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Design for Safety – Protecting Lives from the Start

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation has published its most recent Foresight Review, which investigates the role of design in safety. The principal investigator for the research was the Royal College of Art’s Dean of the School of Design, Professor Paul Anderson. He led the project with co-chairs Professor Rachel Cooper and Chris Ross, and co-investigators from the RCA School of Design Professor Ashley Hall and Dr Laura Ferrarello.

A panel of international experts from industry, academia, government, regulators and representative bodies assembled in London in February 2018 for a two-day symposium, followed by a more focused event in March 2018. The resulting Foresight Review explores how a culture of design for safety can enhance the safety of the world around us.

Legislation, regulation and standards all play an important role for established products and services, however design for safety goes beyond their limited scope through introducing a broader perspective. Design for safety culture takes a holistic approach to understanding the influences that affect safety, considering the broader environment within which design operates including complex interactions, behaviour and culture.

‘This report is the first of its kind and represents an important sea change in how design for safety is being thought about,’ commented Professor Anderson. ‘The future in terms of design, innovation and technology is impacting greatly on all our lives in very complex ways. We recognise that the future risk to people and their safety can come from surprising areas arising from technology itself through to virtual unseen threats delivered though devices and the environment we live in.’

‘At the RCA we continually challenge designers within their many disciplines to think of the longer term impacts on society, human behaviour and interaction,’ he continued. ‘Design for Safety demands that we investigate new safety challenges of the future, develop methods and skills and establish clear principles for future ethics and modes of design for safety practice.’

The review’s findings highlight the importance of multidisciplinary teams working together to understand a broader range of safety risks than traditionally considered; an example of which includes design that takes into account how people both affect, and are affected by, design. An important finding is that the introduction of new technology and emerging industries bring with them risks that are not well understood or even unknown. A design-for-safety culture is needed to make sure that these risks are controlled before they are able to cause harm.

Lloyd’s Register Foundation is a UK charity that funds the advancement of engineering-related education and research, and supports work that enhances safety of life and property. The charity promotes scientific excellence and acts as a catalyst working with others to achieve maximum impact and makes a tangible difference in improving the safety of the critical infrastructure on which modern society relies.

Commenting on the Foundation’s latest initiative, Professor Richard Clegg, Foundation Chief Executive, said: ‘Our charitable mission of enhancing safety through high technical standards that includes design. Design shapes our daily lives and the world around us, yet we are often unaware of its presence. This review starts a new discussion in the design community on how design can be safer.’

The Foresight Review builds on previous ground-breaking work by designers studying at the RCA, who took up the Foundation’s Safety Grand Challenge to look at ways that design-led innovation can bring new lifesaving design solutions to safety at sea and on rivers. The RCA looks forward to working further with Lloyds Foundation to conduct high level research in the broader context of Design for Safety in an international context.

Find out more about research projects in the School of Design.

Copies of the Design for Safety foresight review can be downloaded here.