University of Technology Sydney

85503 Thinking Through Design

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 2021 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Design, Architecture and Building: Design
Credit points: 6 cp

Subject level:


Result type: Grade and marks

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


The aim of this subject is to help students develop their attitude, behaviour and thinking as designers. It aims to show them what the field of design looks like from the inside and to challenge preconceptions. Students develop their knowledge of design processes and design research techniques that are common to all design disciplines. Students learn a range of strategies for working in teams, defining design problems, researching design contexts, generating creative responses, evaluating proposals from different perspectives, and visualising the arguments for proposals. The subject also introduces students to the rigorous and self-directed learning environment of the School of Design.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

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

1. Work iteratively within a series of design frameworks to produce outcomes which evidence a developing knowledge of design thinking and revision of your own work
2. Demonstrate participation in collaborative learning opportunities in the subject, including tutorials and group work
3. Make connections between creativity, criticality and reflection
4. Demonstrate the application of curiosity, experimentation and risk taking in design
5. Manage briefs, deadlines and feedback in design projects
6. Critically reflect on own learning demonstrating awareness of strengths and weaknesses
7. Show cultural awareness and sensitivity towards Indigenous perspectives through project site research

Teaching and learning strategies

The subject will be delivered online through a combination of 1 hour lectures and 2 hour studios each week.

Lectures are online, prerecorded with some live Q and A sessions. They introduce students to Design Studies, with a focus on situated designing for complex systems. The lectures identify key concerns for designers in the era of the Anthropocene, with a particular emphasis on systems thinking and place-based designing. The lectures outline various methods for thinking through design, using examples from different design practices and projects. Students are expected to watch all lectures, take notes, and bring questions to class.

Studios are run online through zoom and other platforms. They focus on specific activities set by tutors involving systems thinking, image creation, mapping, and collaborating. These working sessions include group discussion, individual discussion and peer review. Each tutorial session involves the negotiation of a particular series of exercises. Students must attend with adequate materials and preparation. All work in progress must be prepared before tutorial sessions and brought in for feedback. This formative feedback should be used to improve and revise techniques in advance of final assessment submissions.

Please note the following:

  • Participation, preparation for and group collaboration in workshop sessions are assessable components of the subject.
  • Work produced will be discussed in subsequent classes, offering opportunities for feedback prior to submission.
  • No work presented, no feedback.
  • Students are expected to attend all lecture and tutorial sessions according to UTS Policy
  • Students are expected to complete all assigned tasks outside class.
  • Late arrivals and early departures from class will be penalized unless prior notification is approved by the Subject Co-ordinator.

Collaborative Learning. To facilitate collaborative learning, Assessment 3 involves group work and is assessed in group mode. Peer assessment is used in Assessment 1.

Online coursework. There are a number of online resources used to support the learning objectives of this subject. There are essential readings available online as well as a selection of recommended readings and helpful resources. These resources convey ideas that are key to understanding the types of thinking that designers engage with. It is therefore expected that students engage with these materials. All documents are accessible on Canvas and through the library

Feedback. The subject provides a range of formative feedback strategies.

  • All assessments will be graded in ReView.
  • Each week students are asked to complete preparatory work that revolves around the task or is a draft of the task itself. Students gain weekly verbal feedback which they then use to update their work for the following week. It is therefore vital students complete the prescribed work to receive useful formative feedback.
  • Feedback given by tutors during tutorials should be noted, and used to assist with assessment preparation. Feedback is sometimes in verbal form and sometimes in written form

English Literacy:
If students are concerned about English literacy skills they are encouraged to contact the UTS Higher Education Language and Presentation Support (HELPS) service as early as possible. See:

Assessment 2 will be assessed for English language proficiency. You will be directed to further language support after the completion of this subject if your language is below the required standard.

Academic Literacy:
The Library has many resources to support Academic Literacy.
All students new to university are encouraged to make use of this resource.

Content (topics)

  • Tools and strategies for idea generation and evaluation
  • Different approaches to research – including textual and visual material
  • Understanding and investigating the context of design inlcuding being sensitive to place and country
  • Desigining in systems
  • Sustainability and Transition
  • Designing on UTS Campus and the precinct
  • Good practice in critical reflection
  • Techniques for active observation
  • Techniques for creative exploration
  • Understanding and participating in group processes
  • Approaches to presentation and communication


Assessment task 1: Design Methods and Curiosity


This is a low-stakes, early assessment so you receive tutor and peer feedback on your work. You can use this feedback to further improve your work for the submission of Task 2 and Task 3.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:


Type: Design/drawing/plan/sketch
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 10%

Your submission has 2 parts. You must submit both parts to pass:

1. Post 3 images with captions to the discussion board on Canvas for your class. 3 posts each with 3 images. Subject of Posts should be Task1a, Task1b, Task1c. Each image should be max 1920 px wide. Captions should explain what systems you are visualising. Consider how and why curiosity, risk-taking and experimentation are important parts of the design process.

2. Make 3 comments on posts of your peers by posting ‘reply’ to their images. Ask a question, give some feedback.... in class .

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Demonstration of curiosity and experimentation 50 4
Demonstration of ability to integrate words and images to communicate observations about a system 50 4
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Thinking Through Systems


Thinking Through Systems is an individual project extending Task 1, using active observation techniques in combination with systems thinking. You will demonstrate an ability to synthesize and curate your ideas by organising your work into a system of words and images presented as a multipage pdf.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 3, 4, 5 and 6

Type: Journal
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 60%

10 x A4 pages designed as a multipage PDF, including a 600 word introduction outlining your approach and inviting the reader into your way of seeing things. This is a kind of reflective writing, but make sure you are also using it as a way to frame your work. This introduction should be the first page of your PDF.

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Ability to edit, arrange and represent content which shows a developing knowledge of design methods, revision and iteration 20 1
A perceptive analysis of systems thinking using annotations, showing how you connect the ideas of others (using the subject resources) to the development of your own analysis 20 3
Experimental approach using active observation exploring unconventional thinking and risk-taking 20 4
Ability to identify how your learning journey changes over time, including areas of achievement and areas for development 20 6
Demonstrated preparation for weekly studio activities by experimenting with techniques independently and bringing your work to studio each week 20 5
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 3: Thinking Through Mapping


Thinking Through Mapping is a group project which builds on your individual work in the subject. You will learn how to communicate in two ways: as a designer in a team; as a design team to an audience. Based on your research throughout the semester, you will develop a set of maps which contextualizes your observations and discussions within a systems thinking approach. The maps will be developed iteratively by the group and may include cartographic maps as well as conceptual maps. Reflection on the process of group collaboration forms a key component of this project.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 2, 4, 5 and 7

Type: Presentation
Groupwork: Group, group assessed
Weight: 30%

7 minute presentation to your tutor on zoom. You will host the meeting and invite your tutor. There is no file submission, so your presentation must be well organised and succinct.

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Quality, depth and sensitivity of the observations underlying the maps and presentation, demonstrating iteration of ideas, processes and design methods. 20 1
A reflective approach to group learning, making allowances for different approaches and learning styles 20 2
Openness to exploring multiple pathways through system analysis, and combining ideas to produce creative ideas. 20 4
Ability to manage group expectations and progress for weekly development, including preparation and presentation of progress week-to-week. 20 5
Ability to contextualise research including demonstrating awareness of Indigenous perspectives 20 7
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Minimum requirements

Students must submit all three assessments to pass the subject. 80% attendance is required in lectures, tutorials, field trips and in-class presentations. Records of lecture and tutorial attendance will be kept.

Required texts

Please access all required readings through the library website.

Recommended texts

Alexander, C. 1968, ‘Systems generating systems,’ Architectural Design, Vol. 38, December, pp. 605-610.

Ambrose, G. & Harris, P. 2010, Design thinking, AVA Academia, Lausanne, pp. 10-33.

Baskinger, M. & Bardel, W. 1999, Drawing Ideas: a hand-drawn approach for better design, Watson-Guptill Publications, NY, pp. 144-158.

Berry, V. 2018, Mirror Sydney: an atlas of reflections, Giramondo, Artarmon, pp. 1-12.

Calvino, I. 1978, Invisible cities, trans. W. Weaver, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, NY.

Crosby, A., & Stein, J. A. (2020). Repair. Environmental Humanities, 12(1), 179-185.

Cross, N. 2006, Designerly ways of knowing, Springer, London.

Cross, N. 2011, Design thinking: understanding how designers think and work, Berg Publishers, NY.

Debord, G. Theory of the Derive (1956) in 1996 Theory of the Dérive and other situationist writings on the city, Meseu d’Art Conteporani de Barcelona, ACTAR, Barcelona.

Dorst, K. 2017, Notes on design: how creative practice works, BISPublishers, Amsterdam.

Dorst, K. 2006, Under-standing design, 2nd edn. BIS, Amsterdam (‘Inside design/Design As…), pp. 13-19.

Dorst, K. 2006, Under-standing design, 2nd edn. BIS, Amsterdam (‘Being a designer/Design Teams), pp. 138-143.

Farrally, L. 2011, Drawing for urban design, Laurence King, London (The City in Context chapter).

Farrally, L & Crowson, N. 2015, Representational techniques for architecture, 2nd edn, Fairchild Books, London. (Sketch chapter)

Fisher, F. & Sparke, P. 2016, The Routledge companion to design studies, Routledge, NY.

Fry, T. 2017, Remaking cities, Bloomsbury, London.

Gammage, B. 2011, The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, pp. 5-17.

Gardner, S. 2018, Drawing: a complete guide, Thames & Hudson, London, pp. 58-88 (Mark-making and media).

Gibson, J. 1978, The ecological approach to the visual perception of pictures,’ Leonardo Vol. 11, pp. 227-235.

Gheerawo, R. 2016, 'Socially inclusive design: a people-centred perspective' in P. Sparke & F. Fisher, The Routledge companion to design studies, Routledge, London, p. 310.

Gibson, J. 1986, The ecological approach to visual perception, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London.

Gray, C. & Malins, J. 2004, Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design,

Ashgate, Surrey, p. 40.

Hancock, J. G. 2015, All the buildings in Sydney: that I’ve drawn so far, Hardie Grant Books, Richmond, VIC.

Harmon, K. 2004, You are here: personal geographies and other maps of the imagination, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Harmon, K. 2009, The map as art: contemporary artists explore cartography, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

Heskett, J. 2005, Design: a very short introduction (Vol. 136), Oxford University Press, Chapter 1, pp. 1-7.

Hromek, M. 2016, Iconic Redfern: the creation and disintegration of an urban Aboriginal icon, Proceedings of the 13th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference, UHPH 2016 Icons: The Making, Meaning and Undoing of Urban Icons and Iconic Cities, Australasian Urban History/Planning History Group and Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD, pp. 530-540.

Hunter, B. 2007, Space is the machine, Space Syntax, London, p. 111, chapter 4.

Hyde, K. 2015, ‘Honks, Horns, Howls & Laughter’ in Sawdon, P. & Marshall, R. Drawing ambiguity: beside the lines of contemporary art, I.B. Taurus, London, pp. 83-98.

Ilhein, L. ‘Interview with Glenn Barkley’ in R. Kent In the balance: art for a changing world, 21 Aug – 31 Oct 2010, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, exhibition catalogue, pp. 102-103.

Kim, D. 1999, Introduction to systems thinking, Pegasus Communications, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Klee, P. 1953, Pedagogical sketchbook, Faber and Faber, London.

Lawson, B. 2004, What designers know, Routledge, NY.

Lawson, J. 2005, How designers think: demystifying the design process, Taylor & Francis, pp. 3-6.

Lorber-Kasunic, J. & Crosby, A. 2016, ‘Politics, the political, and design’ in C. Edwards [ed.], The Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design, Vol. 3, Bloomsbury Academic, London, pp. 65-66.

Maslen, M. & Southern, J. 2011, Drawing projects: an exploration of the language of drawing, Black Dog Publishing, London.

Martin, K. & Mirraboopa, B. 2003, ‘Ways of knowing, being and doing: a theoretical framework and methods for indigenous and indigenist re-search,’ Journal of Australian studies, Vol. 27, Iss. 76, pp. 203-214.

McCluskey, K. 2012, ‘Every map has an agenda,’ Artlink, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 58-61.

Nykänen, A. Wingstedt, J. Sundhage, J. & Mohlin, P. 2015, ‘Sketching sounds – kinds of listening and their functions in designing,’ Design studies, Vol. 39, pp. 19-47

Pais, A. ‘Unfolding potentials (within and across),’ in A.P. Pais & C.F. Strauss [eds.], Slow reader: a resource for design thinking and practice, Valiz, Amsterdam.

Pascoe, B. 2014, Dark emu, Magabala Books, Introduction.

Phillips, D. 2010, ‘Analagous cities’ in C. Davies & M. Parrinder, Limited language: rewriting design, Birkhauser, Basel, p. 173.

Randerson, J. 2018, Weather as medium: toward a meteorological art, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Chapter 1.

Roberts, C. & Kleiner, A. 1999, ‘Five kinds of systems thinking’ in Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G. & Smith, B. The dance of change, Currency Doubleday, New York, p. 137-149.

Smith, K. 2008, How to be an explorer of the world, Portable life museum, 1st Edn., Penguin Group, New York.

Solnit, R. 2016, ‘Centers and edges’ in R. Solnit & J. Jelly-Schapiro, Nonstop metropolis: a New York city atlas, University of California Press, Oakland.

Tufte, E. 2006, Beautiful evidence, Graphics Press, Connecticut.

Vanni, I., & Crosby, A. (2020). The not-yet-tropical: mapping recombinant ecologies in a Sydney suburb. Visual Communication, 1470357220915652.

Vanni, I., & Crosby, A. (2020). Special Issue Editorial:‘Recombinant Ecologies in the City’.

Zeegen, L. 2012, The Fundamentals of Illustration, 2nd Edn. AVA Academia, Lausanne. (chapter 2)

Other resources

HEADS UP: Access HEADS UP through the Library website for a range of video assistance with:

  • Academic writing
  • Referencing
  • Using the library
  • Presentations
  • Study Skills, and much much more

Academic Writing Guide: Available through the library website. It also contains a section on research writing and a short section on assessment.

English language resources
Just a reminder that we have a wide variety of resources to support English language learning including but not limited to: Grammarly@EDU is an automated grammar tutor and revision tool for academic writing. It works one-on-one with a student to develop sentence-level writing skills, prevent plagiarism, and reinforce proper revision habits. Upload drafts of your writing assignments to Grammarly@EDU to receive immediate instructional feedback on over 100 points of grammar. See this page for the full list or search for 'Grammarly' through the Library website.