05 April 2012 // Thoughts

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

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.

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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.