s introduction on the ways in which design can intervene in policy and the public sphere at the Tricky Design Symposium 2019.

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