From organisational vision to digital execution: re-considering the strategy, design and development of the Design Council’s digital presence


Since 2013, we’ve been working with Design Council to help demonstrate the value of design using the power of digital. 

“Numiko took the time to really understand our organisation, its context and what our audiences want from us. This enabled them to design and build something that isn't just a website but a platform for the future of our organisation.” — Greg Eden, Digital Communications Manager, Design Council

There’s a sizeable gap between knowing what you’re trying to achieve as an organisation and launching a new digital ‘product’. The bit in between consists of bringing stakeholders together to share ideas and prioritise, engaging users, technical scoping and market testing ideas. The end result is a well-considered specification for change that’s rooted in user need and has buy-in from across the organisation.

As an organisation that has undergone a significant change from arms-length governing body to innovative, independent and sustainable charity, Design Council knew that it was time to really take stock and fundamentally re-think how it presented its services and how it demonstrated the value of design to a disparate and critical audience.

Before we could think about setting ourselves a creative brief or planning information architecture, we needed to understand more about the potential users; their information needs, expectations, motivations and frustrations. We also needed to know what Design Council wanted those audiences to see/think/feel/do, both now and five years into the future.

Design Council exists to champion the transformative power of design, which means that they understand the value of the ‘user’ in ‘user-centred design’. So, together we embarked on a period of user engagement; the results of which would have far-reaching implications beyond the scope of our digital project. We spent almost 6 months simply talking to people, figuring out who the users of Design Council services were, what their perceptions of design were, what the barriers to engagement were, where the commercial opportunities lay, and how best to harness the credibility of Design Council's brand digitally. 

Getting to know Design Council

We met with senior stakeholders and spoke to individuals within each business unit to help us understand the subtleties of their hopes, expectations and drivers for the project. In parallel, we spent several weeks conducting a series of user engagement activities; including workshops with Design Associates and Built Environment Experts, in-depth telephone interviews with policymakers and representatives from the design community, as well as online surveys for some hard-to-reach user groups.

Who is our audience?

We identified 48 distinct audiences across 7 manageable categories and produced a representative persona for each. We grouped requirements from across all personas to define functionality and content requirements for the new site. This meant that during the design and development phases of our work we had a practicable group of reference points to inform our direction of travel.

Using online testing software Treejack, we tested our proposed Information Architecture on a wide audience that represented that of the Design Council, from architects to brand strategists and town planners. We analysed how effective results were against set tasks, and iterated the IA based on this data.

Defining our vision

We created a definitive set of design principles to ensure that we were all striving towards the same vision; leading to a consistent and coherent experience throughout the site.

  • Focus on content: reduce interface debris and focus on the delivery of content.
  • Make it simple: functionality should be designed to be entirely intuitive and obvious.
  • Embrace less is more: strive to achieve the same functionality through as few visual elements as possible without sacrificing clarity.
  • Be consistent: use consistent design patterns to reduce user thinking time.
  • Think about context: design patterns as fluid elements that can adapt to all screen sizes.
  • Be bold and confident: use big imagery and typography to convey messages.
  • Be accessible: accessible design is good design.

Building upon Strategy

We used the findings from the strategic planning phase to inform the design and build process of the site. To find out more about that, follow the link below.

Design Council: Design and Build

A Long-Term Partnership

What we’d created together at the end of this strategic planning stage was a wealth of insight upon which to base digital and other business decisions, as well as a shared understanding of what we were trying to achieve. This activated the start of an organisational shift towards placing digital at the heart of operations.

We’ve carried this user-centred approach into future phases of our work together including the design and development of a new European Design and Innovation platform, Design for Europe.

Our continuing strategic relationship has meant that we’ve been able to iterate on the flexible platform we created originally, providing long-term value.