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Visual Communications Seminar
GDES Fall 2016
Selected Fridays, 9am - 12:40pm

Instructor: Ida C. Benedetto
ida @ uncommonplaces . com
Office hours by appointment

Experience Design

Experience Design can be defined as the creation of experiences for the purposes of entertainment, persuasion, recreation, or human enrichment where the emotional journey of the individual or a group is the focus. The influence of experience design is hard to refute. JWT’s “Future 100 Trends and Changes to Watch in 2015” cites “experientialism” as a dominant trend in retail design. Marketing firms are quickly adding experiential campaigns as one of their cutting edge offerings along with more traditional media channels. Alternative experience meccas like Burning Man have entered mainstream awareness. Disney Imagineering maintains such powerful cultural and economic sway that it successfully lobbied the US government to create a custom visa class for its foreign-born theme park workers. Experience design in increasingly everywhere.


In this course, we will look at foundational concepts that influence the design of experiences. The goal is to gain insights relevant beyond the experience design hype. The insights should enrich your practice no matter what medium you work in. Readings include works of sociology, anthropology, and psychology, as well as sampling from game design, fringe cultural actors, and critical theory on identity politics.


Readings, attendance, and in-class participation are a must. In addition, you are asked to design and execute an experience yourselves. Successful experiences, which meaningfully and generously engage participants, will be applauded. Failed attempts, which fall short of creating new possibilities in the world, will be honored for the lessons presented. Communication outside class is by email and group Slack discuss.


You will be evaluated on the quality of your engagement, the rigor of your design activities, and the insightfulness with which you assess your own work.
Grading: In class participation - 30%, Assignments - 30%, Final experience and self-assessment - 40%.

For additional information on VCU policies, see

Schedule and Assignments

Aug 26

Assignment (Due Sep 2nd):

  • Compose a short written reflection (300 - 500 words) on an experience that moved you profoundly.

Sep 2: Introduction to Social Experience and Experience Design


  • Overview of my background
  • Overview of Goffman
  • Discussion of Experience Design potential in Richmond


Assignment (Ongoing, but due Sep 21):

  • Observe locations and phenomenon around Richmond that could benefit from experience design, for example: parking tickets or abandoned structures. Post observations to Slack, both verbal and photographic. Focus on the emotional and social pull of the thing you are observing.

Sep 23: Potentials and Possibilities for Experience Design


  • Overview of the current historical moment and the nature of ritual
  • Discussion of Observations


Assignment (Due Oct 21):

  • Chose a few observations from the previous assignment to experiment with and test. What assumptions do you have about the phenomenon? What do you still not understand about it? Do social and exploratory experiments to clarify how the phenomenon works and why. Write a short (300 - 500 word) reflection on how it went. Honest reflections on challenges and failures are more useful than posturing about success. General discussion on Slack before turning in your reflection is encouraged.

Oct 14: Handy Things from Game Design


  • Overview of game design and flow states
  • Discussion of tests and experiments


Assignment (Due Nov 2):

  • Design and write up the plan for an experience based on the previous two assignments with an eye toward actually executing the experience. The plan should include the results of observations and initial tests, how they inform the experience design, overall goals for the experiences, who it is for and why, and production plans, including details on the schedule, materials, and support team. Complete this assignment in groups of 3 - 4 people. (Check in with me if you want to do this in bigger groups.)

Nov 4: Getting A Little Wild with Open Ended Experiences


  • Overview of Cacophony Principals and Participatory Culture
  • Discussion of Experience Design plans


Group Focusing and Tuning (Due Nov 8th):

  • Submit answers to these questions as groups:
    • Who is your experience for?
    • How are you meaningfully and generously engaging participants?
    • What is the goal? What do you want the participants to experience?
    • What could go wrong? Why won’t this work?
    • What would wild success look like?

Group Progress Calls (Nov 13th & 14th):

  • Discuss specific plans and progress with designing the expereince
  • Follow up benchmarks will be decided upon on a group by group basis.

Final Assignment (Due Dec 2):

  • Implement the experience!
  • Write individual reflections on how it went (I will post questions to structure the reflections).
  • Come to the final class prepared to share results as a group and discuss.

Dec 2: Bodies and Identities


  • Overview of Identity and Body Politics
  • Presentations from students on their experiences

Readings: (Read them in this order so if your brain melts, it does so in a good way, not a bad way.)

Additional Resources (updated continuously):


Syllabus for Experience Design Seminar



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