Innovation By Design

This course enables students to engage in design thinking as a methodology to assess health problems / challenges, collect meaningful data, iterate alternative design options, and build a prototype solution for validation with user groups. This interdisciplinary course teaches conceptual approaches to ‘design thinking’ and develops capabilities with spotting, supporting and scaling up new innovative ideas.

The first Innovation by Design class launched in January 2017 with a class of 29 students from across all faculties at McMaster University. In September 2017, a second cohort with 26 students was offered. This interdisciplinary course teaches students conceptual approaches to ‘design thinking’ and develops their capabilities to spot, support and scale new innovative ideas. Design thinking enables the students to learn a stage-gated design process that is user-centered with an empathic focus.

To enhance learning, the Health Leadership Academy is fortunate to work alongside the 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.

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

To leverage design thinking approaches while addressing community needs, 6 project sponsors have been secured and teams of 4-5 students will work towards applying design thinking principles to identify and source plausible solutions that can be applied to real world challenges. Project sponsors currently include: The Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA), McMaster Autism Research Team (macART), McMaster Integrated BioMedical Engineering Health Sciences Programme (iBioMed), Synapse Life Science Consortium, and the City of Hamilton. The class runs the full academic year with final projects submissions due in April 2018.

Looking forward to 2018-19, a 3rd cohort will begin in September 2018.


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