Let Your Feet Do the “Talking”

Even though this isn’t a neighborhood walk, I can’t think of a better way to let your feet do the talking than to take a walk through Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other venues at Walt Disney World…

Story is the essential organizing principle behind the design of all the Disney theme parks. Imagineers interpret and create narratives for Guest to experience in real space and time. – John Hench, Disney Legend and design genius for 60+ years.

To design an enhanced reality the visual elements of storytelling must be intensified, creating a vibrant, larger-than-life environment. The enhanced simple reality that Guests experience in Disney parks and resorts is created in part by heightened key sensory details, such as the sun-baked mud pathways and foot tracks of the African section of the Animal Kingdom.

A crack in a walking path is really the beginning of a story. The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney-themed show. Remember for Disney, everything the Guest sees, hears, smells, or comes into contact with is part of the show. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea.

Most of the first generation of Disney’s Imagineers – like John Hench – began their career in film and understood the importance of details in visual storytelling, but with a crucial difference: theme park design is a three-dimensional storytelling art that places Guests in the story environment.

WDW-AK-Feb16Path2

Bicycle tracks in pavement? It’s all a part of the story you’ve been invited into!

 

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The foundation of earlier buildings jutting into this sidewalk begs to know the rest of the story.

So what does it take to create visual storytelling on with footpaths, sidewalks, and walking trails? For that, let’s go directly to the source: Disney’s Imagineers.

Behind the Scenes – Imagineering 101

Themed paving is an important aspect of the all-encompassing realism to which Animal Kingdom strives. Most of the early paving designs were a fairly straightforward mix of stamped finishes, but the team realized that, for roughly the same cost, they could embed stories into the Park’s footprint. A series of samples was developed and refined until each one had a place in the Park layout.

These surfaces have to perform all of the functional requirements of normal pavement. They have to hold up to the weather, to constant foot traffic, to parades, to after-hours vehicular traffic, and any unexpected abuse. The team had to develop ways to work in the expansion joints and cold joints that would allow the concrete to expand and contract with changes in temperature.

As each texture was being developed, designers studied variations in concrete color, stains, acid washes, and base textures. These textures were captured in silicone stamps so that they could be replicated over large areas. Elements that help to complete the look for a given place were then rolled across the surface, be they footprints, animal tracks, leaf patterns, or bicycle and truck tires.

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Look in the space above this impression, and you will see a real tree with the identical branch patterns.

Finally, all of these ingredients are captured in a “recipe” that is documented so that the paving can be replicated when necessary for purposes of maintenance or expansion.

Source: The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

What’s the story under your feet – and those of your Guests?

Most organizations are not going to even begin to approach the detailed design of Disney’s Imagineers in creating travel paths, flooring, walkways, etc. But the principle of what the Imagineers do is sound, and can be applied in any organization.

Transform your spaces – even those under your feet – into story places. Every element must work together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, and landscaping. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.

Like “peanuts” embedded in the pavement around the Casey Jr. train that carried Dumbo!

Your story begins under your Guest’s feet.

I only wish my sidewalks were this much fun!

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

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.

courtesy abcnew.com

courtesy abcnews.com

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

Disney’s Imagineers: Designing the Total Guest Experience

Designing the Guest’s experience is what Walt Disney’s Imagineers came to call “the art of the show,” a term that applies to what the Imagineers did at every level, from the broadest conceptual outlines to the smallest details, encompassing visual storytelling, characters, and the use of color.

Today is eighth and concluding session of Summer Term II of the 2013 GsD program with Applied Guestology 201, a review of some of the leading organizations who deliver exemplary Guest Experiences with application to ChurchWorld.

As I conclude this brief look at Applied Guestology 201, it’s only fitting to come full circle to where we started: Walt Disney and the worlds he created.

The Imagineers design intention is always to give satisfaction to the guest.

John Hench, Imagineering genius and Disney team member for 60+ years

Walt Disney realized that a visit to an amusement park could be like a theatrical experience – in a word, a show. Walt saw that the Guests’ sense of progressing through a narrative, of living out a story told visually, could link together the great variety of attractions he envisioned for his new kind of park. While traveling through their stories, Guests would encounter, and even interact with, their favorite Disney characters, and who would be transformed, as if by magic, from their two-dimensional film existence into this special three-dimensional story world.

As designers, the Imagineers create spaces – guided experiences that take place in carefully structured environments, allowing the Guests to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste in new ways. In effect, Imagineers transform a space into a story place.

Ultimately, the Imagineers gave Guests a place to play, something Walt believed that adults needed as much as children. The design of the Imagineers gives power to the Guests’ imagination, to transcend their everyday routine. Walt Disney insisted that Guests should “feel better because of” their experiences in Disney theme parks, thus establishing the art of the show.

For the Imagineers, that meant considering everything within and relating to the parks as design elements. To build effective story environments and assure Guest comfort, the designers realize that they always had to assume the Guests’ position and point of view, and just as Walt did, to take the Guests’ interests to heart and defend them when others didn’t think it mattered.

It is up to the designers to provide Guests with the appropriate sensory information that makes each story environment convincing. This means that design considerations go beyond the attractions themselves to the service and operations staff, transportation, restaurants, shops, rest rooms – even the trash cans.

Initially, the Imagineers used the knowledge gained from their experience in films, but they soon found that their Guests themselves would teach them what they most needed to know about theme park design and operation.

To design most effectively for Guests, the Imagineers learned that they had to observe them up close, waiting in lines with them, going on attractions with them, even eating with them. The Imagineers paid attention to Guests’ patterns of movement and the ways in which they expressed their emotions. They were able to get an idea of what was going on in their minds.

When designers see Guests in their natural states of behavior, they gain a better understanding of the space and time Guests need in a story environment.

WD Guest quote DI

Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar, who retired in 2009 as the only Disney employee to have participated in the opening of all eleven theme parks around the world, is noted for many things, but one of the most cherished has to be his creation of “Mickey’s Ten Commandments.”

During his 54-year career, Sklar was involved in all facets of the theme parks – from concepts to design to operations. Along the way, he developed, refined and practiced key principles of leadership based on what he learned from Walt Disney and other Disney Legends, especially designer John Hench. He crystalized these “learnings” into the first of what he called Mickey’s Ten Commandments:

  1. Know your audience – Identify the prime audience for your attraction or show before you begin design
  2. Wear your Guests’ shoes – Insist that your team members experience your creation just the way Guests do
  3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – Make sure there is a logic and sequence in our stories and the way Guests experience them
  4. Create a wienie (visual magnet) – Create visual “targets” that will lead Guests clearly and logically through your facility
  5. Communicate with visual literacy – Make good use of color, shape form, texture – all the nonverbal ways of communication
  6. Avoid overload – create turn-ons – Resist the temptation to overload your audience with too much information and too many objects
  7. Tell one story at a time – Stick to the story line; good stories are clear, logical, and consistent
  8. Avoid contradictions – maintain identity – Details in design or content that contradict one another confuse an audience about your story or the time period it takes place in
  9. For every once of treatment, provide a ton of treat – Walt Disney said you can educate people, but don’t tell them you’re doing it. Make it fun!
  10. Keep it up! (Maintain it) – In a Disney park or resort, everything must work. Poor maintenance is poor show!

Exceeding Guests’ expectations is Disney’s Guest Service strategy, and paying attention to every detail is the tactic by which it is accomplished.

Class dismissed.

 

Application for ChurchWorld

Really? If you are involved in Guest Services at your church in any capacity, and can’t see the immediate and powerful application of Mickey’s Ten Commandments to your own Guest Services process, may I kindly suggest you are serving in the wrong ministry area?

Be Our Guest” has been the invitation to Disney visitors long before the song from Beauty and the Beast became a box office hit.

It underscores an important element in the Disney vocabulary, that customers are not referred to as such, but rather as Guests. In the Disney nomenclature, the word “Guest” is capitalized and treated as a formal noun.

What’s the difference between treating someone like a visitor, and treating someone like a Guest?

The obvious analogy is that we do things differently when we bring Guests into our home. We clean up the house. We dress up. We prepare something special to eat. We host them. We take care of their real needs.

Disney expects Guests

At Disney theme parks around the world, they expect Guests – and plan to exceed their Guests’ expectations every time. What about you?

Are you expecting Guests?

Recommended Reading for this session:

Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show, John Hench

Dream It, Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, Marty Sklar

(for a complete reading list, see The Essential Guest Experience Library)

Guestology – the art and science of knowing and understanding your guests – is a term originated by Bruce Laval of the Walt Disney Company. The use of GsD is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that organizations that really want to understand and deliver a WOW Guest Experience need to study the best practices and principles in use today, and then adapt them to the context of their own environment.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: 2nd Term Summer 2013