London College of Communication alumna Cat Drew has been co-presenting a new show for BBC Radio 4 – aiming to gather the country’s brightest young minds to solve difficult social problems. 

The Fix challenges three teams made up of 12 bright young minds to battle it out and create solutions to difficult social problems using policy design planning – with Cat, a graduate from LCC’s part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Design for Visual Communication before undertaking the MA Graphic Media Design course, handpicked as one of those bright minds.

Over 10 years Cat has developed her expertise, working across Government at the Home Office, No.10 and the Cabinet Office. Before re-entering higher education with LCC, she worked on a number of policy challenges around immigration, crime and policing, as well as projects from data visualisations of British emigrants to collaborating with think tank IPPR.

Following this, Cat lived in Berlin to develop her artistic practice, making cartographic screen prints. Feeling a void in applying creative talents to social problems, Cat chose to train in a more applied practice at LCC, whilst working for the UK Government Policy Lab as a founding member.

We reached out to Cat to learn more about The Fix…

Words by Jyoti Mann

Hi Cat, congratulations on co-presenting and facilitating The Fix on Radio 4. Can you tell us how the opportunity came about?

Matthew Taylor, Chief Exec of the RSA (a charity committed to finding practical solutions to social problems), phoned me up. The BBC wanted to do a programme about solutions journalism and he was keen for us to show the value of design in creating solutions. We’d previously worked together when I was in Policy Lab, he chaired a workshop on homelessness that I had facilitated, as well as being an RSA fellow myself.

When did you get the green light from the BBC to broadcast the show and how did it feel?

Exciting but also a bit nerve-racking. I was encouraging design as a valuable way for non-experts to come up with solutions to tough, age-old problems that policy experts had not yet solved. I had to make sure it worked!

Can you give us a brief overview of how an episode is put together?

The day follows the Design Council’s ‘Double Diamond’ of convergent and divergent thinking in four stages: discover, define, develop, deliver. It means not jumping straight to solutions, but spending the morning ‘discovering’ a range of evidence (such as data, user insight and expert opinion) and then using this to reframe the problem, tackling the root causes rather than symptoms.

The afternoon starts with creative lateral thinking exercises to generate surprising ideas, before physically mocking up an idea, which really helps to make sure the whole team is on the same page, and creating a tangible idea rather than a lofty strategy.

Cat Drew leading a session. Photo Credit – Vianney Le Caer

Is there any one particular episode where you tackle an issue you feel passionately about?

They were all interesting to me personally in different ways. When I worked at No.10 about 8 years ago, I worked on criminal justice issues so it was interesting to see how alcohol and re-offending policies had progressed, and also looking at them differently from a user’s perspective.

At Uscreates we have created exciting projects with impact around co-designing solutions with local communities, who have high levels of childhood obesity, so I was intrigued to see what non-experts would come up with.

Why do you feel it is important to have ‘non-experts’ come up with solutions to problems outside of their expertise?

Innovation often happens through lateral inspiration. My favourite example, that was shared on the Design for Visual Communication course, was Kenya Hara’s Designing Design book. He asks designers from different fields such as; service designers; graphic designers; architects; fashion designers and product designers to redesign a ‘thing’ from another profession.

“We wanted to bring together people with a range of different expertise: economists, behavioural scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, designers, artists and data experts.” – Cat Drew.

For example, a graphic designer redesigned the experience of border control and an architect redesigned a toilet roll. Coming at things from different perspectives not only provides different skills, but also, by being new to the area it allows you to challenge the status quo. Sometimes not knowing too much allows us to imagine even more.

How did the idea come about to collaborate with other students from the Postgraduate Diploma in Design for Visual Communication?

We wanted to bring together people with a range of different expertise: economists, behavioural scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, designers, artists and data experts. My boss at Policy Lab, Dr Andrea Siodmok, taught me the importance of networking. Over the last few years, I’ve grown my Twitter network, become a member of the Point People, who take a systems approach to problem-solving. The Design for Visual Communications alumni is another great network, so I tapped into all of these.

Contestants working on an episode. Photo Credit – Vianney Le Caer

What has been the highlight of this experience?

It’s been amazing to be given a platform to share the value of design for social good to seven million Radio 4 listeners. Design can sometimes come across as quite technical and complicated. I think the best way to understand design is to experience it. For me, it was also an important part of my journey towards design.

It was only five years ago that I decided to take a career break from the civil service, go to Berlin to make art, come back and do the Design for Visual Communication and then MA Graphic Media Design at LCC, become a founding member of Policy Lab and then leave Government to become a Director at Uscreates. It was a decision that had been 10 years in the making. I think it shows that people can change career direction, and there is a lot of exciting things that can happen when you take that first step into a new career.

Has the show been as successful as you had hoped?

Yes. We were able to highlight the live show in an interview with Nick Robinson on the Today programme in the morning and on the 5pm slot, there was a BBC live blog during the day which got 15,000 views and all the programmes are on the BBC Radio 4 Analysis podcast.

We’re taking forward one of the ideas with one of the expert witnesses and as a design agency, we’ve had people contacting us having heard us on the show. As an organisation we’ve reflected and learned a lot about a co-design process and I’ve solidified and expanded my network of young, fresh talent.

What advice would you give to other Design for Visual Communication students exploring their career prospects post-graduation?

DVC students tend to be mature students. My biggest piece of advice would be to embrace the new hybrid in you. As well as reaching out into design and seeing what a new career looks like, consider how you could apply design as a new method within your previous world of work where you will have a whole load of experience that you can build on.

What else are you working on and what will come next for you?

At Uscreates, we’re doing lots of exciting projects around health prevention, homelessness or physical activity which require players from across the system to get involved – people with different skills and different perspectives. I’m also enjoying being part of Point People, building networks and thinking about how design, digital, data and systems change come together. Hopefully there will be a second series of The Fix, and an opportunity to do it through local radio.

Catch up on all episodes of The Fix on the BBC iPlayer Radio.

Words by Jyoti Mann. Follow Jyoti on Twitter @jowtee91.