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Innovation: designing for a sustainable future

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How do successful innovations emerge? How do designers, technologists, managers and end-users create and develop new ideas, designs and inventions? How are these translated into marketable products? This module examines these questions, but its concerns go beyond innovation just for commercial and competitive advantage. It also looks at whether and how innovation can be directed towards ensuring a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable future. You'll work on a project either individually or in a team that makes use of the ideas and methods taught in the module. This module is fully accessible even if you do not have a technical background.

Modules at Level 3 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

What you will study

Central to the module is a project in which you have the chance to apply some of the ideas and lessons which you have learned.

The module is structured into five blocks that explore various aspects of innovation.

Block 1 Introduction looks at what motivates individuals and organisations to invent, such as the desire to make money, technical curiosity, or a desire to help others. You will see how designers and technologists create ideas for new designs and inventions and consider why some succeed while others fail. The block examines the increasing complexity and cost of developing new technology and how this has changed the influence of the ‘lone inventor’; how the context for innovation has been revolutionised by information and communication technologies (ICTs) and how a concern for the environment has become an increasingly important factor for designers, technologists and consumers.

Block 2 Markets looks at how designers’ ideas are turned into saleable products through the consideration of peoples’ needs. You will see how responses to new ideas and products are identified and how markets shape the innovation process. Through case studies you will consider ways in which products are designed for potential users.

Block 3 Products looks more closely at how new product ideas and inventions are designed, developed and manufactured into commercially viable new products. The block introduces techniques for assessing and reducing the environmental impacts of such products, including the use of environmental assessment software. Through case studies of the practice and management of new product development you will examine the development of conventional products and innovations as well as the practice of, and limitations to, ‘eco-design’ and sustainable design.

Block 4 Diffusion follows through by looking at how products fare in the marketplace – how they diffuse into use, how consumers respond to them, and at the extent to which changing consumer preferences and concerns are influencing future technologies. You will look at examples where consumer concern for environmental protection has led to the development of specific new ‘green’ products and technologies. You will also examine the role of governments in steering the direction of technological and product development to meet environmental objectives.

Finally, Block 5 Consumption looks at what is needed to build a socially and environmentally sustainable future. The block considers whether pressures from consumers and governments, and the efforts of enlightened companies and innovators to develop new, more sustainable technologies, can bring about the change that is needed, or if it will be necessary to develop a more sustainable approach to consumption. The module raises some big questions such as does ‘sustainable consumption’ mean consuming less but gaining a better quality of life?

Student project

An important part of the module is a project that runs through much of the year. It gives you an opportunity to try your hand at parts of the innovation process by generating and developing a new product idea. You have the option of working either individually or in a small group. Support for your project work will be provided by your tutor, as well as through a series of booklets and the module DVD-ROM.


This is a Level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

There are no prerequisites for this module, although it would be useful to have studied the Level 2 module Design and designing (T211) (now discontinued).

This interdisciplinary module is designed to be fully accessible whether you have a technical background or not. You can get some idea of the content by looking at the study materials. Your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

While you need to think carefully about your choice of project, there should be sufficient flexibility in the project requirement for you to be able to choose something appropriate. You will need to be able to use a computer to access support material on the DVD-ROMs, and to conduct searches on the internet. The module contains a certain amount of visual material. The books are available in a comb-bound format. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

The module is structured around five blocks that comprise printed texts with self-assessment questions and separate guides to study and project work. In addition materials on DVD-ROMs support the study texts and project work. All study materials can also be downloaded from the module website.

Alternative versions of some of the software are available if you use an Apple Mac or Linux system.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, who you can ask for advice and guidance. Online tutorials are usually offered on this module. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. The location of tutorials will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The TMAs include a project report. 

Professional recognition

This module may help you to gain recognition from a professional body. You can view or download our Recognition leaflet 3.3 Professional Engineering Institutions for further information.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2014 when it will be available for the last time.

Students also studied

Students who studied this course also studied at some time:

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“If you are looking for a truly superb course and you have an interest in innovation and creative thinking this ...”
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“A highly enjoyable course, much more interesting than I thought it would be. For the project best to stick to ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code T307
Credits 60
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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