The Value of Experiential Design: Dollars and Sense

April 26, 2012

The Athenaeum Hotel in London Mayfair provides an experience for guests before they even enter the doors.

The Athenaeum Hotel in London Mayfair provides an experience for guests before they even enter the doors.

Again we bring you VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy who's going to teach us about the dollars and cents (or sense) of experiential design through a visit to a very special hotel.

Does experiential design offer any real value? As we’ll see over the next few blog entries, the answer is a definitive yes. Experiential design offers a great deal of value to both guests and the providers, from a wide variety of standpoints – including economic, marketing, educational, training, recruitment, even social.

Let’s begin with economics, where the formula is pretty simple: Experiential design helps to not only differentiate a venue from its competition and create consumer preference, but also encourages repeat visitation. This increase in initial and repeat demand provides economic value.

Let’s look at a quick personal example. Over the years, our studio has had number of client meetings and conferences in London. And every time we go to London, I stay at the same hotel – The Athenaeum in Mayfair.

One of the main reasons that I think I continue to select this hotel, besides it being a nice hotel, is the fact that every time I go there (whether it’s been two weeks or two years since my last stay) as soon as I get out of my cab and arrive at the hotel, I’m greeted by the doorman who always says “Welcome home, Mr. McCoy, glad to have you back.”

While I know that he probably doesn’t really remember me (as the cynic in me thinks that they probably cross check reservation arrivals with physical descriptions), it’s a nice gesture and it is one small reason that makes me consistently choose this hotel over equally nice, and often less expensive, hotels.

That gesture alone has generated a bit of economic value to the hotel, as it helped to create my preference for the hotel, which has resulted in repeat bookings. When you think about the cumulative value brought to the hotel from other guests who also repeatedly choose the hotel based in part by this gesture, the economic impact of experiential design really starts to become clear.

The hotel certainly understands that an experiential design philosophy can help to differentiate itself from the competition. Recently, the Athenaeum introduced a new experiential service called Granny Nannies, where the hotel provides professional nanny services for guests on evenings and weekends, so that parents can enjoy a romantic night out on the town.

After the hotel advertised for the position, a panel including a six year-old and a twelve year-old interviewed a variety of potential nannies, asking them a variety of questions, such as “how would you persuade me to go to bed” to “how fast can you run?”

The three winning nannies – Angela, Andrea and Deborah – are pictured here with their selection panel (and our favorite doorman Bill).

Creative initiatives such as these are what make The Athenaeum so special and that make me come back time after time.

Next week, Shawn tackles the value of experiential design as it relates to marketing, both in creating differentiation for your product/service and cutting through the clutter.  Thanks for reading!

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The Value of Experiential Design: The Experience of Innovation

April 18, 2012

Welcome to Part 4 of The Value of Experiential Design, brought to you by JRA's VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy.


Experiential design is also about innovation, and not being afraid to push the envelope about what can be done. A good example of experiential design as it relates to innovation is the Sky Walk at the Grand Canyon – which allows you to walk over the canyon on a glass bridge.

Another example is the temporary slide at the Tate Modern in London, which provides guests with an artistic, experiential option to travel from the top floor galleries down to the lower level. This functional sculpture/ride was not well received by museum purists who found it trivialized the visitors’ experience, but it was warmly embraced by a majority of guests and got the museum a ton of free PR.

Experiential design can be applied to innovation on the most mundane of operational details, such as delivering food to tables.

At Foodloop, a restaurant found within Europe’s Europa Park, guest sit down at various tables and order their drinks or food from the touchscreen, then watch the item as it’s delivered to them via a Rube Goldburg-esque contraption.

Foodloop, and the other examples above, are simple, innovative, operationally efficient and effective, and a great experience for guests.

So, we’ve seen how experiential design is about innovation; it’s about paying attention to the details along each step of a guests’ journey, treating them as if they are the audience and our experience is theater. But besides providing interesting guests with great memories or cocktail stories, does experiential design offer any real value? If so, how? We’ll answer that question in next week’s post.


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Bjorn in the USA: A Citizenship Celebration for a JRA Team Member

April 16, 2012

Bjorn Kemper: Designer, Husband, Father - American.

Bjorn Kemper: Designer, Husband, Father - American.

Last Friday, Senior Project Designer Bjorn Kemper said the Pledge of Allegiance and was sworn in as a United States citizen.  JRA observed the momentous occasion at this morning's staff meeting.  Before the presents were given and the cake cut, however, Chief Operating Officer, Dan Schultz, couldn't help but give Bjorn one last citizenship test with the following two crucial questions:

1) Who was the voice of Darth Vader in the American version of Star Wars? (A: James Earl Jones)

2) Who was the original CEO of Jack Rouse Associates?  (A: This is not a trick question)

Luckily, Björn passed with flying colors.  He was then presented with a copy of Jon Stewart's America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, signed by the entire staff, as well as a brilliant poster created by fellow Senior Project Designer and graphics guru, Scot Ross. The festivities concluded with a mammoth American flag cake (what better way to celebrate America than with a junk food breakfast?).

Björn studied Architecture at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. He freelanced for German architects and various themed entertainment clients in Europe before coming to the US and joining JRA in 1999.  His recent projects include attraction and exhibit design for the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Björn also played a leading role in the planning, design and art direction of Science Centre Singapore’s atrium experience and well as for attractions within both HarborLand – a 40-acre theme park in Ningbo, China – and Volkswagen’s Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany. Additionally, Björn played a key role in JRA’s work on the ZDF Television Studios’ “Medienpark” attraction in Mainz, Germany. Other recent clients include Cirque du Soleil, The Field Museum, National Geographic and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. 

Björn's process to Americanization was a long and complicated one, as he sought to retain his citizenship to his native Germany.  Luckily, the process was successful, and Björn is now a dual citizen of both countries.  Here's what Björn had to say about the celebration this morning:

Just want to say thank you all so much! This was such an unexpected surprise!

The extremely difficult questions, far worse than one "What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?" - which took me 6 months to learn!
The poster with Umlaut-stars!
The American flag-sized cake!
The awesome book with the naked Supreme Court!
All proof that this is truly "the land of infinite possibilities" - or "das Land der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten" as we say in Germany.

Thanks again,
Bjorn ( formerly known as Björn )

Please join us in congratulating Bjorn.  We could not ask for a better member of our team and our country!


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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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The Value of Experiential Design: Designing the Non-Muggle World

April 05, 2012

Hogwarts Castle at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Castle at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

To continue our post from yesterday, VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy, discusses how a boy wizard leapt from the movie screen and into an Island of Adventure.

Disney’s biggest competitor in the theme park industry is Universal Studios, whose Wizarding World of Harry Potter(TM) has created a whirlwind of PR, attendance and revenue for the studios’ Islands of Adventure park in Orlando.

Since opening in June of 2010, it is estimated that the addition of the 20-acre theme area to the existing theme park has been responsible for generating an additional 10 million visitors to the park and has increased revenue by 41%.

The success of this new themed area can certainly be attributed to the enormous popularity of the characters and stories made famous by the series of books and films. However, it is the way that these elements were translated into magical environments, interactions and attractions that provides a textbook example of experiential design.

Just like Disney, every aspect of your experiential journey is planned to the last detail.

The theming of each environment was meticulously designed to match the descriptions from the book.

For example, the designers studied how snow might actually melt on the various buildings of the village of Hogsmeade in order to get every detail as accurate as possible. It looks even more magical at night.

The iconic Hogwarts castle is designed at a forced perspective in order to make it appear much larger than it actually is.

For those who know every detail of the books, they are rewarded with equally detailed interiors.

All of the attractions are based upon specific descriptions or stories from the books, as are the live shows.

Here, more than perhaps any other themed zone within a theme park, the retail outlets and restaurants are just as much of the experience as the rides themselves.

The sizes were kept to stay true to their descriptions in the book, even if they created operational problems, such as overcrowding on peak days.

The food offered is traditional English, whether it’s a shepherd’s pie or traditional fish and chips, with almost no reference to contemporary or Muggle-branded (non-witch) food.

Every worker is dressed according to the book, and no one breaks character, beginning with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express who welcomes you just past the entry gate, or the server who sells you Butterbeer. So not to break your immersion into the story, one of the more subtle techniques, that guests probably don’t consciously notice, is that there are no advertisements or items for sale of anything that wouldn’t be found in the magical world. So, you won’t see a Pepsi sign or be able to buy a SpongeBob doll or Universal Studios sweatshirt at any of the shops.

Maniacal focus on the guest experience, creating layers of memorable touchpoints with the brand, basing every part of your experience on a consistent storyline, connecting to a variety of audiences on an emotional level - that is experiential design.

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. We’ll talk about “everyday experiential design” next week. Thanks for reading.

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The Value of Experiential Design: Creating Experiences for the Leisure Industry

April 04, 2012

Once again, we throw it back to Shawn McCoy to explain the value of experiential design.  While last week we covered experiential products, now it's time to delve into the actual experiences themselves, particularly as they relate to our industry.


So now that we have an understanding of experiential design in general, how does this relate to the leisure industry?

For that we need a more refined definition, and I would offer the following:

Experiential Design: Leisure Industry

The creation of a holistic experience that connects to audiences on an emotional level through the use of story, unique architecture, immersive environments, interactivity, media and guest-focused operations.

Sometimes experiential design is used interchangeably with theming, but it is very different. While experiential design includes theming, it goes much deeper. Theming is a façade in a variety of ways, only focusing on the aesthetic aspect of a guest experience. Themed experiences that do not focus on the other aspects of experiential design often feel shallow and contrived. Experiences that incorporate all of the parameters are deeper and thus more memorable.

A good example of this can be seen when you compare amusement park rides with rides at Disney.

An amusement park is exactly what its name implies, a park featuring a series of amusements, typically comprised of a variety of rides, some of which may or may not be themed. There is no overall story, unique architecture or theming that holds all of the elements together. There also typically is no real focus on providing each individual or group with a memorable experience or any type of guest-focused service. These types of facilities offer a nice day out, but they really don’t connect with their guests on an emotional level.

By infusing a quality theme that is part of a greater story and context, Disney can take similar types of rides and make them experiential.

Disney provides another way to view experiential design, where the guest’s experience is a journey, beginning well before you actually set foot in one of their theme parks. There’s the anticipation, followed by the arrival, the core experience itself, the departure and the savoring of the experience.

Those of you who have visited a Disney park have seen this philosophy firsthand. Disney’s overall business philosophy is built upon a maniacal focus on giving each guest a memorable and repeatable experience.

As you drive on to the property, a large welcome sign triggers your anticipation for the experience to come. If you stay at a Disney hotel, your arrival is characterized by a friendly and efficient check-in process. Your arrival at the park is sensory celebration of sights, sounds and wonderful characters there to greet you.

You are also surrounded by variety of Disney staff, or cast members, who are genuinely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.

Of course the attractions are experiential case studies themselves, be they story-driven rides, shows, parades, interactive experiences or character breakfasts, combining unique environments with scripts to engage guests on a personal level.

At the end of the night, the departure experience is highlighted by an extravagant fireworks show, set to an emotional musical score, providing a wonderful conclusion for your day at the park.

Tomorrow we’ll offer another example of an immersive theme park experience for all you Muggles out there…

Thanks for reading!

Tags: Blog N Learn , business

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