Service
Public Sector Support
Design associate
Sean Miller

Design may seem an upfront cost, but if you engage with it and work with people who do it well you develop lasting skills to take forward into other projects.

Lindsey Grant, Transformation and Development Manager at the London Borough of Lewisham

The London Borough of Lewisham’s Housing Options Service provides information and advice for people in need of emergency housing. In 2010, faced with challenging rises in demand and reductions in budget, Lewisham turned to Design Council to try a different approach. 

Watch our video on how we helped Lewisham's Housing Options Service: 

Challenge

Lewisham Council was 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 recognised 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.

What we did

We assigned an expert Design Associate, Sean Miller, to work with Lewisham’s Emergency Housing Service over the course of a year to help them improve their service through design.

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

Sean helped the team to identify the types of people who used the service before introducing them to a range of design techniques including brainstorming, visualisation, prototyping and ethnography. Sean wanted to create processes that would help staff ask the right questions while ensuring customers were aware of what was expected of them.

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

To achieve this, social design agency Think Public and cartoonists  Cognitive Media were appointed. Their mission was to help the team visualise the issues and communicate the solutions to the public. Together they created storyboards and films that covered the service areas, such as the rent incentive scheme and mortgage rescue. This had a tremendous effect of highlighting problems, and simplifying solutions in a user-friendly manner (see our video above for more on the filming and storyboarding process).

Design provided a dialogue to shape social policy and to interact and engage with customers and staff to deliver change.

Peter Gadsdon, Lewisham’s Head of Service Design and Innovation

Results

Since Lewisham took part in the programme, staff morale has improved, staff absence levels have reduced and customers are enjoying using a more efficient and appealing housing service in Lewisham. Importantly, money has been saved - the council predicts that the changes made will continue to deliver a saving of £386,000 per year on previous outgoings.

When you think of design you think shapes of chairs or the next big innovation – however design in public services is more than that.

Even with that impressive saving, perhaps the most important change has been cultural. Staff now feel empowered to make changes in the way they work, plus the model for this success has proved transferrable. Staff members who adopted new methods are now training colleagues, so the impact of design-led thinking can continue into the future. As Peter Gadsdon, Lewisham’s Head of Service Design and Innovation, said: "When you think of design you think shapes of chairs or the next big innovation – however design in public services is more than that".

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