Thank you to all of our members who nominated such intriguing questions for Lorraine Gamman, design educator and founder of the Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC).

DACRC is a practice-led research center working to prevent crime with well designed products, environments and services. Their team, based out of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, is a collaboration of artists, designers, criminologists and researchers.

In addition to founding DACRC, Lorraine is a design studies professor at the School of Graphic and Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, the vice chair of Designing Out Crime Association (DOCA), and an independent assessor for a variety of research councils. Lorraine has also authored publications on crime, design and visual culture.

An expert in her field, Lorraine is generating new applications of design in response to what is happening in society.

DESIGN 21 Members nominated questions to ask Lorraine and here are her responses:

With all the time you have spent thinking about designed objects that foil or frustrate criminals, do you ever think up designs to assist these acts? Is a splash of criminal-designer role-play a part of your process?

Yes. The short answer is on route to designing against crime it is appropriate to think about how to design for crime. The Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC) was set up partly because I took down the life story of Shirley Pitts, a professional shoplifter and was astonished at what I learned — how easy it was to shoplift. So I thought intelligent design, unlike “security” could make a difference and was inspired to do something. Given I taught product design in 1998-9, I had access to designers, so I created some new design briefs to try and get DAC off the ground. My point is/was — Shirley's foil lined carrier bag (design for crime) cost about 50p — and seems, even now, to be able to defeat billions of pounds worth of anti-shoplifting tagging technology and for that reason to me was ingenious. (Some of Shirley's story can be downloaded free from: http://www.goneshopping.org.uk/archive.html by the way.) So I encouraged the design team at CSM to think like thieves — and of course that involves role-play and thinking about products that could be used to aid crime.

According to Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby in Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects (Princeton Architectural Press 2001), people do this (think about criminal applications) all the time. My point is that wonky thinking and ingenuity are part of crime as well as design strategies — so the design team draws upon what I like to call the “dark side of creativity“ when thinking about crime in order to design against crime, and this is sometimes quite good fun. It also helps deliver DAC anti-crime products, systems and services. But the gift to getting it right is not just to “think thief” but also not to lose sight of the legitimate user whilst focusing on deterring the abuser... Getting the balance right in the final design requires real skill and ingenuity and shrewd understanding of the way people want to live. It is my opinion too many security products overkill deterring the abuser at the expense of the user — and so I set up DACRC to try and see the crime problem differently. To ensure secure design doesn't look or feel criminal means we have to avoid “vulnerability led design” and design instead for ease of use via secure interfaces, products and services to help deal with the unexpected without promoting fear i.e. build security “in” simply, not contort things to “add it on” afterwards I think our chairs and bags (Fig 1) and bike stands (Fig 2) — which make the user do something different to what they did before, are easy on the eye, easy to use and improve security for the user, without too much instruction or effort.

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Figure 1. Stop Thief! Chair © Design Against Crime

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Figure 2. DAC Bike Stands © Design Against Crime

How can we best walk the fine line of providing a secure environment by gathering information and intelligence without becoming Big Brother and infringing upon people's privacy? How do you see gps and cellphones as a part of the equation?

'Little Brother' is a project Adam Thorpe, the socially responsive designer who directs DACRC's Bikeoff.org initiative invented in 2004 to use CCTV in service not of the State but the average person, which is why we called it 'Little Brother'. Basically, the 'Little Brother' project aims to create a surveillance tool which enables cyclists to survey their own bike (and potentially those of fellow cyclists) from their computer screen or screen of other mobile devices — such as mobile phone or PDA — whilst engaging with other tasks (including screen-based in case of computers).

We are still waiting for the right opportunity to make this project happen i.e. we need a technology provider to give us some substantial kit to test our theories. Privacy issues have already been incorporated within the thinking about design requirements capture right from the start, rather than as an afterthought, so that the fine tradeoffs between privacy and security can be handled in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders, linked to the location we finally test with. Much of this is linked to camera VCR technologies which when combined with subject behavioral data (theft MO's) and location data (footprint of an individual bike) mean that cameras only record when someone is 'playing out' theft behavior patterns next to your bike. There is scope for false positives linked to someone tying their shoe lace right next to your bike or admiring your bike up close, but on the 8500-odd observations our team carried out around parked bikes we saw these non-abusive behaviors only very infrequently. To put it simply, the cameras don't work or relay to your mobile device unless someone is 'messing with your ride'. Adam and I think we could deliver this project — test the efficacy of our results and then share them with others via bikeoff.org — which offers a free online design resource for any designer who wants to design against bike crime (Fig 3). But I reckon, given how quickly technology is developing, that it is likely someone will beat us to delivery of this — and good luck to them — just share the results don't privatize them!

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Figure 3. bikeoff.org © Design Against Crime

What are your thoughts on consumer's entry into lowjack technology and integration into every day products — iPhone, laptops, backpacks, bikes, children/kids, et. al. Are there ways to make this technology more readily accessible and affordable. Is this an area lacking in open source availability?

Low jack is the opposite to hi jack — to load software onto a computer which tracks and traces the computers' location can offer a cheap anti-theft strategy, probably less time consuming and certainly compatible with keeping information on property registers, such as Immobilise. Immobilise helps police when lost or stolen objects are recovered, to find information about owners and to return them to their rightful owners, or to take them back off people who are using them without permission (Fig 4).

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Figure 4. Immobilise Ad © Design Against Crime

The trend towards 'ambient' or 'pervasive' computing means that many more everyday objects and systems in homes, on the move and in industry will have control and monitoring chips linked to the internet. This gives plenty of opportunity to insert security functions with little overhead. “Yes” to your question. Then there are ways to make such technology available to all electronic products that risk being stolen. “Hot products” in the next few years will come with such technology, as a matter of course, as the cost is becoming more affordable and the need to design out crime is now being perceived as something that is urgently linked to sustainability. (Crime is not carbon neutral and dealing with it uses up considerable resources.)

The Apple iPhone has useful anti-theft track and trace technology on it already. The UK's Design Council/ Technology Strategy Board — (catalyzed by the Home Office) have recently run a competition for track and trace mobile phone software — to help people locate stolen mobile phones more effectively — I had hoped this competition would make the anti theft software developed from public funding available as “open source” systems, but on reading about the winning entries, I see that this anti theft phone software being developed will be the property of the individual companies who invent it, and their “market ready” business strategies — which is a great pity, in my opinion. To change the world we need for such technology to be open source and easily available to everyone, not just those who can afford security protection... but these projects are going in the right direction.

As more of our (US) population reaches retirement age, seniors are more prone to be easier targets. Can you give some examples where security features in a product can overlap with aiding in the safety of an ageing population? Not just talking about universal design in product development to assist in the safety of elderly/baby boomer population; could some of these devices parallel with security and crime prevention as dual product capabilities?

I think you are onto something there and no, I don't have examples of products that specifically address the 'secure and inclusive' design question that you raise – though the UK's “Neighbourhood Watch” is a service design concept that has proven to be amongst the most effective in the UK at reducing crime and it has a disproportionate number of 'seniors' within its members.

Research has shown that as people get older they become more fearful. Some seniors are targets of crime (such as bag snatching or fraudulent visits by pretend utility visitors) and dealing with an ageing population regarding crime issues is as much about encouraging people to go out and feel safe in their communities, as it is about encouraging them to use secure products, systems and services. I like the way some of the service design projects I have reviewed take what we call “care not scare” approaches and have reduced crime by involving seniors more centrally in community life (see: http://www.southwarkcircle.org.uk ) and that to me is more significant than “dual product capabilities” although design that addresses multiple drivers, or design that is inclusive of sometimes paradoxical user scenarios is something we work with a lot. For example, some of the anti-bike theft bike stand designs we have been involved in have been celebrated as being better looking and more secure on street — so secure and inclusive is certainly an objective that we'd pursue.

Technology, of course, may be of use to seniors too. I can see in the future all products will automatically contain more web linked objects — from letter boxes that have their own email address to doors that can register a range of web linked information and responses — and this could be manufactured to help reduce crime but it needs a very clear link back to service design and people management. Application of technology in response to need rather than “just because we can” — i.e. in in response to problems looking for solutions rather than solutions looking for problems — is the way forward. This is especially important in terms of design against crime as “a solution looking for a problem”, to achieve commercial gain,  can fuel social anxieties and elevate fear of crime, which is not helpful to communities.

Monitoring/surveillance technology can be used as an amplifier and an efficiency filter for scarce and expensive human response capacity. For example, most conventional burglar alarms today are highly inefficient, with over 90% of calls being false. But alarms whose first response is to send your phone or work computer a picture of your home (with or without burglars) are potentially far more efficient — and reassuring. But we need to connect it to the human touch too.

Ultimately I am pessimistic about the short-term future in getting such potentially interactive technology right in public space for seniors to experience address the “dual capacity” you talk about. The reality is that Britain has 1/10th of all the world's CCTV — and I am not sure this is much use to elderly in reducing their fears — it needs far more discerning adaptation. Technology is as good as the people managing it, and what we all need, seniors included, is real people, in real jobs, who can respond to technology prompts from CCTV when they are in trouble. In the end technology must be linked to a human resource; and also we have to find ways to ensure seniors can manage and use it, so education has a role to play too before we can anticipate best use of dual capacity.

Maybe this is an area DAC should be looking at in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre? Where are you based? Do you have a specialism in this area? If so get in touch.

How does the future of crime awareness and prevention (and your research) include the civic involvement and grassroots efforts that have historically been in place: milk boxes for missing children, Neighborhood Watch, McGruff the Crime Dog, the campaigns for and against the 2nd Amendment in the US and gun violence globally, and to some extent the crimes related to abortion...etc.

To answer your question directly I would point to the a huge amount of 'natural', everyday crime prevention undertaken by ordinary householders and workers (as documented by Marcus Felson in his book 'Crime And Everyday Life'), ranging from the good neighbor who keeps an eye on the house next door to the shopkeeper who alternates the direction of coat hangers to stop 'steamers' seizing and running off with armfuls of leather jackets. Some of this natural or even naive prevention actually works, some is inefficient, some is positively harmful (for example where prejudices or vigilantism are involved). Tapping into it, in the spirit of co-design, can improve and extend it and direct it away from harm and lead to social innovation. So to answer your questions perhaps I need to explain what DACRC are doing to encourage social innovation. In order to prevent crime we need ingenious systems and services — that serve the community and actually reduce or prevent crime. The Audi foundation are just about to launch a new competition in September 2009 that will put out a call out for projects that invite social innovation — and the DACRC have been involved in delivering the crime theme, i.e. asking for projects that create innovation that aims to reduce the incidence or adverse consequences of crime, or lead to social enterprises that may reduce the likelihood of crime or offending/re-offending through their activities; also to create a call for socially responsive design or products, environments and services that aim to reduce the opportunities and/or adverse consequences of crime through their widespread provision and/or use.

I think designers have a contribution to make to civic or social innovation by creating projects and social enterprises that provide alternatives and to include the otherwise socially excluded. I think the work of the Delancy Foundation, in USA for example, is remarkable.

Is it about Design for protecting the rich? Can Design prevent crime without taking in account what leads someone into a criminal life? Without promoting better quality of life to poor people?

DAC does not want simply to protect the rich but I can see some security systems create fortresses or castle enclosures and estates for the privileged. This is not right — for communities to flourish we need to embrace ideas about inclusion and permeability.

But the problem with permeable space is that a lot of crime is opportunistic, so if we open up all our boundaries we also have to anticipate some problems. Situational Crime Prevention considers opportunities, not just criminals, to be the root cause of crime (Felson and Clarke 1998) — and so when we design against crime — we look to find ways to create secure permeability, not just to prevent prolific thieves doing their worse, but also to stop the average person being tempted because the authorities or individuals seem to be “giving it away” — ultimately thus reducing the number of those that end up in prison. A group of criminologists called the 'left realists' came to acknowledge that in fact, many of the victims of crime are not the rich but ordinary and especially poor people, so building in crime resistance can help those that most need it — including out our students who regularly get bags and bikes stolen.

Ultimately I see crime as something that robs people and communities of the freedom to be everything they could be, given equal opportunities. One of the things that influenced me personally to be “against crime” is living on estates that were badly designed. Having a richer picture of the causes of offender motivation and emotion (such as conflict from badly-designed pedestrian flows leading to collisions between commuters) can actually give a greater steer, and greater scope, for design interventions. We may not be able to influence long-term child development but changing the fabric of environments whose insensitive poor design pressures or provokes crime is something where designers can rethink the account and try to make a difference. Communication design has a role to play too. Some of us have grown up around people who suggest engaging with crime is about being smart (rather than stupid), a way of making “easy” money. But it's not easy for the poor to make significant money from crime (the rich are better at this and less penalized) and more communication about this can't be a bad thing. Finding out from Piers Paul Read who did the actual sums (in his book The Train Robbers, London: W. H Allen/Secker & Warburg 1979) that the great majority of criminals, for example, the British “great train robbers” would have had much better lives (would have seen their families more and made more money) as window cleaners or plumbers, made things clear to me personally. It is not a popular message as the anarchy of crime, and the myths about it are so persuasive and powerful, but the reality is that few poor people who end up becoming criminals make money or do well at it really (with the exception perhaps of prolific criminals). Instead, they get caught, end up in a depressing prison cycle and it compromises so much for them, it actually robs them and often their children too of so many other chances.

DAC tries to make it harder for thieves by blocking opportunities for crime in the first place, trying to protect those who can't afford to lose their belongings (we have tended to work on crimes against the person more than property). As our center matures we are keen to find ways to engage with service design to figure out too how to help those who end up in prison, avoid it or recover from it in the future. The largest numbers of dyslexics are found in prison and art school — perhaps art schools who have helped dyslexics function as artists and designers have a contribution to make i.e. can offer different learning strategies that can be shared with those who end up in prison. I am thinking about this and have no answers or even clear strategies at present, just some intuitions about how to go forward.

I also have some dreams and wishes. I would like to see an artist or designer in residence on every social housing estate in Britain — and in every prison — we/they are examples of alternative ways of being and living — making things — making social meanings — to survive. I believe this creative way of life can be as exciting or as compelling as criminal activity, enables people to break rules, to experience excitement, to be passionate (but about something other than simply making money) without the negativity that crime brings. Although I do accept criminals can be creative too in their work, I just think there are better ways to be creative. Also that, and that criminals get too much positive PR…not least because in films and other forms of representations they get most of the glamor i.e. to wear the best clothes, drive the best cars, get the best looking or most interesting lovers, break all the rules and and to engage with more excitement than the rest of us. No wonder crime is so popular...

Posted September 03, 2009