Design for sustainability


This course aims to explore and practice some of the fundamental tools of designing for sustainability with a focus on the desirability and economic viability of interventions.


  • Marius Aeberli
  • Marc Laperrouza

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The course is given in english.

Design for Sustainability takes the participants through practical concepts, tools and processes to propose design interventions that aim to improve the co-existence of humans, preserve biodiversity, and life-supporting systems. It integrates environmental, economic, social and cultural dimensions. The course explores interventions at different levels (material, product, product-service system, social innovation, and system transformation). It covers the framing, ideation and prototyping phases of designing for sustainability.

The course builds on the blueprint proposed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The global and local challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, social justice require new solutions that challenge traditional innovation mindsets and business models.

Sessions in the fall semester are devoted to design research (e.g., field research, user observation, design thinking, system thinking, sensemaking, framing, ideation). During the spring semester, sessions will be devoted to the prototyping of a solution through a project-based approach. Teams will be made up of engineers (EPFL), social scientists (UNIL) and designers (ECAL).

By the end of the course, the student must be able to :

  • Identify intervention opportunities for ill-defined problems through exploration and framing
  • Apply a sustainability-centered design process
  • Apply an iterative prototyping approach to test the sustainability, desirability, economic viability and the technical feasibility of your idea(s)
  • Develop an innovative and sustainable intervention through ideation techniques
  • Communicate effectively with professionals from other disciplines
  • Take account of the social and human dimensions of the engineering profession
  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Fieldwork
  • Group work under lecturer supervision
  • Work in interdisciplinary teams
  • Attend regularly project consultations
  • Design an intervention through prototyping
  • Document and valorize the processes of designing for sustainability

First semester

  • Documentation of framework-in-action : 40% (group, during the semester)
  • Intervention blueprint : 40% (individual, end of the semester)
  • Reflexive note : 20% (individual, end of the semester)

Second semester

  • Project and documentation : 80% (groupwork)
  • Reflexive note : 20% (individual)

For EPFL students, this course is available in the SHS programme.

For UNIL students, this course is available in the following programmes :

  • Geosciences
  • HEC
  • Other faculties (please refer to study plans)

For the latest health measures, please refer to the course Moodle page.