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Design can cut crime

The director of the Design Against Crime Centre responds to Martyn Perks’ claim that designers are bowing down to the UK government’s authoritarian agenda.

Lorraine Gamman

Topics Politics

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Last month on spiked, designer Martyn Perks criticised designers who are working with the UK Home Office to create a society obsessed with ‘the threat of crime and violence. Here, Lorraine Gamman, director of the Design Against Crime Centre at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, responds.

Martyn Perks appears all over the road – literally – in his response to the design being used to cut bicycle crime.


caMden bike stand

He argues that ‘the main feature of the caMden is that it has more bends than your average bike stand, meaning there are more places to lock a bicycle against it’. This is not the point; the point is that the additional bends in the caMden stand (pictured on the right) deny the user the opportunity for insecure locking of the top tube of his bicycle to the stand.

Despite being called a ‘design consultant’, Perks also fails to comment on the aesthetic value of this street furniture, or the fact the M-stands promote locking practice more efficiently than the U-stands currently on the street, at a price that is not extortionate. Having failed to comment on this benchmark in design terms, Perks then says design against crime (DAC) is undoubtedly a good thing, but it will also make people feel powerless…

Has he ever had his bike or his identity nicked, I wonder? If he had, he might know what it means to experience powerlessness.

Perks questions the function and social worth of design. So do we. We have never claimed to be able to reverse the social causes of crime, but amazingly we do think that design can contribute more than another useless over-priced lemon squeezer to the world. Our aim at the Design Against Crime Centre is to strengthen individual liberty and movement, so that cyclists and those travelling about town feel, and are, less vulnerable.

This is the complete opposite of a top-down authoritarian state-led approach, yet Perks suggests designers are being brainwashed by the Home Office, or at least are being given ‘targets’ by government. Get real – the reason we started this work is because we think we should be able go to the pub and return home again with our wallet or bag, and without finding that our bikes have been stolen.

We already live in a society designed ‘around the threat of crime and violence’, which is how Perks describes the future under design ‘authoritarianism’. Has the fabulously streetwise Perks managed not to notice this? Where does he live? Our aim is to create precisely the opposite of this kind of society, and to encourage freedom for the individual, and design for users and against abusers.

We regard public space as belonging to the people not the state, and we are working with young and professional designers – not just the government – to make public space more accessible. If Perks doesn’t think this is common sense, then perhaps he needs to write less and get out more, and look at street life off the drawing board. The reason our centre has won a number of awards for innovation and design excellence is perhaps because we bring our own experiences into our design work, delivering design for the real world rather than simply pontificating about it.

Lorraine Gamman is director of the Design Against Crime Centre at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London.

Previously on spiked

Martyn Perks argued that we should swat the ‘Mosquito’ and ridiculed the emphasis on emotion in design. Frank Furedi argued that adults have lost the confidence to engage with ‘yoof’, a problem Stuart Waiton called ‘paedophobia’. Elsewhere Dolan Cummings asked why kids hanging around in hoodies has become a key focus for public policy? Or read more at spiked issue Anti-social behaviour.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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