Onwards! From government services to the built environment

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be taking on a new role as Director of Design and Transformation for planning and land development for the UK government, based at Homes England.

We have a housing crisis in the UK, but that problem doesn’t start with houses, it starts with land, and the rules and regulations around how it’s used and by whom.

At the same time, our environment has never been under more threat than it is now.

We need to democratise the process of using land and create a world where urban development is both sustainable for humans and for the environment.
That means bringing design back into the heart of planning in the public sector and fixing the dark matter and systems that are contributing to a housing and land market that doesn’t work.

In 1976 49% of architects worked for the public sector; in London it’s now 0.13%. We need to change that. But beyond improving the design of our built spaces, we need to take a design led approach to the infrastructure that underpins the built environment itself. That means taking a long hard look at our data, services and policy objectives, and bringing together the fragmented parts of government that underpin our ability to take a coordinated approach to sustainable development in the UK. I’m excited to take on that role.

I’m not the first to attempt this, and I’m looking forward to working alongside some amazing pioneers in this space – the likes of Public Practice, Architecture 00 and Dan Hill. This sits alongside all of the fantastic work ongoing in government that I’ve had the privilege to watch grow over the past few years at places like Defra, Land Registry, MHCLG, Homes England of course (and many more that I don’t know about I’m sure).

My time at GDS has been brilliant, and I’m incredibly proud of things I’ve been able to help the government achieve.

Back in 2016 I wrote a ranty blog post that never got published. In it, I complained about the fact that government needed a central function to support service design across government. I never published it. Instead I turned it into a £5 million business case to build a programme of teams working on service transformation across government – including the Service Standard, Service Manual & Service Toolkit, design patterns, GOV.UK Frontend, accessibility and inclusion, cross government service design and community development.

We now have Service Designers in government where previously there were none; a community of over 3,000 people in user centered design; training in design for all public servants and a dramatically different landscape of standards and patterns for government services, including the wonderful GOV.UK design system.

I’ve spoken to enough governments around the world to know how lucky I’ve been to get backing and support for this and that’s a testament to not only the strength of vision GDS has, but also the incredibly talented people I’ve worked with and the determination of the Civil Service itself.

Doing this has meant I’ve been able to share that privilege by establishing the International Design in Government community (if you’re not coming to one of the 3 conferences we’re running this year get yourself a ticket!)

Digital services were the first frontier for design in government, now it’s time to take the same approach to our built environment.

If you’re doing exciting work in this space, get in touch, I’d love to buy you coffee.