Co-design emerged as method to promote social sustainability under New Labour (1997 – 2010).
Socially focused design specialisms, such as a 'service design', 'transformation design', and
'social design and innovation', have used co-design to address some of the UK’s most complex
social challenges. These range from increasing public engagement to public service reform and
health improvement, and are addressed by designers working collaboratively with a range of
people affected by the challenges, such as the public, service providers and frontline workers.
This thesis examines the use of co-design for the promotion of social sustainability as it emerged
from a number of coinciding agendas under New Labour, and as it faces a different future under
the Coalition government. The research maps the ways in which co-design was promoted within
the design industry, and supported by non-departmental government bodies such as the Design
Council, NESTA, and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.
An extensive review of the existing literature on co-design, social sustainability, New Labour’s
social policy, and design and innovation agendas, provides a context for a range of interviews
examining the reasons for the emergence of co-design. These twenty-five interviews were
carried out with designers practicing co-design for social sustainability, senior professionals
commissioning and promoting co-design and senior professionals working in engagement,
education, social sustainability, social innovation and social policy.
The completed research describes and summarises a hitherto undocumented area of modern
design history, and provides an understanding of the reasons for the emergence of co-design
for social sustainability, for academics, government and practitioners. Ultimately the research
allows the practice to reflect upon itself, providing an opportunity to help shape its future