04 April 2012 // Thoughts

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

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!