How can design improve children’s chances in life? asks Design Council’s Ella Britton

The Knee High Design Challenge is a three-year programme to find, fund and support entrepreneurial people with ideas that aim to make a real difference to children under five years old and improve their chances in life.

Created by Design Council in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and Lambeth and Southwark Councils, the Knee High Design Challenge is a response to an urgent need for new ideas and new approaches that will give every child a fair start in life.


Knee High Launch Event

Despite substantial investment in early years services, there still remains inequality between different children’s development when they start school. The public sector is under increasing pressure to deliver within tighter constraints and it’s hard to find the resources, the time and the support to try something new. But we need new ways of looking at public health problems.


Pop Up Parks ©Robin Howie / Fieldwork Facility

When used well we believe that creativity and design has a significant role to play in changing society for the better, and if we keep asking ourselves the same questions, we’ll never find new answers. Design can teach us how to test ideas quickly and cheaply, how to better understand human behaviours and motivations – and how to find hidden answers to complex problems.

The Knee High Design Challenge has been running since September 2013, with entrepreneurial people from across different sectors and communities building, testing and making their ideas with families. After 12 months of mentoring, support and funding six new products and services have just been launched. The range of ideas put forward include an initiative to create Pop Up parks, which allows families to play together safely outdoors and a new web application supporting parents and carers to help them to make use of free activities in their local area.

The entrepreneurial teams in the Knee High Design Challenge included parents with young children who wanted to use their experience to make life better for others, like for example, mothers who had experienced postnatal depression and wanted to transform the experience of mothers in the future.


Crafty Explorers ©Robin Howie / Fieldwork Facility

The Design Council has put families, children and practitioners at the heart of Knee High Design Challenge as they are the experts in dealing with the everyday realities of bringing up children. We felt it was time to bring meaningful collaboration to the public sector where people with the lived experiences are central in the making, testing and delivery of new approaches.

It’s time to reframe the challenges we face everyday, and the Knee High Design Challenge encourages us look at them from a different perspective. Visit the Knee High Design Challenge event page for more.