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Students in the Design Abroad: India course work with a community-based organization to develop a human rights awareness social media campaign.

Social Innovation Design

The Social Innovation Design pathway offers students a series of courses that connects their home discipline and studio work to the broader context of social action and purpose in design.

Students in the Design Abroad: India course work with a community-based organization to develop a human rights awareness social media campaign.

Social Innovation Design Pathway

The Social Innovation Design pathway augments a student’s home program providing a framework and tangible tools for creating positive social impact through their design practices. Taken as electives, this pathway of courses combines design -- design thinking and making -- with business and innovation. The focus is to help students find sustainable paths to developing products, services and systems that aim to improve the lives of their intended users. Multidisciplinary design and community-based projects combined with in-class study, discussion, and discovery give students both depth and breadth in understanding the social dimension of their emerging design practices. These courses can be taken in sequence or individually, and can also fulfill requirements as part of the Entrepreneurship & Social Innovation Minor.


Social Innovation Design Pathway Courses:


Think Tank 1: Awareness (GDES-2001)

This interdisciplinary course examines the social condition of where and how we live in the context of the Faculty of Designs primary mandate Design and Humanity. The significant impact that intelligent and sustainable design can have on people’s lives and the considerable responsibility that the designer has to society are critical factors in shaping behaviour and turning research and perception into action. Strategies for change are channeled into potential project solutions in this course through the research, discussion and debate of current societal issues.


Social Innovation Design (GDES-3011)

This course challenges students to delve into the realm of social innovation design. Through readings and analysis of case studies as well as individual and group projects, class discussions, and presentations, students will explore the full definition of sustainability to understand the environmental, social, cultural, and financial implications and opportunities of design. Students will study and evaluate trends, technology, and business models in relation to design practices focused on creating a positive social impact, both locally and internationally. The goal of Social Innovation Design is to teach emerging design practitioners about the potential of design to create transformative social change.


Participatory Design (GDES-3051)

This course offers students the opportunity to engage in an intensive semester-long community-based participatory design project. Through this collaborative and immersive experience, students work with organizations to organize, facilitate, and co-design with members of a specific community. It offers community members the opportunity to directly engage in projects that will benefit themselves and others. Through a mix of structured interaction with the community as well as studio-based work and critique, students are challenged to hone their ideation and prototyping skills while engaging in systems thinking in order to develop design solutions that reflect the goals of the community.


Social Enterprise Catalyst (GDES-3113)

In this course, students will explore their ideas for socially innovative projects that have the potential to evolve into social enterprises. Through workshops, guest presentations, fieldtrips, and one-on-one mentorship, students will create prototypes, conduct field based testing, develop business models, and prepare presentations for potential funding opportunities. The goal is to help students establish viable social innovation projects positioned for launch over the summer and after graduation.


Design Study Abroad aka Design Abroad (GDES-3079)

This course offers students a unique opportunity to work within a local community in an international setting to engage in solutions that can have a meaningful impact. This experience will allow students to gain an in-depth understanding of a local culture through exploration, observation, and other design tools. Working independently and in groups, students will interact with organizations and members of a community to identify challenges and possible solutions. Students will then integrate what they have learned through this participatory design process to develop design solutions that are innovative, appropriate, and implementable. More about this course can be found at


Creative Practice: Preparing for a Changing World (GDES-3094)

The course introduces students entering creative fields in art and design to the many ways they can apply what they are learning in their formal studies to a career path that is rewarding and successful, but not always predictable. Students will explore professional practice issues including creative practice, professional conduct, time and financial management, entrepreneurship, skills for navigating fluctuating economies, ethics, etiquette and privacy in an increasing online world. From global trends to local realities, this course will apply these topics in a forward thinking manner to be adaptive to the inevitable shifts in the marketplace. This professional practice focuses on career development for students considering socially-motivated art and design practices.

As mentioned above, these courses can be taken in sequence or individually. Below is a map of how these courses are situated in the semester offerings.

For more information about the Social Innovation Design Pathway, contact Sarah Tranum, Assistant Professor of Social Innovation Design, at

Courses Along the Pathway


Course Pathways