colleen and team at whiteboard

Imagine it's the first day of fall term and you walk into your last class to find dimmed lights, flickering candles, soft music, and warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. This is what I experienced on the first day of "Impact Design."

With a name like "Impact Design," I suppose I should have expected the first class to leave a lasting impression, but I was so charmed by the initial experience of walking into the classroom to find cookies, candles, and music that I set aside any expectations I had for the course. At that moment, I knew that this class was going to be something like I had never experienced before. And, so far, it has been! 

Impact Design is considered a Social Impact Practicum, meaning that we are spending the term working with individuals from the local community. In our case, it means that my team and I are working with an autistic teenager from the Hartford Autism Regional Program (HARP). And, because the topic of this year's Impact Design class is "delight" (the whole cookie thing makes a lot more sense when put in that context), our end-of-term project is essentially to create a product or experience that can repeatedly bring delight to our HARP student. Easy enough, right?

In the past five weeks, I have been able to dive in to truly understand what "delight" is and how products/experiences can repeatedly bring delight to neuro-atypical individuals. The course is cross-listed with both the Computer Science and Psychology departments, so our smaller assignments have focused on designing delightful digital user experiences as well as understanding the differences between individuals who are on the autism spectrum versus those who are neuro-typical.

One of my favorite assignments from the course has to do with understanding how to design an experience that is universally delightful. Each Tuesday, a different team is assigned the task of delighting everyone in the class using a budget of only $25. So far, we've had food, games, music, fake champagne, upgrades to first class on "Delight Airlines," story time, bubbles, and play dough in 'kindergarten.' My team is the very last team tasked with delighting the class, meaning that the stakes (and expectations) will be even higher. Bring on the challenge!

All in all, Impact Design has been unlike any other class I have taken at Dartmouth. The social impact nature of the course combined with its interdisciplinary focus has made the course quite delightful, to say the least.

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