Design makes public services more effective

For most of us, design is invisible. Until it fails.

Bruce Mau, Massive Change, 2005

Public services have a direct effect on our quality of life. As aspirations of Irish people grow, the ability of public services to satisfy their needs reduces. Experience around the world shows us that the answer is not simply to throw money at the problem.

Photo of Transmilenio inBogotá, Columbia

Transmilenio, Bogotá, Columbia. Source: Peter Danielsson. WRI Features. Managing Editor: Peter Denton.

Case Study: Columbia

In Bogotá, Columbia, just two years since the re-design of Transmilenio, the newly designed BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system, there have been radical improvements in mobility and overall quality of life: decreases in travel time for users (32%), violent crime city-wide (50%), traffic accidents (80%), number of fatalities cause by traffic accidents (30%), and noise pollution (30%); and an increase in time spent by mothers and fathers with their children (37%).

Design thinking can play a tangible role in delivering improved effectiveness within the public sector by focusing services on the needs of users. Simply redesigning a form can have a huge impact; when the UK Post Office redesigned its Change of Address Service form, completion went from 87% incorrect to 90% correct.

Case Study: Irish Revenue

In 2005, the Irish Revenue’s on-line service received an award for the re-design of its online services. The eGovernment award was within the ‘impact’ category, measuring the benefit of the service to citizens, business and government. 65% of timely filers used the system, up from 9% in 2002. Online payment of tax increased by €500 million over 2004. The service has allowed administration to redeploy staff to important compliance and investigative work.

Impact is best measured in terms of productivity, an area that is notoriously difficult to influence within public services. For example, research conducted by the NHS in the UK that shows that a well-designed therapeutic environment speeds up patient recovery by 14% on average.i

Undertaking true reform of public services in Ireland can be accelerated through the effective use of design to align those services with the needs of users. Such a shift would also act as a spur to private sector suppliers to innovate, thereby capturing wider markets for their goods and services.ii

  • i “How Design can help Public Services”, UK Design Council, 2006
  • ii “The Journey to the Interface”, Demos, 2006


Why is design important? Our research shows Irish companies that value design innovate more often. Not only that, but Irish companies that value design innovate more successfully. And those companies that integrate design more strategically within their organisations experience greater demand for their goods and services.


What is design innovation? Many people are describing the same thing by different names and we want to create a common language around design innovation, thinking and practice.


This isn’t rocket science but it is the next ‘big thing’. Understanding your users provides context for your innovation efforts and leads to greater success in the marketplace. Our practical programmes can help make you more competitive.


We are here to help. There is also a broader network of support for you and your organisation. And if you’re still not convinced of design’s impact on innovation, see how other individuals, organisations and countries are competing through design.