Things like prototyping transform how we work. It’s not just about jumping to a pilot phase. We can refine things to make sure they are right before we start investing.

Lindsey Craig, London Borough of Lewisham Policy and Strategy Officer

The changes implemented within Lewisham’s Housing Options Centre should deliver efficiency savings of £368,000. In addition staff morale has improved, absenteeism reduced and end users are more engaged.


Lewisham Council were concerned that users of their housing services couldn’t always find out whether they were entitled to support quickly or easily enough, causing stress and frustration amongst customers and staff.

In addition the Council recoginised they needed to become more efficient to cope with the increasing number of service users, incorporating the growing demand for personalisation and delivering both of these objectives against a reduced budget.

The process

Design Council’s Design Associate Sean Miller, worked with Lewisham’s Emergency Housing Service over the course of a year to help them improve their service through design.

With Miller's 20 years' experience providing service and design advice for a number of private and public sector organisations, including National Trust, Nesta and Vodafone he was well placed to help Lewisham improve their service.

Sean ran a series of workshops with staff to identify the types of people who used the service before introducing the team to a range of design techniques including brainstorming, visualisation, prototyping and ethnography.

Over 100 ideas were generated, Miller then helped refine the options to four clear priorities:

  • Right first time: a project to improve the first interaction customers have with the service by ensuring staff ask the right questions and give the right information 
  • What next doc?: information design prototypes to help explain to customers what happens after their first interview
  • Fact sheets: giving accurate details about the housing options available
  • Storyboards: showing customers what to expect while they wait to see an advisor

Cartoonists Cognitive Media were appointed to further develop the storyboards that covered the service areas, such as the rent incentive scheme and mortgage rescue.

The results

A year on, staff morale has improved, staff absence levels have reduced, money has been saved and customers are enjoying using a more efficient and appealing housing service in Lewisham.

Crucially, the Council predicts that the changes made will deliver a saving of £386,000 per year.

Lewisham’s Head of Strategy and Performance, Peter Gadson, says: "When you think of design you think shapes of chairs or the next big innovation – however design in public services is more than that. Design provided a dialogue to shape social policy and to interact and engage with customers and staff to deliver change."

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