Introduction to Design for Social Innovation

Course Overview

This course aims to provide an introduction to the field of Design for Social Innovation through a historical overview of theory, methods, and exploration of case studies. The course is grounded in social practice and theory and aims to provide students with the capacity of critically understanding and frame current and context specific social problems. Students will thoroughly discuss issues around social justice, health, income inequality, food systems, environmental crises and violence, as well as the role a designer might play in addressing these challenges.

This course will provide an outline of design methods related to framing social innovation; engaging with communities; problem framing; facilitating co-design workshops; ideation and concept generation; prototyping; and, implementation and evaluation.

Learning Objectives

We expect that by the end of this seminar/practice-based course, students who properly engage with the course content and fully participate in all activities will learn to:


• Understanding of the historical role design has played in addressing social issues

• Understanding of social impact from a systems perspective — and why this is necessary for better problem framing in the field of social innovation

• Literacy in basic academic theory surrounding design for social innovation


• Introductory understanding and practice surrounding design’s situation within interdisciplinary approaches to social innovation (from economics to commons, as well as policy initiatives, etc.)

• Literacy and practice in changing role of the designer in social innovation and how designers might intervene


• Reflection on ways to work with marginalized communities as well as the impact of worldview and paradigms on forms and methods of intervention