Shaping Social Policy: Designers and Crime

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Forget the police: a new crime-buster is on the block. Designers claim they can lead the charge in the fight against crime.

The government backed Design & Technology Alliance Against Crime is leading a programme ‘to develop innovative design solutions to help prevent robbery, to crime-proof hot new gadgets and to embed public safety in the design of new public spaces’. In schools, design ideas are being developed to reduce bullying, fighting and petty theft. Designers are also working on ways to reduce alcohol-related antisocial and criminal behaviour, while materials experts have designed toughened glasses that lessen the damage caused by glassings in bars. Better design can also reduce traffic violations perhaps better than cameras and policing. The Kensington High Street scheme got rave reviews from design bodies when nearly all guard rails and barriers segregating road users from pedestrians were removed, reducing speeding and accidents.

We can all benefit from such innovations; who wouldn’t want better bike locks or services like ‘Immobilise’ which allows people to register their valuables and have them returned if stolen? But critics object that many of these initiatives involve manipulating the public to change their behaviour whether they like it or not. When crime-busting features are automatically included in products, clothing and even in neighbourhood layouts, are the public not denied choice?
Designers can’t be blamed for working on lucrative government contracts, but is the ‘design establishment’ compromised by aligning itself with explicitly politicised agendas like ‘the war on crime’? Are designers pandering to panics about rising crime levels where in reality, crime is not escalating, despite the headlines? Is there a danger of turning communities into experimental playgrounds for designers? Or is designing out crime simply an opportunity to improve our lives for the better, and even - to quote the Design Council – ‘stop violence and save lives’? 
Speakers were:
Professor Lorraine Gamman professor, design studies, Central St Martins College of Art and Design, London; director, Design Against Crime Research Centre 
Daniel Moylan deputy chairman, Transport for London; deputy leader, Kensington and Chelsea Council; chairman, Urban Design London
Martyn Perks director, Thinking Apart; co-author Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Dr Stuart Waiton lecturer in sociology and criminology, University of Abertay, Dundee; director, Generation Youth Issues; author The Politics of Antisocial Behaviour: amoral panics; campaigner against anti-sectarian legislation
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; editor, Culture Wars; editor, Debating Humanism; co-founder, Manifesto Club
Produced by Martyn Perks director, Thinking Apart; co-author Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation