24 May 2012 // Thoughts

The Value of Experiential Design: Saving Lives

In last week’s blog, we looked at how the United States Army employed experiential design techniques within the controversial “Army Experience” recruiting station. The Army currently has another experiential program, however, that is being applauded for its role in helping to reduce soldier casualties at the hands of roadside bombs.

The Navy also uses experiential design in its training and hired a number of theme park designers to create a variety of immersive experiences called Battlestations 21. Sailors board a recreated destroyer and undergo a 12-hour experience, where they have to respond to several simulated emergency situations, such as electrical fires, a terrorist attack with casualties, and a torpedo hit, complete with flooding. This is the last test for recruits, which they must pass in order to graduate basic training.

Finally, the Los Angeles County Fire department used the same company that provides a lot of the special effects for theme parks to develop a highway disaster training grounds. Set upon a recreated highway, firemen encounter fires, simulated chemical spills, and surprises such as exploding tires and even exploding gas tanks. While the firemen are in no real danger, these simulations still get the adrenalin flowing and help them to learn how to assess and respond under pressure to real situations.

These examples illustrate that experiential design has become an important part of training programs where it is critical to realistically re-create high-pressure situations.

But you don’t have to be a soldier or firefighter to enjoy the positive aspects of learning within an experiential environment. Experiential design is also having an impact on informal education, which we’ll explore in next week’s blog.