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Design thinking: creativity for the 21st century

This key introductory OU level 1 module, packed with learning innovation, will change your way of seeing and solving complex problems for ever. Through a mix of academic and practical work you’ll develop an understanding of design, acquire new designing skills and build a portfolio of design projects as a strong foundation for future study or work experience. This online module looks at common principles of design and ways of thinking that lead to ideas and creative solutions. Within a specially created virtual design studio you’ll complete many hands-on activities and interact with your fellow students online as you experience a completely different way of learning.

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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
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

The module is presented online in four blocks corresponding to the different levels at which design thinking can have an impact on our lives: at the individual, group, social and global level. You will have practical activities, skills development and academic coursework to do each week, and the freedom to manage your own learning.

Central to the module is an online virtual design studio, where you will upload your practical work – using images you have created – to discuss with other students and your tutor. You will also be able to see and discuss the design work of other students. Learning to use the expertise of others is a vital part of design thinking and something that is encouraged in the design studio environment. Throughout the module you will be encouraged to engage with the world around you, formulate and solve design problems that are relevant to your own life, and participate in the U101 community of design thinkers.

Block 1: Design and the individual

In the first part of the module we concentrate on the skills that you will need to begin your creative work: taking and uploading digital photographs, composition, basic drawing and observation. You will be introduced to Compendium, a software tool with which you can record and link together different types of information in a digital scrapbook. You will also be introduced to the OpenDesignStudio environment, where you will create a profile and upload your creative work. Along with your skill development there will be more academic study, introducing you to the world of design and design thinking through text, audio, video and multimedia. You will see interviews with design practitioners, and case studies of their work. As you work through the block you will carry out a sequence of activities that will lead up to your first assessed design project: the design of a T-shirt.

Block 2: Designing for others and with others

In the second block of the module our attention focuses on designing for the needs of specific groups of people. You will investigate what types of design make other people happy, as well as finding out what it’s like to experience what other people experience. You will learn skills of making and presenting prototypes – crucial in design thinking – and you will learn about how to ‘frame’ a problem, and how to recognise a good solution. This block is not only about designing for others but also about designing with others. Knowing how, and when, to collaborate with others is extremely useful in designing and as part of your assessed design project for this block you will work online with a small number of your fellow students. For your project in this block you will propose a modification to an existing product to make it easier to understand and use.

Block 3: Design in society

Block 3 looks at how design can have an impact in society through services and systems such as housing, planning, health, transport and recycling. You will gain an understanding of the factors influencing change in a society and how they apply to your local context. And you will learn how to search for information, observe, map, and analyse complex environments. In your online study you will see a number of case studies where design has made a significant impact at the society level. For your design project you will design, produce, and test a game, based on a service you have studied.

Block 4: The global impact of design

When the full context of design is taken into account we have to consider how design thinking can have a global impact. This final part of the module brings together all the skills you have learned in previous blocks to teach you about how to integrate them all – balancing people, processes and materials – through the process of design. You will look at the global context of design and consider the ethical implications of what design thinking can achieve. In the final design project assessment you will be encouraged to pursue your own design thinking inquiry around a specific theme – for example, food, health, or leisure – leading to you designing a way to communicate the results of your inquiry.

Day schools

The module has regional day schools associated with it. These will provide an opportunity to take your creative work for criticism and development, as well as engaging in creative activity. Attendance is encouraged but not compulsory. The cost of the day schools is included in the module fee.

You will learn

At the end of the module you will be able to identify the characteristics of design thinking and how it is different from other types of thinking. You will also have an awareness of how design thinking can be applied in a wide range of contexts from the personal to the global.

On a more practical level you will learn how to investigate and think creatively about design problems and opportunities, integrate different styles of thinking in a design process, and explore, evaluate and critique the design thinking of others. You will also discover how an attitude of playfulness can aid design thinking.

The module has a large online element and, in exploring the different environments it offers, you will learn about the creative possibilities of the internet. You will also learn how to identify and use expertise through social networking.

Vocational relevance

Design thinking is an ability that can be applied to a wide range of contexts, from the personal to the business sphere. It can help you creatively engage with a problem situation in almost any discipline. Design thinking is thus a module that has vocational relevance equally in the so-called ‘creative industries’, and in business more generally. The module is designed as a foundation for future study in design at The Open University but will also provide a foundation in design should you be considering studying design elsewhere.

Outside the UK

This module is available to students outside the UK.

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 work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. If you are new to The Open University, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. Tuition will take place across a range of media: there will be group tutorials and day schools that you are strongly encouraged to attend.

Your tutor will also support you in your online activity – reviewing and giving feedback on your OpenDesignStudio work – as well as being a point of contact to discuss any other module-related issues. 

Contact us 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 must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

A design portfolio and a 1500-word essay make up the end-of-module assessment (EMA).

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015 and February 2016. We expect it to be available twice a year.


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 key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you to progress to modules at OU level 2.

The module does not require any previous qualification, although it would be useful to have some experience of using the internet and a playful, creative attitude to life.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Students registering for the module will receive a specially designed U101 Creative Welcome Pack with design thinking challenges to be used during the module.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

30 Jan 2016 Sep 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 07/01/16 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

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 monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. 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 ten 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.  

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. 

Mixed payments

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

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please 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 valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 31/07/2015.

What's included

  • A U101 Creative Welcome Pack; this is a specially designed box containing materials you need to begin your creative journey.
  • Access to online study materials including audio, video and other multimedia material, and library materials via the module website. 
  • All software required to complete the module, including OpenDesignStudio, (the virtual design studio for the module) and CompendiumDS (the virtual sketchbook and design thinking whiteboard).

You will need

You will also need the following to study this module:

  • a digital camera – 2 megapixel or greater – to take photos of your creative work
  • broadband internet access for quick downloading and uploading of information
  • a microphone for your computer to narrate presentations
  • a printer to print out your work.

Although not essential to study this module, you might also find it desirable to have access to the following:

  • a scanner to bring your doodles and sketches onto your computer
  • a graphics tablet to help you interact with your computer with a pen instead of a mouse.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

The module aims to teach students to solve problems creatively and we would like to encourage and support students with a disability or additional requirement to engage with the spirit of this in resolving any issues that they might experience during the module. Students with a visual impairment will probably need a sighted assistant to complete some of the module elements, but in other ways may find themselves in a strong position to talk about and utilise design thinking to improve their everyday life.

Transcripts of any audio components are provided and alternative format versions of online materials are available. Some alternative format components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and graphic materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. 

The module is taught using multimedia and online materials including an interactive web-based design studio so students will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer and have any concerns about accessing the type of materials described, you are advised to contact us about support that can be given to meet your needs.

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.