Design Details Make the Story

Walt Disney had the idea that Guests could feel perfection. A story from Disney “design guru” Imagineer John Hench describes it well:

I once complained to Walt about the construction of some new stagecoaches. Walt had asked that the cab be suspended by leather straps as early western stagecoaches had been. I thought that this was too much and told Walt, ‘People aren’t going to get this, it is too much perfection.’

‘Yes, they will,’ he responded. ‘They will feel good about it. And if they don’t understand it, if you do something and people don’t respond to it, it’s because you are a poor communicator. But if you really reach them and touch them, they will respond because people are okay.’

I knew then that Walt expected us to give our Guests good information in both design and story.



Disney Institute Programming Manager Bruce Jones continues that line of thinking:

Disney Imagineers like John Hench say attention to detail and exceeding Guests’ expectations is so important. It’s also why Disney over-manages.

Over-managing is a driver of consistent business results and an effect of the alignment of an organization’s values and vision. The goal: be intentional where others are unintentional — over-managing the things most companies ignore or under-manage is what differentiates you. 

As I’ve written before, the secret to Disney “magic” is simple: it’s attention to detail.

Easier said than done in any organization, but the Disney organization certainly leads the way for others to follow.

Disney Imagineers excel at transforming a space into a story place. Every element they design works together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, landscaping, water elements, and modes of transportation. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.

Look for all the rich details in this photo from Hollywood Studios.

Look for all the rich details in this photo from Hollywood Studios.

The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney themed show, its greatest source of strength. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea. Walt Disney knew that if details are missing or incorrect, Guests won’t believe in the story, and that if one detail contradicts another, Guests will feel let down or even deceived.

This is why he insisted that even details others thought no Guest would notice – like leather straps on the stagecoaches – were important. Inappropriate details confuse a story’s meaning.

How do you pay attention to the details in your organization?

inspired by and adapted from John Hench’s Designing Disney

Designing Disney

Exceeding Guest Expectations Has a Unique Starting Point

There are 2 steps you must take in order to exceed your Guest’s Expectations.

Exceeding Guest Expectations

First, you have to meet their expectations. What you add from there will create experiences that are memorable. That’s the “easy” part!

Second, you have to become one of them – a guest.

Bet you haven’t thought about that one much – or at all!

As a matter of fact, it takes a lot of work to see through a Guest’s eyes. After all, everything to you is old hat, normal, and just fine.

But to a Guest? Maybe not so much.

When is the last time you talked to Guests – of all ages, backgrounds, and family situations? Have you asked them questions that reflect your interest in them, and give you insight into their thoughts and expectations?

Have you entered your campus for worship and considered what your expectations might be if this were your first time?

  • Where do I turn in?
  • Where do I park?
  • Which door do I enter?
  • Where do I take my kids?
  • How do I find out more information about anything?
  • Where do I go for worship?
  • What’s my next step?

Remember, your Guest hasn’t been to your campus before, so they don’t know anything about the questions above!

What about Guests in a wheelchair? Or a single mom carrying an infant in one arm with a diaper bag over her shoulder while holding on to a 4-year old? Or a hearing-impaired Guest? Or…

 You don’t know what the expectations of your Guests are until you understand who your Guests are.

If your Guests don’t have their expectations met, then you’ve missed the first step in exceeding those expectations. To first meet their expectations, you have to know and understand who your Guests are, and what they are expecting.