What is strategic design? : An examination of new design activity in the public and civic sectors

Buchanan, Camilla and Cooper, Rachel (2020) What is strategic design? : An examination of new design activity in the public and civic sectors. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Design is increasingly appearing in the public and civic sectors in strategic contexts, like policymaking. However, data and literature examining new design activity is limited. This research aims to address the gap in current theory by defining and critically assessing ‘strategic design’ so that it can be adequately framed, understood and analysed. While the research is an academic study, the questions it asks are rooted in practice and initial observations about shifts in design activity were made when the researcher began to collaborate with designers in 2015 on UK government policy development. In this research, new design activity is explored through a case study, survey and qualitative interviews with leading practitioners and commissioners. Throughout, insights from applied contexts are used to develop an argument about the definition, strengths and limitations of this work. The research finds that the pragmatic, constructive and participatory attributes of design activity have much to offer in situations of ever-intensifying complexity surrounding public and civic sector organisations. However, this new design activity is limited by both structural and ideological factors, such as an absence of sector infrastructure and comprehensive definitions. Questions of potential, maturity and ethics are also relevant to almost every aspect of design discussed in this research. Although there are clear concerns about whether current practice is equal to the situations presented in new environments, the research frames design as a powerful set of tools to improve responses to challenging social situations. Overall, the research argues that design activity in strategic contexts in the public and civic sectors has developed beyond isolated individuals and initiatives, to form a new - albeit nascent - body of practice which can now be seen as an emerging design sub-field. This new field is defined as ‘strategic design’: a creative problem-framing and problem-solving practice that relies on material and participatory ways of working and is actively focused on understanding, articulating and responding to strategic challenges.

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Thesis (PhD)
?? designstrategic designpolicymakingpublic sectorcivic sectorpublic sector design ??
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29 Oct 2020 11:05
Last Modified:
14 Jun 2024 23:28