Skip to content
Briefing sheet

Defining and developing the Design Champion Role: research report

17 October 2023

The ICE reveals the results of work it commissioned to ascertain what a board-level design champion role should entail and the skills and attributes needed to perform it.

Defining and developing the Design Champion Role: research report
Some 900 ICE members were surveyed about their awareness and understanding of what makes good design.

In November 2020, the UK’s first 30-year National Infrastructure Strategy included the requirement that all projects were to have a board-level design champion in place by the end of 2021.

The purpose of the design champion role is to enable application of the National Infrastructure Commission’s design principles. This aims not only to secure higher quality infrastructure for end users, but also to deliver wider public benefits for climate, communities and places.

The industry broadly welcomes this development but wants clarity on what the design champion role requires, to whom it would be suited and how it would work.

The ICE published a working paper, Defining and Developing the Design Champion Role, in August 2022. It then commissioned Birdi & Partners, supported by Frame Projects, to develop further insight.

A diverse and balanced spread of 27 individuals operating across the design, construction and infrastructure sectors were interviewed and the findings synthesised to create a shared understanding of the design champion role.

Key findings

Eight key findings came out of the interviews as follows (in no particular order):

  • There is a real need for design champions
  • They should be non-executives at board level
  • They should be one part of a tripartite governance structure
  • Design champions should be a legal requirement right from the outset
  • They should report to government on progress
  • The role should be advisory
  • Design champions must have the right skills and attributes
  • They should facilitate knowledge exchange and success

Next steps

This stage of work has provided some useful insights and strategic guidelines. The next stage – implementation – will require guidance for client bodies to enable them to set up design champions on their projects.

The research has highlighted opportunities and potential next steps for the ICE to promote the design champion role.

  • Alexandra Wynne, knowledge content director at ICE