Innovation by Design

Innovation by Design (IBD) is an interdisciplinary course that teaches introductory conceptual and practical approaches to ‘design thinking.’

Design thinking focuses on solving ‘wicked problems’ by using a human-centered methodology to effectively define challenges people face, collect meaningful qualitative data, iterate alternative design options, and build and iterate prototype solutions.

Stanford process

Design thinking is moving to wide application in many settings and the methodology will be useful for students who wish to develop their own problem solving and group facilitation/teamwork skills in multidisciplinary settings.

  • This project-based course is built around 6 virtual live sessions as well as learning modules and videos that guide you and your team through the stages of a design process 
  • Interdisciplinary teams use the latest collaborative technology to tackle a real challenge from a community partner
  • The course is open to undergraduate students (level 3 or higher) and graduate students
  • The course has no final exam
  • See the Fall 2020 course outline for more information
Use visual collaboration tools like
Students smiling and working together at a board with sticky notes.

IBD I Schedule

Course Code: HTH SCI 4ID3
Time: Thursdays, 1:30-4:30 
Notes: Contact Laura Smith for permission to enroll (Year 3 students) or to be put on waitlist.

Past Students and Projects

Innovation By Design students consistently rise to the challenges put to them by their instructor, community stakeholders, and mentors.

Check out some of their profiles and excellent work here.


Working with IBM Canada

To enhance learning, the Health Leadership Academy is fortunate to work alongside IBM Canada. Several plenaries are facilitated by Karel Vredenburg, Director of IBM Design Worldwide Clinical Programs, Head of IBM Studios Canada and DeGroote’s School of Business Industry Professor.

Past Project Sponsors

To leverage design thinking approaches while addressing community needs, project sponsors have worked with IBD students to identify and source plausible solutions that could be applied to real world challenges. Past project sponsors include:

“I think those of us who’ve been around a while and have the knowledge and experience should give back to those just starting out.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying doing just that by teaching a pan-university undergraduate Innovation by Design course at McMaster University (on Saturdays) to provide students from all faculties the ways of thinking, the knowledge, and the tools to equip them to bring innovative approaches to whatever they pursue in life.”

Karel Vredenburg, IBM Canada


I chose Innovation by Design because I want to make a systems-level change in healthcare services, particularly those involving families. Our project with MacART enables me to do just that, but in an overwhelmingly positive way I hadn’t necessarily expected. When attending classes, preparing interview questions, meeting our project sponsors, receiving strong support from our project mentor Amanda, I feel completely immersed in the work. I feel whole, reflective of the holistic approach we take in gathering stakeholder perspectives before ideating and prototyping solutions. I lose track of time, a tell-tale sign that I am drawn by the course content. I think it has a lot to do with the student-centred experience of the course, along with the patient-centred approach in our projects; both classes and project assignments synergistically work to foster a person-centred design mindset. Design is deeply personal, and I feel that Innovation by Design beautifully embodies this concept.

Theebhana Prethipan, BHSc IV

I enrolled in Innovation by Design to step away from scientific methodology and into the world of design thinking. As a science student, we are prepared to tackle complex problems in the labs, but often, practical problems outside the labs aren’t taught. This fuelled my motivation to enrol in this course and thus far it has been a positive learning journey. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how the course would be structured in terms of the projects we would be assigned, but the flexibility makes it easy to fit into our personal schedules which is always a benefit! Moreover, our workshops revolve around working in the same groups, and at the beginning I thought that working in the same groups was repetitive, but after one semester, I really appreciate how I have grown with my group. We understand each other, sympathize with one another and know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. It truly feels like a team project as opposed to an assigned group project that I normally experience in my university courses. This course is challenging in ways I did not expect. Usually, projects are laid out in detail by the professor, but in this course, I had to adjust to working on a project presented abstractly with little direction from the instructor. In the beginning, it was quite difficult, but the instructor was very helpful on answering questions, so as the semester progressed, my ability to take these abstract ideas and create direction out of them also progressed. I believe these are skills that are crucial for university students to learn, regardless of their post-graduate plans. Therefore, so far, this course has been an amazing journey! I’m looking forward to the second part of it.

Hajer Nakua, BSc IV

Innovation By Design offers a highly practical opportunity to work towards vexing and deeply impactful problems in health across a series of institutions. My group of 5 students had the good fortune of working alongside faculty members from McMaster, as well as staff & executive members from The Hospital for Sick Children to explore opportunities to apply design thinking principles towards the improvement of personal protective equipment use. The experience thus far has been enriching and truly offers an opportunity for us to construct our own understanding of the complexity of processes, systems, and organizations that govern & deliver healthcare. I recommend the course to students in any discipline with any semblance of interest in health innovation.

Krish Bilimoria, BHSC IV

Throughout university, I never experienced an interdisciplinary course such as Innovation By Design. Not only did I meet amazing people from different faculties, it was exciting and motivating each week to work alongside them to brainstorm incredible ideas to tackle real life problems in ways that could only flourish in a course that promoted divergent ways of thinking. I have never been so excited to attend class more so than this course. By introducing an analogous way of thinking thrived to spark new insights and bring forth ideas I would have never thought of in any other course. 4ID3 has been an incredible experience because I have always been passionate about innovation. Last year, I had the opportunity to pursue one of my ideas and have since gained the support of multiple profs. It was refreshing to know that there is such a knowledgeable community right on campus that allows students apply concepts learned in the classroom to follow their startup ideas. The frameworks learned in the classroom were easily understood and applicable to the real world like I have never experienced before. For example, rapid iteration was one of the most important lessons I take away from the course and now I apply it to my startup on a daily basis. Through learning on how it affects big companies and other startups, I was able to apply rapid iteration to receive critical feedback of our early prototypes and improve it in meaningful ways much quicker than having a set plan and learning from potential customers too late. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to take an elective which could apply concepts learned in class into real world projects.

Cameron Siou, BSc IV

This course has exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of education, engagement, project-based learning and design thinking. The instructors and guest speakers are always consistently inspirational, and their mentorship in our respective projects was a valuable learning experience for me. 4ID3 has re-sparked my interest in innovation, broadened my horizons in what is possible to be achieved in this world, and is one of the most empowering and useful courses I’ve ever taken.

Angela Dong, BHSc II