University of Technology Sydney

57228 Design Thinking for Communication Professionals

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2022 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Communication: MAP and Sound and Music Design
Credit points: 8 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


In this hands-on, group-based workshop subject, students learn to apply problem-solving skills typically associated with the design thinking process to areas of interest to communication professionals. Design thinking is an articulated process for generating new ideas in a rapid, structured manner in response to real-world problems. Students use the concept of serious play in a highly interactive and collaborative environment. The iterative process involves stages of empathy building, problem definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing. Student groups work with clients from industry on complex human-centred communication challenges.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

a. Craft novel solutions to real-world challenges by applying the Design Thinking process
b. Communicate new ideas to multiple stakeholders with creativity, confidence and fluency
c. Innovate in an environment of ambiguity
d. Identify and access local networks to make lasting connections with industry
e. Build on professional communication skills
f. Collaborate within multidisciplinary groups using listening, teamwork, and positive leadership

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject engages with the following Course Intended Learning Outcomes (CILOs), which are tailored to the Graduate Attributes set for all graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

  • Reflect critically on trends in emerging media (1.2)
  • Engage ethically with complex problems to deliver future-focused and sustainable solutions (2.1)
  • Apply high-level collaborative research and entrepreneurial skills to business, curation and understanding audiences (2.2)
  • Analyse, develop or produce creative media projects for a range of platforms and experiences (2.3)
  • Be respectful of diverse cultural contexts (3.1)
  • Address social justice issues of equity, diversity and sustainability (5.1)
  • Engage audiences and communities for impact and change (5.2)
  • Demonstrate high-level abilities and self-awareness as an oral, written and visual communicator (6.2)

Teaching and learning strategies

This subject runs as fortnightly 4-hour workshop sessions with a mix of occasional talks and interactive tutorials. Students work with local businesses and organisations and develop continuing relationships with local community members.

This subject values experimental learning-through-doing. This learning is supported through discussions and in-class exercises, and a series of formal and informal design reviews that encourage reflection on students’ work in progress and their insights. These will include persona building, user journey mapping, storyboarding and experience sampling. Success in the subject depends on the amount of time and degree of involvement in observing, listening, analysing, storytelling, roleplaying, and otherwise engaging key audiences, stakeholders and teammates to develop and prototype meaningful and transformative designs for selected products, services, and other relevant objectives. Formative in-class feedback is provided in classes Weeks 2-10.

Content (topics)

This subject offers an immersive experience in Design Thinking as a tool for innovative idea and strategy development. Students follow a staged process of building empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. In addition, topics ranging from user experience, equity, diversity and inclusion, cultural competencies, and ethical practices, to visual thinking and drawing pictures for impact, to the essence of storytelling, may be included at relevant times to create an active-learning classroom.


Assessment task 1: Client Brief Proposal


b, c, d and f

Weight: 15%


Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Understanding of problem space and accuracy of reflecting client’s challenge 10 b, c 6.2
Relevance to industry 20 b, d 5.2
Depth of analysis of users and audience 20 b 2.2
Contribution by individual to group and acknowledgement of members’ diverse strengths 50 f 3.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Journal Assignment


a, b, c, d and f

Weight: 55%

A total of 10 journal entries through the semester, with 250 words per entry alongside graphics that illustrate the student’s design ideas.

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Understanding of design thinking 25 a 6.2
Insightfulness of personal experience or knowledge to connect with the problem space 20 c 1.2
Depth of analysis 25 b 2.1
Reflection and acknolwedgement of the diversity in groups and members' different ways of learning 30 d, f 5.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 3: Detailed Final Project Proposal for Client


a, b, d, e and f

Weight: 30%

8-minute video pitch, and a 5000-word report

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Thoughtfulness in responding to feedback from users, peers, teachers, clients, and partners 10 b 5.2
Effectiveness of methods used to create a plausible, well considered solution to client’s challenge 20 a 2.3
Professionalism of client interactions and consideration of client constraints 10 d 2.2
Creativity of presentation and clarity of writing 10 e 6.2
Listening, teamwork, and positive leadership 50 f 3.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Minimum requirements

In this subject assessment tasks are cumulative so that each task builds understanding and/or skills, informed by formative feedback. Consequently, all components of all assessments must be completed; students who do not submit all assessments will not pass the subject.

Required texts

There are no required textbooks for this subject. Required weekly readings or videos will be made available via the online UTS site for the subject, UTS Library, or Online Open Access.


Beckman, S. & Barry, M. 2008, “Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking,” California Management Review, 50 (1).

Brown, T. 2009, Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, New York: Harper Business.

Carlson, W. B., 1992, “Artifacts and frames of meaning: Thomas A. Edison, his managers, and the cultural construction of motion pictures.” In Wiebe E. Bijker & John Law, Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, 175-198. MIT Press

Cross, N. 2011, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.

Dyer, J., Gregersen, H., Christensen, C. 2009, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Hannington, B. and Martin, B. 2012, Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions, Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers.

Kelly, T. 2002, The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity From IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm, London, UK: Profile Books.

Liedtka, J. and Ogilvie, T. 2011, Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, New York: Columbia University Press.

Liedtka, J., Salzman, R., and Azer, D. 2017, Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector, New York: Columbia Business School Publishing.

Markus, H., and Conner, A. 2014, Clash!: How to thrive in a multicultural world, London: Penguin. (Chapters 5, 6, and 10)

Michalko, M., 2010, Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Norman, D. 2013.,The Design of Everyday Things, New York: Basic Books.

Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. 2010, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, John Wiley and Sons.

Roam, D. 2013, The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures, New York: Portfolio.

Wallace, D.F., 2005), "This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” Commencement Speech, Kenyon College, New York: Little Brown and Co. Also available from

Other resources

Online Resources