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Unit outline_

DESN3003: Design for Social Impact

Semester 1, 2022 [Normal day] - Remote

This unit gets students to consider the broader application of design thinking as a way of informing and creating social outcomes. Design for social impact aims to design solutions to meet social needs in a better way than the existing solution. Students will have the opportunity to develop their design thinking competency through the application of a real-world social problem. Students will address prevailing or emerging social issues through the design of products, services and experiences. Students will be guided through the design thinking process of understanding user and stakeholder needs, defining problems, ideating solutions, prototyping and testing design solutions. This unit gives students the opportunity to tackle the challenges of 21st Century life through the exploration of new technology and current practices to design the future they want to live in.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Design Lab
Credit points 6
DECO2016 or DECO1006
Assumed knowledge

Knowledge of design thinking methods and processes

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Melinda Gaughwin,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Reflective Report
Critical reflection on DESN3003 and the Major Design Project.
Due date: 30 May 2022 at 21:00

Closing date: 27 Jul 2022
1500-2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO2
Assignment Designer statement – what is design for social impact?
Written, visual, audio or audiovisual response to question.
30% Week 04
Due date: 18 Mar 2022 at 21:00

Closing date: 15 Apr 2022
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4
Assignment group assignment Communicating Research
Communicating outcomes of Part 1 of the Major Design Project.
20% Week 07
Due date: 04 Apr 2022 at 21:00

Closing date: 02 May 2022
10-minute presentation, slides, appendix
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment group assignment Major Design Project
Report and Oral Presentation
25% Week 13
Due date: 23 May 2022 at 21:00

Closing date: 20 Jun 2022
Report and 10-minute presentation
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO3 LO2
group assignment = group assignment ?

Assessment summary

  • Design statement – what is design for social impact?:  
    This assessment asks you to write a 1000-word statement on the question “What is design for social impact?” You are required to present your statement in any written, visual, audio or audiovisual format you think best communicates your thoughts.
  • Communicating Research: In small groups, you are required to give a 10-minute presentation in Week 7 that communicates your research on  Part 1 of the Major Design Project. Presentation slides, plus an appendix that documents the breadth of research undertaken must be submitted online.
  • Major Design Project: In small groups, you are required to work on a social impact design project. The aim of this project is to explore how design can be used to respond to a social issue. The design project will be presented in the form of a brief. You will produce a visual report and deliver a 10-minute verbal presentation during class time on the due date; each group member is required to contribute.

    Reflective Report: 
  • This assessment requires you to write a reflective report that critically examines your personal response to learnings taken from DESN3003, using the work completed on your Major Design Project as a point of reference. You are required to move beyond describing your experiences, to critically reflect upon your understanding of those experiences. 

Assessment criteria

Result Name & Mark Range  Description 
High Distinction

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.


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.


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.


Work demonstrating satisfactory achievement of the learning outcome assessed.


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


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 Introduction & Overview: New notions of design Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Design Practice 1 Tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 02 Applications of Design: Solo designer to social designer Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion and Design Practice 2 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 03 Contexts of Design: The social as a design space Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion and Design Practice 3 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 04 Ethics of Design Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion and Design Practice 4 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 05 Doing Design Research Part 1: Capturing lived experience and other social stories Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion, autoethnographic journaling activity and assessment 2 working session. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 06 Doing Design Research Part 2: Design Futuring – Design as a redirective practice Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion and Design Practice 5 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 07 Design(ed) Engagement: Designing with communities Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Communicating research presentations. Feedback session. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 08 Thinking about value: Designing for experience Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Reading discussion and Design Practice 6 Tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3
Week 09 Data and Design: Stats or Stories? Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Week 10 Co-design is collaborative: Social decision-making Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Non-assessed, informal presentation of x 3 Major Design Project ideas for DESN3003 cohort feedback. Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 11 Transition Design: Resilience, flux and social change Lecture (1 hr)  
Design practice 7, in class working and feedback session on Assessment 4 Tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 12 Thinking beyond the future: Sustainability and circular design Lecture (1 hr) LO4
In class working and feedback session on Assessment 4 Tutorial (2 hr) LO2 LO3
Week 13 Looking back and forward: DESN3003 wrap up lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO4
Group Presentations Assessment 4 Presentation (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4

Attendance and class requirements

Please refer to the Resolutions of the University School:

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.

Required readings

Prescribed Readings

Resnick, R. (Ed.). (2019). The Social Design Reader. London, UK: Bloomsbury. 

Tomitsch, M., Borthwick, M., Ahmadpour, N., Cooper, C., Frawley, J.,...‎ Straker, K., ‎Wrigley, C. (2021). Design. Think. Make. Break. Repeat. A Handbook of Methods (revised edition). BIS Publishers, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Additional Resources

Crocker, R. (2016). Somebody else’s problem : consumerism, sustainability & design. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing Limited.

Fry, T. (2009). Design futuring : sustainability, ethics and new practice. Sydney: UNSW Press.

Fry, T. (2013). Becoming Human by Design. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything : capitalism vs. the climate. London: Allen Lane.

Klein, N. (2002). No logo : no space, no choice, no jobs (First rev. Picador USA pbk.ed.). New York: Picador.

Manzini, E. (2015). Design, when everybody designs : an introduction to design for social innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Tomitsch, M., Wrigley, C., Borthwick, M., Ahmadpour, N., Frawley, J., Kocaballi, B., .& Loke, L. (2018). Design. Think. Make. Break. Repeat. A handbook of methods. BIS Publishers




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. Demonstrate the effective use of oral, written and visual means to critique, negotiate, create and communicate understanding
  • LO2. Practice design skills reflectively
  • LO3. Work effectively in teams
  • LO4. Interrogate the capacity of design as an agent of change to respond to social issues

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.

USS 2021 feedback indicated high student satisfaction with the unit. However, RE students commented that online learning was harder than CC. As such, the RE experience will be closely monitored in 2022.


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.