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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 manufactured things you see. In this module, you’ll learn about the essential skills and practices designers use to create detailed design solutions. You’ll develop your ability to identify design opportunities, meet potential users’ needs and create and communicate design solutions. The knowledge and skills you’ll gain are relevant in design domains and many 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

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

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 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2025.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)