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Unit information: Tools and Methods for Innovation: Design and Systems Thinking in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Tools and Methods for Innovation: Design and Systems Thinking
Unit code INOVM0004
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Ms. Padley
Open unit status Not open




School/department Centre for Innovation
Faculty Faculty of Arts


To innovate you need new ways of looking at problems to find novel and creative solutions that may have been missed from a purely analytical problem solving approach. This unit looks at various factors to understand the bigger picture of the problem and how the complex systems involved interconnect (systems thinking) whilst bringing together a human centered problem solving focus (design thinking) in order to use 'frame creation', an approach which pulls all of these ideas together and presents them in a logical strategy for action in order to create innovative solutions to design challenges.

In this unit you will learn how paradigms of thinking and methods of work developed from the legacy and practice of industrial design can help structure creative aims and processes, and how they may be used to develop innovative solutions to a variety of challenges and problems. In particular, you will develop understandings and skills in the process of “frame creation” as a problem-solving tool not only for projects with a clear material design dimension, but for other challenges as well.

The unit aims to:

  • cultivate visual literacy and the capacity to articulate design decisions.
  • develop the ability to describe, evaluate, analyse and critique innovation case studies.
  • develop the ability to undertake and reflect on a series of innovation challenges by applying design thinking, systems thinking and/or frame creation theory and practices.
  • enable students to engage with and reflect upon the open, complex, networked, and dynamic problems of modern society.

Intended learning outcomes

Students successfully completing the unit will have gained:

  1. Knowledge and understanding of the theory of design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation how it can drive creative and innovation.
  2. The ability to assess a range of design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation case studies, to analyse, evaluate and reflect on them requiring a high level of critical thinking.
  3. An ability to put into practice their critical design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation knowledge and skills by applying them to a series of innovation challenges.
  4. An ability to consider new alternatives, solutions and ideas through developing design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation, as well as a prototyping mentality.
  5. The ability to use visual literacy and articulacy to explain design choices.

Teaching details

Lectures, workshops and small group breakout sessions

Assessment Details

This unit takes the view that innovative problem solving through the use of design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation can be learned through repeated practice. Students will undertake a series of innovation challenges where they will put into practice what they have learnt in the lectures and workshops.

  • Group Practice Innovation, Design and Review: 70%

Presentation in groups (oral and written/visual form) of the innovative design solutions to the challenges and review of applying design thinking, systems thinking and frame creation theories.

ILO 1, 3, 4 & 5

  • Individual Reflective Analysis: 30%

A reflective critique on the innovation challenges including reference to case studies and/or discussions, debates or trends from the broader industry. ILO 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Total: 100% Coursework

Reading and References

  • Frame Innovation: Creating New Thinking by Design, Kees Dorst, MIT Press, ISBN: 978-0262324311, 2015
  • Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems (Industrial Innovation Series), John Boardman and Brian Sauser ISBN: 978-1420054910, 2008
  • Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown, ISBN: 978-0061766084, 2009
  • Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, Nigel Cross, ISBN: 978-1847886361, 2011
  • Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School, Idris Mootee, ISBN: 978-1118620120, 2013
  • This is service design thinking: Basics, tools, cases (Vol. 1) Marc Stickdorn et al. 978-9063692797, 2011