CS29/PBS19 Impact Design, F18

Impact Design: The psychology and design of user experiences that delight and inform.

Faculty: Thalia Wheatley and Lorie Loeb

3B.  Kemeny 007


Impact design is a recent term that refers to “design initiatives or projects intended to be evaluated according to qualitative and quantitative social and scientific metrics.” ( This innovative, project-based course is about impact- what it is, how you experience it, how you create it, how you measure it.  We focus on delight because we believe it is one of the most successful emotion to focus on to create impact. Students will learn how to combine core principles from human psychology with the tools of design to create products and user experiences that promote engagement, adoption, and learning.

Why delight? More and more attention is being paid to this emotion that, while not well-understood, appears to play an important role in learning, engagement, user experience, product adoption, business and a happy life.

In this class, small teams of students will work together to create experiences that engage and delight the user and have meaningful impact. To put this into practice, student teams will work with teens from the Hartford Autism Regional Program (HARP), designing and developing both a product and an experience that is emotionally meaningful for the HARP student. In addition, each team will create methods and metrics for measuring impact and do a presentation of their work with judges from Dartmouth and HARP.

Throughout the course you will gain knowledge about the power of impact, the definition of delight, the design process and how it is applied to building product and user experiences with a focus on creating delight, and you will have opportunities to practice creating and being delighted in order to understand and articulate why all this matters.

Along the way, the course will explore key questions, such as:

  • What makes something affecting?

  • What is the design process and how is it applied in this real-world setting to create positive impact?

  • Why are some moments meaningful and how might you create more?

  • Why and how does the brain reward anticipation?

  • What psychological principles lead to real attitude and behavioral change?

  • How can technology help create and measure delight?

  • How do businesses apply user experience design and delight, and why?


  • Term-long project with HARP

    • Meet with participant for one hour, three times, at HARP during specified times.

    • Follow HCD design process to create a product and experience for the HARP student that will create delight

    • Design and implement a way to measure impact

    • Create something to leave behind (e.g. “memory book”)

    • Presentation at end of term

  • Assignments to build personal capacity for noticing and creating impact/delight

    • Group Instagram “diary” with an average of 3 posts per week noticing delight and one noticing absence of delight

    • Readings and quiz on readings

    • Pits, Transitions, Milestone exercises (individual and group work)

    • Teams create delight experiences for the class (one per team)

    • Assignment on technology, UX, and autism

    • Assignment to Learn How to Measure Impact


15% Attendance and Participation

35% Homework assignments (twitter, delight challenge, storytelling, etc.)

40% Final Project, Presentation, Deliverable

10% Exam and class reflections

See Metrics of Success for specifics on expectations for the course


class breakdown

The class is designed with key three parts.  

  1. The first few weeks focus on introducing key concepts about impact, design, and autism that you will need for the term project with your HARP student.

  2. The second portion of the class deepens our understanding of impact, including science and applications (business and life) of delight, plus principles for building products and experiences.

  3. The last part is dedicated to measuring impact and completing your term projects.