IA50003 Design Thinking for Innovation

Academic Year 2022/2023

Please note this module is designed for Graduate Taught and Graduate Research students. This module cannot be taken by UCD undergraduate students.

This module is designed to provide the participant with a comprehensive and in-depth experience of Design Thinking, culminating in the presentation of a creative, innovative solution to a complex real-world challenge of an external host.

The Design Thinking methodology is a proven and repeatable approach that any organisation, business, network or profession can employ to uncover new opportunities, gain new perspectives and insights on problems, and develop innovative solutions of value. It is increasingly being regarded as a core skill in the workplace today with more and more Irish and global organisation adopting this process to address key issues and challenges within their business.

While this module does not require prior experience of Design Thinking, it does require participants to work autonomously and professionally in an environment external to the University, with the ability to deal with the consequential ambiguity that this entails. The facilitator on the module will assist in whatever way he/she can in relation to planning, communication and presentation with the host organisation. The external host organisation will work with the Academy and the students to facilitate them as best they can with regard to gaining access to staff and in some cases customers to explore the Empathy stage of the Design Thinking process.

Over the course of the module, participants will develop their expertise in Design Thinking through experiential learning activities, guest speakers and immersive challenges. The students will be brought through all the stages of the Design Thinking process which will culminate in a 'Solution Presentation to the host organisation. The overall aims of this module are to give participants insights into the optimal implementation of the Design Thinking process; appreciate the various contexts within which it can be used; and apply the process by working on a complex real-world innovation challenge. Working in teams, participants will build empathy with users and multiple stakeholders to develop an insightful understanding of a real-world challenge, then taking an iterative approach they will prototype and present a creative solution informed by their problem statement.

Over the last number of semesters our students have worked with a number of host organisations using the Design Thinking technique to address problems within the business and present possible solutions to senior management from various organisations including Google, IBM, Arnotts, Heat Merchants Group, Musgrave Group, Brown Thomas, Deloitte, Lust for Life, UCD Students Union and PwC.

UCD Innovation Academy

**Enrolment on an Innovation Academy module means a commitment to active participation and engagement, which necessitates full attendance at all scheduled classes**

At the UCD Innovation Academy, we are a group of Educator Practitioners with extensive real-world experience as academics, business and social entrepreneurs, tech thinkers, creative professionals and design thinking practitioners.

We take an action-oriented approach to learning, with a combination of individual, group and class tasks and activities, including discussions, presentations and reflection. All of our teaching is grounded in academic rigour. Our focus is on ‘learning by doing’ in a real-world context. Classes include a combination of individual and team tasks and activities, along with discussions, presentations and reflection.

Note on Class Size: Due to the interactive nature of our programmes - we aim for a class size of no more than 36 students to ensure a quality experience for all. We also require a minimum of 16 participants to ensure enough people for teamwork and a dynamic classroom environment. On very rare occasions, if we have less than 16 registered students we will aim to offer students the opportunity to join another class.

Note on COVID-19: All our courses will be run in accordance with good practice, University and Government guidelines around COVID-19. This module is intended to be taught in-person but we may switch to an online format in light of updated guidelines or circumstances, in which case we will update registered students as early as possible. If this should happen, please don't be concerned - our online experiences are equally engaging.


Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

• Gain an in-depth practical understanding of the five stages of Design Thinking and their interdependence.
• Develop an understanding of the appropriate application of Design Thinking and develop an appreciation for its benefits and limits across disciplines and sectors
• Learn to add value to the Design Thinking process by applying practiced skills of empathy, creativity, idea selection, facilitating teamwork, rapid prototyping, iterative design, pitching and story-telling
• Demonstrate the application of the five stages of Design Thinking in the context of a complex ‘real world’ challenge
• Apply reflective practices to identify lessons learnt about the project, the process and the teamwork
• Develop the ability to make sound judgements regarding timing, process and number of iterations of Design Thinking appropriate for a particular problem and be able to guide others to enhance outcomes.
- Develop team working, communication and presentation skills.

Indicative Module Content:

The 5 Steps of the Design Thinking Process

1) Empathise: The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem which is trying to be solved. This involves consulting experts to find out more about the area of concern through observing, engaging and empathising with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment so you can gain a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved.
2) Define: During the Define stage, the team put together the information which has been created and gathered during the Empathise stage. This is where the team will analyse your observations and synthesise them in order to define the core problems that you and your team have identified up to this point.
3) Ideate: During the Ideation stage of the Design Thinking process, the team are ready to start generating ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs in the Empathise stage, and you’ve analysed and synthesised your observations in the Define stage, and ended up with a human-centered problem statement. With this solid background, you and your team members can start to "think outside the box" to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem
4)Prototyping: The design team will now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so they can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team. This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. It is important at this stage of the process to understand that it is ok be 'Not Perfect' and that this prototype is just 'testing the market' so to speak. Sometimes students present prototyping ideas in the form of posters, role play, sketches and any other means that gets the idea across to an audience.
5) Test: The team now test the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the 5 stage-model, but in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel, and to empathise. Even during this phase, alterations and refinements are made in order to rule out problem solutions and derive as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Small Group




Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Online Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:

All Innovation Academy modules take a learning by doing approach, combining, individual, group and team activities, tasks and projects including presentations, discussion and reflection:

• Activity/Task-based Work
• Peer and Group Work and Discussion
• Reflective Writing
• Student Presentations
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Attendance: This module requires active participation and engagement, which necessitates attendance at ALL scheduled classes (80% attendance is required to pass this component). Throughout the Trimester n/a Pass/Fail Grade Scale Yes


Presentation: Team Project Presentation Throughout the Trimester n/a Pass/Fail Grade Scale Yes


Assignment: Reflection report Throughout the Trimester n/a Pass/Fail Grade Scale Yes


Carry forward of passed components
Remediation Type Remediation Timing
Repeat Within Two Trimesters
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Facilitators will give verbal feedback on classroom based continuous assessment activities such as presentations, presentation materials and other deliverables. Students will also give and receive peer-feedback. Individual feedback from facilitators will be given to students upon specific request.

Lewrick, m., Link, P., Leifer,L. (2018) The Design Thinking Playbook, Wiley, NEw Jersey

Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., Smith, A. Value Proposition Design. Wiley New Jersey