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Design essentials

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The world is full of designed objects, from skyscrapers to products that fit into the palm of your hand. Designers have used their skills to translate ideas and needs into all the objects that you see around you. In this module you will learn about the essential skills and practices that designers use to create detailed design solutions. You will develop your own ability to identify opportunities for design, meet the needs of potential users and create and communicate new design solutions. The knowledge and skills that you will gain are relevant in many design domains as well as a wide range of industries.    

What you will study

The module is presented in five blocks. Each block focuses on a different phase in the development of a designed product. The first three blocks will give you the skills and tools that are necessary for the research, planning and development of a design project by looking at various products such as chairs, bicycles, mobile phones, kitchen gadgets, buildings and many others. The last two blocks will give you the skills and tools to translate your design ideas into well-specified products by focusing on the configuration, form, material and manufacturing processes.

Block 1 – Exploring designs and designing

The first block sets the scene of the whole module. It looks at the relation between people and products and discusses the human, cultural and engineering factors that influence the creation of designs. Block 1 will help you develop critical and inquisitive thinking skills when you observe designs around you.

Block 2 – Designing for people

In this block you'll focus on designing for people and the research carried out in the early stages of the design process. You will learn how to find out about people’s needs, preferences and behaviours in order to specify new products. Block 2 will help you develop user research and planning skills.

Block 3 – Creative designing

The third block focuses on the creative strategies that designers employ in order to address design problems – particularly strategies for idea generation in the early concept design phases. It also teaches some of the core theories of creativity. Block 3 will help you develop your creative thinking skills.

Block 4 – Embodying designs

This looks at the configuration and form of designs aiming to teach you how to turn design concepts into a well-defined design description (layout design). Block 4 will help you develop your visual and spatial thinking skills.

Block 5 – Design for making

The final block looks at material and manufacturing processes and how design ideas are developed into detailed designs for manufacturing. It will help you to bring together the skills you have developed throughout the module.

All five blocks will contribute in the development of your ability to think and communicate ideas through modelling and drawings.

You will spend time working both online and offline. The core materials for the module are printed books supported by online multimedia resources and practical design activities (offline and online). You will use SketchUp to develop your computer-aided design skills. Central to the module is an online virtual design studio, where you will upload images of your practical work to discuss online with other students and your tutor.

You will learn

At the end of this module you will be able to:

  • understand why designs take the forms that they do
  • create and develop design ideas through drawing and modelling
  • carry out user research and apply creative strategies for generating design ideas
  • turn ideas into detailed designs for manufacturing by specifying the form and materials of designs.

The knowledge and skills developed in this module are applicable in various roles within creative industries, product design, engineering and architecture.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have the study skills required for this level, obtained either through OU level 1 study, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

Our OU level 1 module Design thinking: creativity for the 21st century (U101) would be ideal preparation, but is not essential.

Beyond basic study skills, nothing more specific is expected other than a curiosity about objects, why they are as they are, and how they might be different and better. We do not assume that you can already design, or even draw competently. You will be taught all the concepts and skills that you need, but if you already have some skills you will be able to develop them further.

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

What's included

You'll have access a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details and submission section
  • OpenDesignStudio which is an online platform for sharing your work and viewing and commenting on the work of others
  • online tutorial access
  • some software downloads which will be used during the module.

You'll also receive five printed books, a modelling workbook and a paper pack.

You will need

  • A digital camera or phone camera to take and upload photos of your work.
  • Access to a printer to print out your work and other materials.

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

  • A scanner or scanning app to put hand-drawn sketches onto your computer.
  • A video camera.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

  • A desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows
  • The screen must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll 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. Tuition will take place across a range of media; there will be online and face-to-face group tutorials as well as a day school that you are strongly encouraged to attend.

Your tutor will also support you in your online activity as well as being a point of contact to discuss any other module-related issues. As a rough guide, 50 per cent of tutor support will be online, with 50 per cent being offline.

We aim to provide face-to-face tutorials in a range of locations students can travel to, though we cannot guarantee availability close to where you live. Online alternatives may also be provided, and recordings of these will typically be made available to students.

Student numbers on the module, and where tutors are based, will affect the locations of where tutorials are held, and what online alternatives are provided. We cannot guarantee that face-to-face tutorials will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you're not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T217 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Design essentials (T217) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2020.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2022.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school