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Design Against Crime

Design Against Crime and Social Marketing: 

Suggestions for Future Collaboration and Inter-Disciplinary Interaction

This essay aims to overview and define the role that Design Against Crime (DAC) and social marketing hold as disciplines for influencing desired behaviours and as agents of social change through examining their tools for informing policy and fostering sustainable behaviour. Ultimately, this essay seeks to provide an understanding and exploration into how DAC and social marketing are currently working, and could potentially work further— both independently and collaboratively— to reduce crime and improve social wellbeing. 

Design Against Crime (DAC)

In essence, DAC is about drawing attention to the role that product, communication, interior, environmental and even fashion design can have in crime prevention. It is a part of the broad shift within design from a two-dimensional perspective, which focuses on aesthetics and economism, towards a three-dimensional approach that also embraces broader themes of social relevance (Davey, Wootton, Cooper and Press, 2005). DAC embraces an inclusive and holistic vision for design as a critical force for influencing social policy; aiming to grapple with much wider issues than its established role of enhancing industrial competitiveness through encouraging designer’s of all disciplines to use their skills to prevent crime and promote social inclusion.  

Initiated by the UK Home Office, the Design Council and the Department for Trade and Industry, the focus of DAC is on design thinking, the design process and design practice in all its forms (Davey et al, 2005). Its main responsibility lies in highlighting the more subtle and innovative ways in which to tackle incidence of crime and reduce the public’s fear of crime. Design’s heritage makes it uniquely positioned for fulfilling this role; through design’s focus on meeting user needs and requirements through a deep understanding of human behaviour, attitudes and emotions in relation to the context of a unique problem to be solved. DAC encourages and motivates the involvement of design professionals, aiming to embed a systematic shift away from the acceptance of the retro-fitting of security devices, towards the creation of holistic ‘design solutions’; building bridges between “both commercial objectives and those of public policy” (Press, Erol, Cooper and Thomas, 2000). Fundamentally, DAC is about taking a ‘human centred’ approach towards the prevention of crime and reducing the public’s feelings of insecurity— in which good design solutions are innovative and subtle, while also being uniquely crafted to suit their specific context. 

Design does not have to be about social control. Rather, the skills of people-centred designers can be used to understand the requirements of communities and innovative for the benefit of society.
— Davey, Cooper, Press, Wootton and Olson, 2002, p.9

DAC extends the scope of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), towards a position in which an emphasis is placed on the need for a broadening of thinking and an extension of practice in all design disciplines by professionals in the addressing of crime issues. CPTED research and application largely focusses on the built environment, promoting methods of ‘natural surveillance’; combining psychological, behavioural and learning theories with a focus on altering the physical environment to reduce criminal opportunities— with limited consideration towards the social environment or the individual (Davey et al., 2005, p.41). CPTED asserts that “the proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime, and an improvement in the quality of life” (Crowe, 2000, p.46). DAC expands on CPTED’s approach by shifting emphasis away from the built environment, towards an understanding of the contribution of product, interior, graphic and other design disciplines to crime prevention. Through DAC’s collaborative and inter-disciplinary approach, it brings design professionals from a range of disciplines into contact with established crime prevention networks, “such as the UK and European Designing Out Crime Associations (DOCA-UK and E-DOCA)” (Davey et al., 2005, p.40).

DAC promotes a holistic, human-centred approach, where the aim is to incorporate crime prevention measures into the design concept without inconveniencing the user or creating the perception of fortress society. In doing so it extends the scope of CPTED approaches such as the UK’s ‘Secured by Design’ scheme beyond the built environment.
— Davey et al, 2005, p.39

Davey et al. (2005) outline four main approaches to crime prevention with relation to design: 


  • “Police-led approaches, where theories developed by criminologists, social scientists and urban theorists inform design decisions to reduce crime. This includes CPTED in the US and Designing Out Crime (DOC) in Europe, as well as accreditation schemes such as SBD in the UK and Police Label Secured Housing in the Netherlands.
  • Spatial analysis-led approaches, where researches use geographic information systems (GIS) and ‘space syntax’ to analyse the characteristics of urban space and its implications for crime prevention, alongside a range of other factors.
  • Planning-led approaches, where high level, comprehensive planning approaches, such as ‘New Urbanism’, promote design forms aimed at improving the vitality and quality of the urban environment and, in so doing, increasing safety. 
  • Community-focused initiatives, which aim to design in opportunities for participation in community and job creating activities (e.g. sports facilities, training for employment, etc.)” (p.40)

The first three of these approaches are based on principles of ‘situational crime prevention’, in which intervention occurs through the design of products, services, environments and systems with an intention to reduce their vulnerability to crime and opportunity for crimes to take place— intervening in the causal mechanisms in the immediate circumstances of the criminal event (Ekblom, 2001). Through adapting the management or design of crime’s immediate environment, the perceived risk or effort required to commit crime is increased, rewards are reduced or triggers are removed. Typically, situational crime prevention needs a short time to implement and have an impact, which amongst other benefits can prevent a runaway growth in crime (Ekblom, 1998); meaning that removing temptation may have a 'multiplier' effect if it prevents crimes which are typically the entry to a criminal career, such as shop-lifting or vehicle crime (Design Council, 2000).

DAC can be viewed as a subset of situational crime prevention through its efforts to intervene and pre-empt the causal factors and misuse of products (Ekblom, 2002). Notably, DAC literature argues that designers must consider the potential for their designs to be misused or abused (Davey et al., 2005); not only thinking about the user, but also the potential abuser or misuser. DAC aims to increase appreciation of the impact naïve design solutions can have in leading to the criminal misappropriation of seemingly ‘innocent’ objects, ultimately leading to said product facilitating a criminal act; e.g. spray paint used for vandalism. Clarke (2003) calls these misappropriated objects “criminogenic” products. 

DAC encourages a more empathetic and holistic approach that considers not only the potential misuse and abuse of products and environments, but aesthetics and human sensory experience.
— Town et al., 2003, cited in Davey et al., 2005, p. 44.


Elementally, DAC accepts the fact that crime is the product of a reciprocal relationship in the interaction between motives and opportunity (Felson and Clarke, 1998)— and it is DAC’s duty to sell this notion. As a growing body of research has demonstrated, whenever temptations and opportunities increase so does crime. Unfortunately, “most ordinary people and most politicians find this difficult to accept” (Clarke, 2004, p.3).


Even so, the modification of products to reduce criminal opportunity and design out misuse produces a paradoxical cycle, as criminals continuously find new ways to exploit the product and new measures must be introduced (Ekblom, 1999). Ultimately, design faces an intense innovative requirement for adaptation and sustainability, because “although design embodies cultural evolution, its individual products, once they leave the factory or are erected on a building site, are largely fixed— like the anatomy of mature organisms. As such, it is only a matter of time before criminals find ways round them or social and technological change pass them by” (Ekblom, 2002, p.165). Criminologists, such as Ken Pease (2001), refer heavily to this cyclical process of innovation and obsolescence in the fight against crime, with the long term crime rate ultimately being determined by which side (preventers or offenders) is innovating and deploying the fastest. Markedly, “a ‘crime harvest’ can occur when criminals benefit from the relatively slow reaction times of government and industry to innovations in the marketplace (mobile phone theft is a good example of this)” (Gamman and Hughes, 2003, p.38). 

Designers are trained to anticipate many things: the needs and desires of users, environmental impacts, ergonomics and so on. It it they who are best places to anticipate the crime consequences of products and services, and to gain the upper hand in the technological race against crime.
— Pease, 2001, p.27

It is important to note that modifying products to prevent crime is not a new practice, nor a new idea. At the end of the 17th century, milled edges were introduced for silver coins to stop people from clipping the edges to collect enough silver to make new coins (Ekblom, 1997). In principle, the crime-proofing of products is well a established practice. However, when it is consumers, not the businesses or manufacturers, who are the victims of the criminal act, there has often been a reluctance towards taking action in order to prevent it. 

DAC promotes the idea of designing crime reduction measures into products; shifting focus towards producing secure products, rather than settling and relying on the use of ‘add on’ security products. DAC shifts responsibility onto manufacturers, because if their products, systems and procedures can in fact cause crime, then they have a public duty to take account of this (Hardie and Hobbs, 2002). In conjunction with this, “a few manufacturers are starting to recognise that, if theft results in loss of consumer confidence, in the long term this could far outweigh the benefit of short-term repeat purchase profits” (Gamman and Hughes, 2003, p.37).

Furthermore, the use of ‘add on’ products places the consumer in to two stages of purchase and shifts the burden of responsibility onto the user. Davey et al. (2005) found that crime prevention measures that put a heavy burden on the user are often ineffective. Additionally, add on (or ‘retro-fit’) solutions are often condemned as ugly and cumbersome, because they aim to solve an issue that has arisen through the failure of designers to anticipate the vulnerability of their product to crime. Ultimately, a holistic design solution must be provided to users, with crime prevention considered as a primary concern and design problem to be tackled. A positive design solution “promotes crime resistance, consumer satisfaction and helps design out crime” (Gamman and Hughes, 2003, p.36), while also considering the wider objectives of accessibility, ease-of-use and attractiveness. 

The DAC process— in it’s simplest— goes beyond the implied rules and standard solutions of crime prevention and takes an empathetic and holistic approach toward ‘thinking thief’; in order to “anticipate potential offenders’ actions, understand their tools, knowledge and skills and incorporate attack testing into the design process” (Town et al., 2003). Designers must take a ‘sideways’ look at products from the point of view of a non-typical or undesirable user, such as an adaptive criminal, to “short circuit” the potential offenders behaviour in order to understand the causal mechanisms that underpin crime— but “without reducing the design’s value to legitimate users, increasing fear of crime, creating social problems, or causing the seriousness of the crime to escalate” (Davey et al., 2005, p. 44). The intervening hand of the designer should be invisible, so that vulnerability-led responses do not contribute to paranoid “fortress aesthetics” (Gamman and Thorpe, 2008)— detracting from enjoyment of the public realm and human well-being. Many solutions have demonstrated that user-friendliness and security are not mutually exclusive, for example central locking in cars is convenient, useful and secure.

Case Study: Ideo Shopping Cart

I have selected the Ideo Shopping Cart to illustrate the ability of designers to improve the crime resistance of everyday products through the reduction of the potential for misuse and misappropriation. The shopping cart is a prime example of how user-friendliness and security can be balanced; showing the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive objectives. 

Shopping trolley theft is a fairly common occurrence in the United States. Insight for the People, a U.S. government publication, reports that over 1.8 million trolleys are stolen in the U.S. every year. With prices running from $100 to $300 per trolley, the cost to stores, and ultimately to consumers, runs to $175,000,000 annually. Thus, theft has become more than just a mere nuisance to many businesses.
— Olson, R. (n.d.)

Although not the only issue, theft was identified as a key problem to be tackled in creation of the prototype. Through their research, the design team identified two key reasons for shopping cart theft:

  1. Homeless people would frequently use the carts as rolling closets— “The deep basket and the mobility of the shopping trolley make it an attractive and affordable way for homeless people to transport their worldly goods” (Olson, R., n.d);
  2. The basket’s metal grating makes for a convenient barbecue grill.

Therefore, the challenge for the design team became how to avoid misappropriation of the product by eliminating this unintended functionality, without rendering the shopping trolley less effective for its intended users— while also improving the user experience with respect to shopping practices, safety, searching and paying for goods. 

Clark (1999) identifies six characteristics of “hot” products, on which thefts are heavily concentrated, to explain why they are ‘CRAVED’ by thieves. “Hot” products are:

  • Concealable;

  • Removable;

  • Available;

  • Valuable;

  • Enjoyable;

  • Disposable.

Looking at the traditional shopping cart, it is apparent that it’s an easily removable item (due to it’s mobility), while also being highly available, disposable and valuable to it’s misusers. In order to create a more subtle— less disruptive— design solution, the team aimed to reduce the shopping carts enjoyability and make it less valuable to potential misusers. 

I order to achieve this, the team integrated their anti-theft solution by doing away with the deep metal basket— instead developing a trolley comprised of a series of plastic baskets. The removable baskets allowed shoppers to leave their trolley at the end of an aisle, walk down the aisle to collect items, then return and reattach the basket to their trolley. After checkout, the baskets would be stacked by the till and the shopping bags would be attached to the trolley via a series of hangers. This removed the need to take anything but the frame of the cart outside of the store for loading into the shoppers vehicle. In this reduced state, “the newly designed shopping trolley would neither serve as a good storage device nor a good barbecue grill” (Olson, R., n.d.). 

The design of the cart can be used as an exemplar case of how a product can be designed to avoid criminal misappropriation, while also increasing its value to legitimate users, without increasing the fear of crime, creating added social problems, or causing the seriousness of the crime to escalate (Davey et al., 2005, p.44).

Social Marketing: Community-Based Approach

The aforementioned, interventionist approaches towards crime prevention aim to act as agents for change that largely bypass the intractable social problems that lie at the root of crime. Therefore, situational prevention methods are often implemented alongside community-based schemes, which aim to address social issues and intervene in the socialisation of criminality. This is often done through designing in opportunities for participation in the community and the creation of jobs; through sports facilities, employment training schemes etc. (Davey et al, 2005). It is in this undertaking that I believe social marketing is an invaluable tool and plays a pivotal role.

Social marketing can be described as the use of commercial marketing concepts and tools in the design of programs that aim to influence voluntary behaviour change in target audiences in order to achieve social objectives (Andreason, 2006). Social marketing differs from commercial marketing in one fundamental respect; “In the commercial sector, the primary aim is selling goods and services that will produce a financial gain for the corporation. In social marketing the primary aim is influencing behaviours that will contribute to societal gain” (Lee and Kotler, 2011, p.14). In this respect, the main ‘competitors’ to social marketing are not organisations with a similar market offering, but instead can be viewed as the current, accepted or preferred behaviour of the target audience (and the organisations that encourage the undesired behaviour; e.g. the tobacco industry). 

Social marketing is an approach used to develop activities aimed at changing or maintaining people’s behaviour for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole.
— National Social Marketing Centre, 2010

Despite these differences, Lee and Kotler (2011, p.15-16) identify some key similarities between commercial and social marketing models, notably: 

  • Customer orientation is key;
  • Exchange theory (perceived benefit is greater than perceived cost) is fundamental;
  • Marketing research is used throughout in order to inform the process;
  • Audiences are segmented;
  • All 4P’s (product, price, promotion and place) are considered;
  • Results are measured and used for improvement. 

In order to facilitate an exchange, the process works to communicate with and engage key groups (segments) in the translation of evidence-based knowledge in a way that enables key players to take action in modifying behaviours in order to achieve the best outcomes for all parties involved (Homel and Carrell, 2009). In translation of evidence-based knowledge, social marketing suggests that potential victims (of health issues, criminal activity etc.) could be more readily persuaded to adopt improved protective behaviours if these could be conveyed in a soundly researched and efficient manner.

One of the most well developed and empirically grounded frameworks for systematically analysing and implementing a process for transferring evidence-based knowledge into action can be found within the principles of the social marketing approach, a strategy common in the public health field with evidence of effectiveness across a range of health behaviours (Stead et al, 2007).
— Homel and Carrell, 2009, p.2

The marketing approach places a core focus on formative research in order to gain a deep understanding of the audience’s perspective on the issues being targeted and to frame what is being promoted in a away that engages this audience, while always aiming to meet their needs (Homel and Carrell, 2009). Additionally, “careful consideration of environmental mediators and potential facilitators of the promoted behaviour are also strong features of social marketing strategies” (Homel and Carrell, 2009, p.1). Essentially, the social marketing approach “represents a way of thinking, problem solving and generating strategies that will resonate with the life experiences of the target audience with whom they have been developed” (Homel and Carrell, 2009, p.3). It is not education only, persuasion only, or social advertising only; it is human-centred and societally driven.

Unfortunately, areas like crime prevention and environmental change are still lacking in social marketing research and case studies when compared to areas such as health promotion (Dahl, 2010). To a great degree, social marketing’s approach shares many similarities with that of DAC— largely divided by semantics— and there is great potential in the application of social marketing principles towards crime prevention.

As an alternative to information-intensive campaigns, community-based social marketing has emerged as a pragmatic and more effective way of fostering sustainable behaviour change. This approach consists of five steps (McKenzie-Mohr, 2011): 

  1. Selecting behaviours to be promoted;
  2. Identifying barriers and benefits associated with the behaviour; 
  3. Developing strategies that utilise behaviour-change tools to address identified barriers and benefits;
  4. Piloting the strategy on a small part of the community; 
  5. Broad-scale implementation and evaluation.

Within community-based campaigns, the social diffusion of ideas is recognised as a key component of ensuring a behaviour is adopted and sustained (Aronson and Gonzales, 1990). Furthermore, McKenzie-Mohr (2011, p.75) concludes that the adoption and sustainability of a new behaviour, or innovation, pivots on six key factors: 

  • Relative advantage over the behaviour to be replaced;
  • Perceived risk the behaviour puts on financial loss or social disapproval;
  • Complexity of the new behaviour;
  • Compatibility with the audiences values;
  • ‘Trialability' (can the behaviour be trailed before making a long term commitment?);
  • Observability of the behaviour to others.

With regards to DAC, the social diffusion of benefits in crime reduction is an area that has extensively shown that situational crime prevention methods can have positive secondary impacts outside the primary target areas (Guerette, 2009; Clarke and Weisburd, 1994). Furthering it’s current multi-disciplinary position, I believe that DAC should make efforts to broaden it’s professional network in order to further collaborate with social marketing professionals. Expanding the appreciation of social diffusion theories on reducing crime could potentially serve to increase the adoption of protective behaviours, further consumer acceptance and demand for crime-reducing products and services and help tackle the socialisation of criminality. Additionally, community-based social marketing’s methods for identifying and targeting critical audiences could increase effectiveness and enhance the diffusion of deterrent and discouragement processes (Clarke and Weisburd, 1994)— exponentially reducing crime through targeting its root causes.

How can DAC and social marketing collaborate further for mutual benefit?

In exploring DAC and social marketing, it is clear to see that both disciplines have many shared attributes, approaches and processes, but also have much that they could teach one another. Both in their pragmatism and values, DAC and social marketing appear to be well suited allies in achieving their respective mission statements. Despite this, they’re level of interaction appears to be limited.

Currently, DAC and marketing cooperation appears largely limited to communications strategies that predominantly focus on raising awareness of crime and boosting deterrent effects. An example of this is communication strategies that aim to inform cyclists how thieves steal bikes with the aim of helping them defend against thieves by registering their bike, using appropriate locks and improving their locking practice (Gamman and Thorpe, 2008). These campaigns have positive effects, however I believe there is much untapped potential within DAC and social marketing’s relationship. In this section I aim to outline my two main suggestions for future collaboration between the disciplines. 

First and foremost, both disciplines apply a multi-stakeholder approach through all aspects of research and iterate this within their processes in order to ensure the relevance, efficacy and uptake of their outputs in the public domain. DAC emphasises the need for the co-operation of all stakeholders in the process; foregrounding collaboration and shared knowledge between client, customer, manufacturer and crime prevention experts (Press, Erol, Cooper and Thomas, 2000). In order to achieve this, DAC must give more appreciation towards social marketing’s heritage and potential for providing a vital bridge of communication between consumers and industry. Social marketing provides a proven approach for translating and communicating empirical, evidence-based knowledge, in order to educate the users of product and place, so that crime can be moderated and desired behaviours sustained.  

On the other hand, DAC has the potential to influence and educate social marketing— and marketing practice more broadly— to encourage the appreciation of the impact naive product solutions and outputs can have on the societies in which they interact. Ultimately, DAC needs marketers in order to persuade manufacturers to invest in innovation, as well as the mass production of anti-crime objects. Additionally, DAC interaction with marketing professionals and institutions is crucial in order to improve the marketplace’s capacity for innovation and adaptability to new criminal misappropriations, heighten manufacturer appreciation of the negative impacts of criminogenic products and create a systematic policy of modifying criminogenic products. 

It is DAC’s innovate capacity, coupled with smart user design, that have the potential to make some crimes, and some criminals, obsolete (Gamman and Hughes, 2003); it is from this innovative capacity that social marketing can greatly benefit. Nonetheless, DAC could benefit from adopting a marketing orientation in approaching many of it’s problems. Notably, DAC can learn from marketing’s understanding of exchange theory, in order to provide relative advantage and perceived benefit and foster sustainable practices and behaviours. 

I believe that working together, social marketing and DAC can become more effective in communicating and enacting positive societal values and challenging accepted beliefs; not just to designers and consumers, but also to manufacturers and policy makers. I argue for a broadening of Paul Ekblom’s call for the development of an interdisciplinary field of study that brings together design research and practice with crime science, towards a much wider necessity for the inclusion of marketers— as key decision-makers in industry, and decision-influencers in society. It is through consumer-driven action that regulation, legislation and social policy will adapt to the necessary requirements of DAC and affect positive social change. As mediators of society and culture, designers and marketers must work together in achieving their mutual objectives.



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