The Value of Experiential Design: Creating Experiences for Everyday Life

April 11, 2012

It doesn't take mouse ears and a broom to take a common chore and turn it into a pleasurable experience.

It doesn't take mouse ears and a broom to take a common chore and turn it into a pleasurable experience.

For Part 3 of The Value of Experiential Design, Shawn takes us out of the theme park and into - a car wash? 


Now obviously Disney and Universal are masters of experiential design, and they have resources and budgets to provide the types of world-class experiences that have come to define their various parks.

But experiential design isn’t just about multi-billion dollar theme parks and fantasy. Great experiential design is also about the little things, and you can find it all around on day-to-day basis.

For example, right near my house there is a branch of a carwash called Mike’s Carwash Express, with only about 34 locations in Indiana and Ohio. They are consistently ranked in the top 1% of the over 30,000 car wash outlets in the United States. They accomplish this by following experiential design principles.

One of the first things you notice as you drive into a Mike’s is that all of their associates are sharply dressed, always wearing a tie. They greet you in a genuinely friendly manner, walking you through the various wash options via their easy-to-read graphics. They then either take your cash payment or process your credit card quickly via the electronic processing units worn by each associate. Customer service is key to Mike’s success, and the company’s website states that they only hire about one out of every 50 resumes received.

I went to the wash earlier this week as a sort of field trip. I have a three-year old son and a five-year-old daughter, who used to be scared of carwashes, as are a lot of younger children. Anticipating this, Mike’s features a variety of stuffed animals along the route to calm the kids and give them a point of focus.

As you enter the wash, you see those characters again, who not only provide entertainment for your young passengers, but also help to market various promotions.

Now if you’re like me, if you spring an extra couple of bucks for the wheel wash, you want to make sure you got the service. Mike’s thought of this as well, and a sign lights up to show you what service you received.

Finally, where this particular car wash is located, if you turn left you will come to stop sign and may have to wait several minutes to enter or cross the busy intersection. But if you turn right, you’ll drive to stop light which provides easy access to either direction, which a sign conveniently informs you.

I realize that all of these design details are very small, but that’s the point. Most carwashes don’t think about each step of your journey like’s Mike’s does – from operational signage, to uniforms, to payment processing, to graphic design, to helping to alleviate the fears of your younger passengers. Every aspect of your experience has been scripted. It’s this attention to detail that makes the difference. And it’s why even though this other car wash is much less expensive and right next to my home, I travel a little bit further and spend a little bit more to go to Mike’s.

Another quick example, for those of you who travel as much as I do, can you think of what small but very impactful experience that Doubletree Hotels provide at check in?

That’s right. A warm chocolate chip cookie. And I tell you, after you’ve been traveling for several hours by plane, train or car, and may already be missing home, that little gesture goes a long way to making you feel just a little more welcome and comfortable. So experiential design is about the little things.


Next week, Shawn continues by teaching us how experiential design and innovation go hand-in-hand. 

Tags: Blog N Learn , business

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