Design Thinking for Social Innovation


As we are faced with increasingly complex social problems, a growing number of non-profit organizations, governments and international agencies are turning to design thinking. The notion of designing for good has become a trend over the past decade, leveraging the tools and method of the creative problem-solving approach of Design Thinking. Design thinking, which has already attracted many companies in search of disruptive innovation, is particularly suited to addressing complex and systemic social and environmental issues with equally complex and complicated solutions. This course through an action-based and experiential approach will introduce participants to design thinking, a human-centered approach to social innovation to develop meaningful and sustainable solutions (products, services, communication, processes etc.). At the end of the course, students will have learnt the importance of human-centered design in creating social innovation and engaging with different stakeholders. They will also have experimented methods to (re-) frame problems and turn them into opportunities, generate and prototype ideas while having the opportunity to develop key skills for their future career: collaboration skills, project experience and a portfolio of innovative techniques. Overall the course aims to provide participants with an environment to become creative and innovative thinkers and collaborators, and be empowered to students to lead social innovation, social entrepreneurship and innovation movements. Design Thinking for Social Innovation is suitable for those who are interested in social innovation and/or design thinking and methods but does not require familiarity with either. 

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Anne-laure Fayard


Weekly - Available soon

Total - Available soon

Teaching language





A full list will be provided with the final syllabus under each section. We will also use podcasts from the Design Thinking Roundtable Podcasts:

Selected list of cases and readings used / referrd to in the course:

Johansson, 2006. Introduction and Ch. 1, The Intersection: Your Best Chance to Innovate, The Medici Effect , HBS.

Fayard, AL. 2018. Why Design Thinking Matters? Journal of Financial Transformation

Case: Designing Services at Engine (Case A)

Brown, T., Wyatt, J. 2010 ¿Design Thinking for Social Innovation¿, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2010, pp. 29-35.

Brown, T., 2011, Why Social Innovators Need Design Thinking, Stanford Social Innovation Review, November 2011.

Kolko, J., 2012, Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving. A Handbook and Call to Action, AC4D, Austin, TX.

Papanek, V., 1971, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Pantheon Books, New York.

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

Teaching method

In its approach, this course is action-based and experiential. Such an approach highlights the complexity of many social issues and the need for interconnected, systemic responses. Designing for social innovation requires taking a system approach that involves multi-disciplinary collaboration and engagement of all stakeholders including the end-users or beneficiaries. Through multiple activities, mini-challenges and a semester-long project, it invites participants to experience the whole design innovation process (researching, ideating, prototyping, testing, communicating and implementing) with a focus on developing and sustaining social innovations.

Evaluation method

Participation: 20 %

Individual research participation : 10%

Four reflections (to be posted on the course blog): 25%

Team project: 35%

Peer review: 10% 

Subject matter

1 - Introduction: Perspectives on the creative process and social innovation

2: Collaborative creativity

3: Design Research to Develop Deep Contextual Understanding

4: Interviews and facilitation

5 : Holistically: Service design and system thinking

6 : Sense Making and Framing

7: Ideation: The art of brainstorming + Introduction to visual thinking

8 : Prototyping / Thinking with our hands: Artifacts and embodied cognition

9 : Learning from rapid prototyping and user feedback

10 : Refinement and Storytelling

11: Impact and managing as Designing

12 : Conclusions and Final Presentations