About this Project

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Identifying and Mapping Design Impact and Value was a 6-month project sponsored by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) aimed at understanding how and what stakeholders value in a Design-led approach, specifically focused on public and third sector service innovation projects. The project ran from April 2014 till October 2014 and was premised on the assumption that the use of a design-led approach has an important role to play as a change catalyst in innovation projects. Hence our aim was to identify which characteristics of design are perceived as valuable by different project stakeholders and what impact this has had on the organisations involved.


The project aimed to identify which characteristics of design are perceived as valuable by different project stakeholders and what impact design-led approach has had on the organisations involved.


There were two distinct project objectives:

  1. The first objective was to understand the role and value of design as an approach from the three complementary perspectives of the design team, commissioning team and service users, in order to identify how design is valued and communicated across different stakeholder groups.

  2. The second objective was to identify, map and document examples where design-led approaches have made a recognisable impact. This has resulted in the creation of multi-dimensional case studies that offer insights into the project impact, conditions for success and aspects of design that are valued.


The research insights have been derived from six co-created (Sanders and Stappers, 2008) case studies of service innovation conducted in public and third sector organisations. The criteria for selection are based on:

  1. The acknowledged value that a design-led approach has brought to the project.
  2. Access to a triangulated base of stakeholders (service users, service commissioners and service designers).
  3. Projects that cover a wide range of sectors  including healthcare, mental health promotion, youth services and social care, in England, Scotland and Australia.

The projects ranged from three short, hour-long workshop interventions to an on-going six-year project. In total, the project team conducted 25 semi-structured interviews with 30 participants, including designers, commissioners and service users in person in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Newcastle and London and remotely, by Skype. Interview transcripts were used to create multidimensional case studies that identified the impact and value of design as understood from three complementary perspectives: the design team, the project team and the service users. The interview data from the transcripts were also affinity mapped into themes.

In the second phase of the research, we brought a selection of commissioners, designers and service users (11 in total) into a workshop setting to allow divergent values and opinions to be recorded, shared and discussed in a supportive way. Participants were asked for their feedback specifically in two areas: the research findings (Value, Impact and Conditions for Success) and the communication of the results. Participants were asked to consider, from their point of view, how the research team could best ‘package’ and communicate the findings to maximise their value to all participants. This will inform the final project outputs ensuring that case studies are written in a way that demonstrates the qualitative benefit of working with designers, in a language which is transferable across sectors. Identifying the value of design in a multi-perspective and academically rigorous way, through case studies, will help build capacity and an appetite for innovation within public and third sector organisations.