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Unit of study_

DESN1001: Design Theory and Culture

Semester 2, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit of study helps students develop a theoretically grounded understanding of what design is, and the full spectrum of different disciplines that this term entails (product, graphic, urban planning, graphic, fashion, interaction, etc.). Using academic sources, they will investigate dominant historical and contemporary models of the design process, and learn about the cognitive basis of design thinking and how this differs from key skills in other disciplines. Students will research major design movements and schools of thought that have influenced the design sector over the last century (e.g. Bauhaus, eco-design, ergonomics, mass consumerism and built-in obsolescence). The unit teaches students about current foci in design (such as service design and experience design) and provides an outlook of upcoming trends and futures. Students will be able to develop these skills through studying a design movement, analysing case studies of designs, and applying design movements to specific design tasks.

Unit details and rules

Unit code DESN1001
Academic unit Design Lab
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Leigh-Anne Hepburn,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Annotated Bibliography Version One
Annotated bibliography
20% Week -04
Due date: 18 Sep 2020 at 17:06
1500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO3 LO2
Online task Peer Review Activity
Peer review of annotated bibliography
10% Week 06
Due date: 01 Oct 2020 at 22:03
One hour
Outcomes assessed: LO3
Assignment Annotated Bibliography Version Two
Annotated bibliography version two
20% Week 09
Due date: 30 Sep 2020 at 17:00
3000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment group assignment Visual Report
Visual report that critically analyses weekly content
40% Week 12
Due date: 07 Aug 2020 at 17:00
25 Slides
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment group assignment Directed Reflection Activity
Written and visual contribution to a shared group template
10% Weekly Two-page Template
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6
group assignment = group assignment ?

Assessment summary

Directed Reflection Activity: Each week you will be set a group activity that requires you to engage with the lecture material and reflect on the theme shared. This activity will support your critical reflection, helping you to develop knowledge and understanding of topics covered and will provide the basis for the tutorial discussion that week. This activity should be completed by 9am on the day of the tutorial. 

Annotated Bibliography One: In this activity, you will demonstrate your understanding of the theories covered in class by undertaking scholarly research to identify relevant academic papers. Choosing a theory covered in class, you will complete an annotated bibliography that identifies and critically analyses at least two pieces of writing. At least one of the papers must be different from those on the reading list. Please see the assessment description for further information.

Peer Review: In this assessment, you will peer-review an annotated bibliography, practising essential methodological skills of critique and review to provide constructive feedback. Please see the assessment description for further information.

Annotated Bibliography Two: For this assessment, you will extend the annotated bibliography submitted in assessment two, responding to the peer and tutor feedback provided. Drawing on your learning, you will choose a second theoretical theme from content covered and extend your bibliography to include two further academic papers. At least one of the papers must be different from those on the reading list.

Visual Report: Working in small groups, you will produce a visual report that critically analyses the themes covered in the unit, drawing on the content created in your weekly group activities. The first part of the report should introduce your group definition for each theme, summarising the origins, context and scope, discussing how and where the theme has been applied in practice, and how the theme has influenced the way we think about design. Your report should demonstrate in-depth knowledge and understanding gained from academic research. The second part of the report should demonstrate a critique of your group object through the lens of each theme, comparing and contrasting the objectives, key features, and target outcomes. You should also include a visual representation of your object in this theme.


Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Work of outstanding quality, demonstrating mastery of the learning outcomes assessed. The work shows significant innovation, experimentation, critical analysis, synthesis, insight, creativity, and/or exceptional skill.


75 - 84

Work of excellent quality, demonstrating a sound grasp of the learning outcomes assessed. The work shows innovation, experimentation, critical analysis, synthesis, insight, creativity, and/or superior skill.


65 - 74

Work of good quality, demonstrating more than satisfactory achievement of the learning outcomes assessed, or work of excellent quality for a majority of the learning outcomes assessed.


50 - 64

Work demonstrating satisfactory achievement of the learning outcomes assessed.


0 - 49

Work that does not demonstrate satisfactory achievement of one or more of the learning outcomes assessed.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Design Theory & Culture Overview Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
What are the theories and cultures of design? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 02 Material Cultures and Making in Design Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Selfies and Slavers: Uncovering cultural relationships with material objects. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 03 Consumerism, Consumption and Capitalism Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Economic drivers in design: New money, new thinking? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 04 Human-centred to Post Anthropogenic Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
What next for the assemblage of human and non-human in design? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 05 Public Art and Designed Engagement Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
A theoretical place for participation, engagement and activism? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 06 Digital Cultures and Design for Love with Robots Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Inanimate intimacy: Is society ready for lovotics? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 07 Circular Design and Sustainable Futures Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Vicarious vandalism and other ethical dilemmas. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 08 Bio-designed and Other Science Fictions Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
What is the nature of bio-designed systems? Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 09 Decolonised Design and the Pluriverse Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Positionality, hegemony and designing for a world of many centres. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 10 Post-structural and Critical Theory in Practice Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Intent, inclusivity and deep-thinking for discursive design. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 11 Strategic and Decentralised Thinking in Design Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Self-organisation, collectivism and creative autonomy in design. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 12 Design Theory and Culture Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Design Theory and Culture Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand and identify historical and contemporary theories relevant to the design discipline
  • LO2. identify and critically analyse theories that form the basis of design cultures
  • LO3. apply appropriate design research methodologies to support research activity
  • LO4. demonstrate a deep understanding of critical reflection
  • LO5. communicate concepts visually and present in a professional manner
  • LO6. work effectively in teams.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

The content and tutorial tasks have been amended in response to student feedback.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.