Infographic showing four columns with text reading Discover,Define,Develop,Deliver. Below this is a dotted oval shape with two small hexagons on either side. The hexagon on the left reads Scope Challenge and an arrow facing right points towards an infinity shape going from gradiated yellow to gradiated pink. Vertical lines of text follow the gradiation lines. Another arrow points from the right end of the shape to the second hexagon that reads Evaluate
A number of our projects have been generated through an Open Innovation approach. Through working on diverse practice-led research projects for over 20 years that engage with “open innovation” (Chesbrough, 2003), the DACRL team has honed the processes and methodologies it employs linked to the understanding that “context is everything” and that design against crime needs to positively focus on what project partners want more of (thriving communities) as well as what all want less of (crime). Finding collaborative techniques to work with users and communities in democratic and holistic ways is at the heart of our work. Ultimately, to get design against crime responses fit for purpose. The toolbox of approaches we utilise draws on both theory and practice, as well as numerous methological approaches including co-design. Theory is also important in giving inspiration and rigour, but for DACRL it is always applied to actual practice. The experience of delivering design in partnership with communities is a key driving factor within our work.

DACRL’s methodology has evolved, but starts with a human-centred design approach which embraces the importance of designers talking to people who will regularly use the products, systems and services being created, often using techniques of ethnography.  Besides engaging with users, our methodology also facilitates co-production and engagement with those affordances that allow individuals or even communities to misuse and abuse products, systems and services, as well as other groups who experience the negative effects of designs prone to crime. Consequently, we have adapted the user-centred approach advocated by the design consultancy IDEO, but also include address to mis-users and abusers in order to design against crime. Our “open innovation” approach helps us work with partners who can give us access to the information we need. Regarding our crime focus a number of significant components help us understand the contexts we look at. These include:

︎︎︎Crime science is the application of scientific methods and knowledge from many disciplines to develop practical and ethical ways to reduce crime. The UCL Department of Security and Crime Science, collaborators on our Grippa project, documents some of these crime science processes and methodologies.

︎︎︎Engagement with Prof Paul Ekblom’s crime frameworks, many of which were developed during his time at DACRL, help us to understand best practice and share  crime prevention and community safety knowledge.

︎︎︎A focus on visualising perpetrator techniques. The phrase perpetrator techniques is primarily used by law enforcement officers and those from the crime prevention community to describe the characteristic ways criminals commit crime. It suggests that there are patterns and styles to how crimes are commonly committed. The phrase Modus Operandi (often abbreviated MO) meaning “mode of operation” is also used to mean something similar i.e. the habits or manner of working, the method of operating or functioning, usually but not exclusively applied to criminals. DACRL has led the field in trying to understand and document perpetrator techniques for two reasons. Firstly, individuals can familiarise themselves with how crime happens, and then figure out how to behave safely in public places where some scam crimes, for example, linked to bag, bike and ATM theft, are common. Secondly, and integral to our focus, is to visualise perpetrator techniques so designers can see what is going on to figure out how to design against them. 

︎︎︎A focus on crime scripts. By understanding perpetrator techniques we understand the criminal participant’s procedures and then try to find ways to disrupt them. The concept of script clashes between the procedures and routine practices of abusers and users, such as “conceal vs reveal”, is a further tool in our repertoire. The designer’s task is to produce products, places and systems that favour the legitimate user over the criminal.

Crime analysis, as above, is a common focus of our design approach but each project  brings with it different restraints and different design against crime strategies. Overall our design process and how we integrate this information can also be understood in relation to the Double Diamond framework developed by the Design Council in 2005. This is because our design engagement often cycles through similar stages of divergent thinking (i.e. exploration and experimentation) as well as convergent thinking (i.e. synthesis and refinement).

Our process is one where human-centred and participatory design approaches are adapted, depending on the project, to help the team understand and evidence lived experience and behaviour in the context of crime problems. So we engage with a broad range of multidisciplinary knowledge, as well as interdisciplinary creative techniques, and service and product design approaches and toolkits, to iteratively generate design responses. These help us better understand how individual users, as well as groups of users, or a community, might respond to a product, system or service, and to “think abuser” as well as look ‘‘sideways’ at crime problems. By focussing on abusers and misusers, as well as users, DACRL can also contribute to debates about sustainability.

Crime is not carbon neutral, and its effects are negative and complex, often compromising sustainability in many ways. These effects have been described by Gamman & Thorpe (2008) in terms of ecological, environmental, economic and social impact factors, including the “premature obsolescence” of objects which criminals damage or steal. Also the activities of legitimate users who may become victims of crime often results in them escalating their carbon footprint when needing to replace items stolen or damaged, often going for an “upgrade” on their insurance. Gamman and Thorpe argue that such effects of crime have impacts across society and compromise sustainability i.e ‘development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. 

As DACRL has matured, we have also come to recognise that crime issues often constitute wicked problems that are socially situated in complex ways. Research responses therefore require holistic approaches to ensure effective intervention delivery, that must embrace not just crime issues but multiple problem drivers. Consequently, where we can, our team looks beyond immediate crime datasets in order to understand and generate adequate design solutions, sometimes a sideways step that leads to reframing what at first glance might appear to be just a crime problem, but is actually much wider.

Chloe Griffith
Centre Manager
+44 (0) 20 7514 8537

Email :

Chryssi Tzanetou
Development Manager
+44 (0) 20 7514 8716

Email :
Design Against Crime Research Lab,
Central Saint Martins,
1 Granary Square,