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Innovation: designing for a sustainable future

How do successful innovations emerge? How do designers, technologists, managers and end-users create and develop new ideas, designs and inventions? How are these translated into marketable products? This module examines these questions, but its concerns go beyond innovation just for commercial and competitive advantage. It also looks at whether and how innovation can be directed towards ensuring a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable future. You'll work on a project either individually or in a team that makes use of the ideas and methods taught in the module. This module is fully accessible even if you do not have a technical background.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Central to the module is a project in which you have the chance to apply some of the ideas and lessons which you have learned.

The module is structured into five blocks that explore various aspects of innovation.

Block 1 Introduction looks at what motivates individuals and organisations to invent, such as the desire to make money, technical curiosity, or a desire to help others. You will see how designers and technologists create ideas for new designs and inventions and consider why some succeed while others fail. The block examines the increasing complexity and cost of developing new technology and how this has changed the influence of the ‘lone inventor’; how the context for innovation has been revolutionised by information and communication technologies (ICTs) and how a concern for the environment has become an increasingly important factor for designers, technologists and consumers.

Block 2 Markets looks at how designers’ ideas are turned into saleable products through the consideration of peoples’ needs. You will see how responses to new ideas and products are identified and how markets shape the innovation process. Through case studies you will consider ways in which products are designed for potential users.

Block 3 Products looks more closely at how new product ideas and inventions are designed, developed and manufactured into commercially viable new products. The block introduces techniques for assessing and reducing the environmental impacts of such products, including the use of environmental assessment software. Through case studies of the practice and management of new product development you will examine the development of conventional products and innovations as well as the practice of, and limitations to, ‘eco-design’ and sustainable design.

Block 4 Diffusion follows through by looking at how products fare in the marketplace – how they diffuse into use, how consumers respond to them, and at the extent to which changing consumer preferences and concerns are influencing future technologies. You will look at examples where consumer concern for environmental protection has led to the development of specific new ‘green’ products and technologies. You will also examine the role of governments in steering the direction of technological and product development to meet environmental objectives.

Finally, Block 5 Consumption looks at what is needed to build a socially and environmentally sustainable future. The block considers whether pressures from consumers and governments, and the efforts of enlightened companies and innovators to develop new, more sustainable technologies, can bring about the change that is needed, or if it will be necessary to develop a more sustainable approach to consumption. The module raises some big questions such as does ‘sustainable consumption’ mean consuming less but gaining a better quality of life?

Student project

An important part of the module is a project that runs through much of the year. It gives you an opportunity to try your hand at parts of the innovation process by generating and developing a new product idea. You have the option of working either individually or in a small group. Support for your project work will be provided by your tutor, as well as through a series of booklets and the module DVD-ROM.

If you are considering progressing to The engineering project (T450), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, who you can ask for advice and guidance. Online tutorials are usually offered on this module. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. The location of tutorials will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The TMAs include a project report. 

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school


This is a Level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

There are no prerequisites for this module, although it would be useful to have studied the Level 2 module Design and designing (T211) (now discontinued).

This interdisciplinary module is designed to be fully accessible whether you have a technical background or not. You can get some idea of the content by looking at the study materials. Your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later - OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

For more information about employer sponsorship speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 23/07/2014.

What's included

The module is structured around five blocks that comprise printed texts with self-assessment questions and separate guides to study and project work. In addition materials on DVD-ROMs support the study texts and project work. All study materials can also be downloaded from the module website.

Alternative versions of some of the software are available if you use an Apple Mac or Linux system.

If you have a disability

While you need to think carefully about your choice of project, there should be sufficient flexibility in the project requirement for you to be able to choose something appropriate. You will need to be able to use a computer to access support material on the DVD-ROMs, and to conduct searches on the internet. The module contains a certain amount of visual material. The books are available in a comb-bound format. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.