The Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance against Crime and the Design Council, supported by the Technology Strategy Board, established a programme called Design Out Crime. From 2008 to 2010, it tackled problems in five priority areas where design can play an important role in fighting crime: alcohol-related crime, hot product theft, businesses, schools and housing.

The problem

Crime in the UK has fallen over the last decade, but as society and technology have evolved, new crime challenges have emerged. In 2009 – 10 there were approximately 9.6 million crimes against adults living in England and Wales. While the numbers of offences are the lowest since the British Crime Survey began in 1981, they do mean it's likely that, whichever sector or market a designer is working in, crime will have some impact.

The cost of crime

Crime brings with it a cost to individuals and business in three ways:

  1. Cost incurred in anticipation of crime (cost of security)
  2. Cost incurred as a consequence of crime
  3. Cost of responding to crime

For individuals, the cost of crime can include time off work because of injury, as well as the hidden costs of anxiety, stress, feelings of vulnerability and reduced confidence. For businesses, this can lead to a fall in productivity or difficulty retaining or recruiting staff. And of course crime has additional costs for local and national authorities in terms of police time and the cost to the NHS and other public services.

Design out crime from the start

Design has an important role to play in preventing crime and reducing criminal activity without compromising the enjoyment and usability of products, places and services by legitimate users. Designers must remain focused on those they are designing for, as well as those they are designing to thwart.

Designing out crime is not simply a case of designing better locks and bolts. For it to be most effective (and cost effective), crime prevention needs to be designed-in at the start of a project. If designers consider the ways in which the object, systems or environments they are designing might be susceptible to crime early in the design process, they can prevent crime from occurring, or at least reduce the opportunities for offender behaviour.

Our response

In partnership with the Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance against Crime, our Design Out Crime programme challenged designers to work with industry experts to get to the root of crime problems in five priority areas where design can play an important role: alcohol-related crime, hot product theft, businesses, schools and housing.

After researching abuser ‘needs’ such as loopholes and weaknesses in systems, situations and premises, participants in the challenge applied creativity and innovation to develop sophisticated solutions that could reduce, prevent and ultimately stop crime.

Their design interventions delivered new thinking and real solutions that cut the cost and burden of the problem while creating new enterprise and revenue opportunities for businesses and designers alike.

The results

Alcohol-related crime: Designing a safer pint glass

Pint glasses are used in 5% of all violent crime in the UK, and there are an estimated 5,500 ‘glassings’ (when attackers turn smashed bottles and glasses into weapons) per year. Design Out Crime brought together a team that developed the Ultimate Pint Glass. The resistant glass is very hard to break – but if it does, it shatters into tiny bits, making it useless as a weapon.

Business crime: Designing ways to help SMEs improve security

According to a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce, business crime cost the UK £12.6 billion in 2008. In the same year, 63.5% of small businesses experienced crime, at an average cost of £13,354 per small business. Yet many small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) feel they come second to large businesses in getting government and police support against crime.

Design Out Crime worked to collect evidence and insight towards a better understanding of business-related crime, particularly in relation to SMEs. The aim was to help designers, manufacturers and policy makers comprehend the scale and effects of the problem and encourage more design commissions to tackle it.You can learn about our findings in this guide.

Tagging costs a lot of money. It’s about 50p for one tag, and you can see how much stock we’ve got in here.

Ayub, clothes shop owner, London

Design Out Crime also ran two student challenges with Central Saint Martins and the Royal Society of Arts called Design Out Shoplifting. Nearly 150 innovative entries were received. See the RSA winners' designs as well as a few of the more interesting submissions from both challenges – including wearable hangers, smart trolleys and colour-changing barcodes.

Schools: Designing to minimise bullying, assaults and petty theft

As part of Design Out Crime, the Sorrell Foundation was commissioned to run a project with secondary schools, exploring the crime issues that affect young people and how they might be resolved through design.

Everybody wants children to have safe and healthy environments in which to learn and develop and, fortunately, most schools provide this. Some, however, have problems with crime and violence that put teachers and children in danger and undermine teaching and learning. Another significant area of youth victimisation is bullying.

The Schools Project engaged 150 youth advisers from six regions in the UK who identified crime issues and potential solutions in three different situations: at school, on the journey to and from school and in the community. The project culminated in a presentation at the Home Office, followed by another, specially requested, to the 32 London Metropolitan Borough Police Commanders. Advisers presented what were called their Young People’s Briefs – summaries of their findings on crime issues – to audiences of decision-makers and community leaders. Learn more about this project here.

Hot product theft: Designing more secure mobiles

In April 2009, some of the UK’s top designers partnered with technology experts to take part in the Mobile Phone Security Challenge, a national competition to create ‘crime proof’ mobile phones. Three teams were commissioned to produce market-ready solutions that could include hardware, software, new services and other innovations. They developed and refined their concepts over six months with the help of a panel of experts from across the mobile, technology and design industries. Their design solutions focused on three areas:

  • Making mobiles harder or less desirable to steal
  • Making the data stored on them harder or less desirable to steal
  • Making commercial transactions on them secure and fraud proof

Housing: Designing safer communities

In Design Out Crime’s consideration of communities and crime, Neighbourhood and Home Watch (NHW) emerged as a natural partner. Neighbourhood Watch is one of the biggest and most successful crime prevention schemes ever conceived. Begun in the US in the late 1960s, it first came to the UK in 1982. It now has 173,000 schemes covering 7.9 million households in England and Wales.

A five-year business plan for NHW’s future was seen as a strategic opportunity to embed design-led thinking. Based on the discussions with NHW, Design Out Crime drew the conclusion that its design needs fell into two distinct areas: service and branding.

In thinking about service, designers showed that giving non-members resources would be a way of increasing involvement with the organisation overall. This also brought NHW a new level of clarity about what it was providing and for whom and helped it meet three key challenges: engaging with the next generation, building the network and supporting people in challenging areas.

In terms of branding, the organisation had to consider that, for many people, it brought to mind faded street signs and ‘curtain twitchers’. It was decided there should be a focus on feelings of safety, not fear of crime, and it was important to challenge the misconception that NHW is not active. A new website, features and materials were created with this in mind.

The redesign of the Neighbourhood Watch Network website recognises that positive imagery and language, about the safe community it is trying to create, is more likely to inspire volunteers than typical projections of the crime and violence it is trying to combat.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at Design Council

The outcome

At the end of the Design Out Crime programme, Designing out crime: A designers' guide was created as a practical guide for design practitioners, clients, educators and students. It provides useful information from across the programme's five focus areas about how design can help to prevent crimes from occurring, lessen their impact, aid in the recovery of stolen items and help apprehend offenders.

Beyond the immediate scope of Design Out Crime, designers all over the world are finding ingenious ways to address crime problems. The examples described here show just how diverse this field of activity can be, with highly effective solutions coming from product, communication and service design as well as design for the built environment.

Resources