ImpactSpring 2011

Students experience Experience Design

Surely, a syllabus that lists a field trip to Disney World can’t be taken seriously, right? And a course dedicated to pirate life? Impossible.But within the swashbuckling small world of UIndy, there’s an opportunity for students to have those experiences—and to learn what it takes to create such an experience for others.

A fascination with the world of themed environments in restaurants, theme parks, and museums led ebullient sophomore Jack Cummings (right, having more fun than the photo suggests) to decide that the new experience design major is nothing short of “incredibly mind-blowing.” Experience design is a research-based method of hands-on learning used to create scenarios in which audiences are taught or entertained by interacting with the designed environment.

If you’ve been to a museum exhibit or restaurant that seems to have transported you to a different time and place, you already have a good under-standing of what the experience design major prepares students for. There are already more than 40 students in the program, which is very interdisciplinary, applying to many other fields of study. Beyond the research side, students must learn the business aspects: planning, budgeting, and marketing. Students in majors from education to communication can benefit from learning how to create an experience for a particular audience.

“Our classes are primarily project-based, which allows for more creative outlets than in what would traditionally be more lecture-driven classes,” Jack says.“You really don’t get to showcase your creative side very much in a traditional academic context. “But in our 101 class, students helped work on creating events for an Indianapolis museum, the Morris-Butler House. “That’s something not very many programs can provide in an introductory course.”

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Jack was one of many who signed up for Applied History: Pirates, a class offered recently in the experience design major. In it, he needed to use his research skills to make sure everything he portrayed about pirates was historically correct—from the size of the cannonballs to the shape of the ship. He was among a UIndy contingent that traveled to Lake Michigan to learn how to sail on a re-creation of a ship from the early 1800s.

But the best field trip for Jack, by far, was in the For-Profit Experience Design course, which included a rare, behind-the-scenes trip to Walt Disney World to study ways the industry leader puts experience-design detail into every aspect of its theme parks. Now, Jack’s looking forward to a possible internship with Disney.

Professor Samantha Meigs is director of the experience design program. “We were so impressed with the historical accuracy in the Disney environment,” she says. “We were noticing all the tiniest details: ‘Look, they used the right kind of screws in these lampposts!’” Meigs plans to make the Disney trip an ongoing one. And she’s working hard to make sure other students have the opportunity to intern at the Disney Resort.

But for Jack, the best part about an internship at Disney is a shot at being hired—his lifelong dream. His prospects look good, too. “Every sort of venue,” Jack says, “from restaurants to hospitals, is hiring individuals with an interest or background in experience design and who can design everything from buildings to tours.”

Jack looks forward to learning more about how to design unique experiences for others. Creating a great college experience for himself, however, is one that he already has under his bandolier—er, belt. —Tim Coxey ’11

Marty
the authorMarty