Introducing Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience

Follow a forest light trail and discover illuminated moments from the Wizarding World this Autumn at Arley Hall.

 

We are thrilled to announce Thinkwell’s newest project with our partners at Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, Unify, and Fever. Read on for the full launch announcement!

 


 

BURBANK, USA and MANCHESTER, UK (21 July, 2021): Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with Thinkwell, have announced a breathtaking experience that will take Harry Potter fans of all ages down a light trail inspired by the iconic Forbidden Forest featuring creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience will make its debut in the beautiful woodland at Arley Hall, Cheshire, U.K.. As evening falls, mesmerising lights will transform the landscape into a magical outdoor trail for families to enjoy. As visitors make their way through the woodland, and follow the illuminated path, they will discover wonderful surprises, some of their most favourite moments from the Forbidden Forest, and encounter mystical creatures such as Hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, Nifflers – and many more.

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience is suitable for the whole family to enjoy and provides a huge amount for fans of all ages to see and do, giving them the opportunity to experience the magic of the wizarding world in a brand-new way. From discovering the wondrous and beautiful forest come to life, enjoying a wide range of delicious food and drinks at a lively and seasonally themed village; to perusing the on-site shop for Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise to take home – it promises to be a special evening to remember!

The outdoor experience has been created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment in partnership with award-winning theatrical designers and experiential creators, Thinkwell and their partners Unify and leading entertainment discovery platform Fever.

The Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience offers fans a new way to enjoy some of the most iconic and magical wizarding world moments,” said Peter van Roden, Senior Vice President of Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment. “We’re thrilled to be working alongside Thinkwell to bring this incredible light trail to life at Arley Hall & Gardens, a perfect location where the natural beauty of the forest trail and illuminated sets filled with familiar creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series, will make for a magical experience for fans of all ages.”

The trail follows a one-way route and is designed to be accessible to all as well as COVID secure and will adhere to the latest Government safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. Guests will be able to view the most up to date guidelines on our website, www.hpforbiddenforestexperience.com.

Fans can sign up to join the waitlist at www.hpforbiddenforestexperience.com and receive early access to tickets and information about the experience.

Ticket prices will start from £19 and will be available on Fever’s marketplace here.

Press Contact
[email protected]

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

[email protected]

 

About Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment

Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment (WBTE), part of WarnerMedia Global Brands and Experiences, is a worldwide leader in the creation, development and licensing of location-based entertainment, live events, exhibits and theme park experiences based on WarnerMedia’s iconic characters, stories, and brands. WBTE is home to the groundbreaking global locations of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, WB Movie World Australia, and countless other experiences inspired by DC, Looney Tunes, Scooby, Game of Thrones, Friends and more. With best-in-class partners, WBTE allows fans around the world to physically immerse themselves inside their favorite brands and franchises.

 

About Wizarding World

In the years since Harry Potter was whisked from King’s Cross Station onto Platform nine and three quarters, his incredible adventures (based on the original stories by J.K. Rowling) have left a unique and lasting mark on popular culture. Eight blockbuster Harry Potter films have brought the magical stories to life and today, the Wizarding World is recognised as one of the world’s best-loved brands.

Representing a vast interconnected universe, it also includes two epic Fantastic Beasts films, (the third releasing in 2022), Harry Potter & The Cursed Child – the multi-award-winning stage-play, state-of-the-art video and mobile games from Portkey Games, innovative consumer products, thrilling live entertainment (including four theme park lands) and insightful exhibitions.

This expanding portfolio of Warner Bros. owned Wizarding World experiences also includes Harry Potter New York – a brand new flagship store, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo, and the Platform 9 3⁄4 retail shops.

The Wizarding World continues to evolve to provide Harry Potter fans with fresh and exciting ways to engage. For the worldwide fan community, and for generations to come, it welcomes everyone in to explore and discover the magic for themselves.

WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)

 

About Thinkwell

Thinkwell Group is a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Montréal, Beijing, and Abu Dhabi. For the past 20 years, Thinkwell’s multi-disciplinary team has created compelling experiences for a wide range of clients and brands around the world. Thinkwell has extensive experience in the strategy, planning, design, and production of award-winning theme parks, brand & intellectual property attractions, events & spectaculars, museums & exhibits, expos, and live shows.

 

About Unify

Unify Productions Global are a UK experiential  and production consultancy with operations and guest experience expertise stemming from their work as senior group leaders at London Olympics 2012. Unify’s principals, Heather McGill and Anthony Norris, honed their skills creating and operating major festivals around the UK., are now helping to create, craft, and bring to life the experience and operations of Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience with Thinkwell.

 

About Fever

Fever is the leading global entertainment discovery platform. Fever has revolutionised the world of entertainment since 2015, inspiring over 40 million people every month to discover the best experiences in their cities. Through the use of its technology, Fever empowers event organisers to create amazing experiences, and works alongside organisers, promoters and brands. Successful examples of their experiences include the “Candlelight Concert Series” attended by over 1 million guests, the Los Angeles based “Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience”, or the “Mad Hatter G&T Party” present in multiple cities across the world.

Celebrating 20 Years: Looking Back & Looking Ahead

It’s hard to believe that this year Thinkwell has turned 20.

When Thinkwell first started, the owners thought we’d be a small, boutique firm, serving just a handful of clients in the theme park industry. Needless to say, we’ve outgrown that vision several-fold. With projects on almost every continent and at every scale, from adorable little 300 square foot children’s exhibits you want to hug to the world’s largest indoor theme park, we’ve been to places, dreamed up concepts, and built things we never imagined back in the Fall of 2001.

The moments that stand out to us over the years inevitably come down to people: the colleagues and clients who have become our friends, the current and former Thinkwellians doing amazing things out in the world, the guests who are awed and overjoyed in our creations. The isolation and strangeness of 2020 has made us miss the people in our industry all the more intensely, and reinforced for us the truth of how the places we design and build really are meant to be enjoyed together as social experiences.

So we hope you’ll join us throughout the rest of the year through continued employee, client, and collaborator stories that explore and celebrate the best of Thinkwell – from looking back at the moments Thinkwellians hold dear from projects over the years, to a few behind-the-scenes and never-before-heard stories, and of course, a look towards the future of what the next 20 years will begin to look like for us.

We’re grateful for every client and collaborator we’ve had the opportunity to work with over these two decades, and for every guest our clients have had the pleasure of inviting into their experiences we’ve worked so diligently to create.

Thank you.

Designing a Physically Distanced Theme Park

WHAT IF…

…we designed a theme park with physical distancing and health-safety as guiding principles?


 

Disney Shanghai has opened its doors at reduced capacity to allow visitors space to learn the “new norms”, such as spacing out within a queue and frequent hand sanitizing and facility wipe downs. A “mega theme park” like the Disney or Universal parks typically means an annual attendance of over 10 million people, and over 60,000 people within approximately 110 acres of guest area on a normal day.

In these mega theme parks, visitors make their way down crowded streets, pack in to get a glimpse of a passing parade, and stand together in long queues to enjoy the amazing attractions together. A general rule of thumb for theme park density is between 500 and 650 people per acre (per 0.4 Hectares).

What if we want to design a park that meets this level of capacity, and also allows for the current recommendations on physical distancing? There are many new and innovative technologies and operating methods that will be able to assist in this effort moving forward, but what would it take using the existing tools and methodologies commonly practiced today and designed a park around those needs and parameters?

 

Personal Space

Space is the major commodity when talking about physical distancing. During a typical summer weekend day at a theme park, visitors often find themselves walking in a crowd, frequently having to stop momentarily or making frequent course corrections to avoid bumping others. This indicates a density of 10-15 square feet, sf (1-1.4 square meters, sm) per person within the circulation space, and if there’s a parade or a sudden character appearance, that density may go down to 5 sf (0.46 sm) per person, meaning that people will be brushing into each other and their movement will be severely restricted until the gathering disperses. These factors are what drive many theme parks to create “travel lanes” around parades or performance areas to allow the movement of people to still flow, albeit still at a reduced rate. The graphic above highlights:

  • Pre-COVID Personal Space   = 10-15 sf (1-1.4 sm) per person
  • Post-COVID Personal Space = 140 sf (13 sm), 6 feet (1.8 meters) between individuals
  • Post-COVID Group of Three = 200 sf (18.6 sm) for group and 67 sf (6.2 sm) individually

The arrival sequence at a park usually starts with a personal family vehicle, a coach-bus, or a form of public transportation such as a bus or a train. The impact of current COVID distancing recommendations will have an impact on how quickly people can arrive at the park, as well as the spatial requirements to receive them at the front gate. The expanded requirements for these spaces and arrival systems are not directly considered in this study, but because those are specific location-based factors.

Assuming people will be arriving and traveling through the park in small groups the individual space recommendations will overlap to reduce the spatial distance requirements. The space between people would include the paved areas, as well as the landscaped areas, which will further help with space planning. This does not take into account that parks are typically designed with crossing routes and plazas, which will now have to be more formally organized to create linear flows of traffic and avoid congestion. An easy way to think of this is a downtown urban grid of one-way streets, or maybe more relatable, an IKEA store which is filled with travel lanes.

 

Retail

Retail is a key component in the theme park program and an important asset to the visitor. Many of the modern theme park retail designs already lead visitors through a system of thematic spaces, departments, and purchasing opportunities that gently guide them through the stores. This would have to change to a more strict one-way aisle system, where displays can also act as a germ barrier between aisles. There would also need to be a greater allowance for staff positions throughout the store, as visitors would have restricted availability to touch items. Referring again to the rule of thumb, it can be assumed that 15% of the park population at any given moment is shopping, and the average allocation of space per person is 14 sf (1.3 sm), but with the COVID requirements a group of 3 will need approximately 80 sf (7.4 sm), less than walking down the street, requiring a 180% increase in parkwide retail facilities

 

Food and Beverage

Dining opportunities within the theme park will present the challenge of allowing people to sit in groups and dwell for an extended period of time while they eat. Typically, food facilities require about twice as much space as retail shops for approximately the same amount of people including dining patios, indoor seating, and kitchen areas. With the new factors, a table for four may need around 100 sf (9.2 sm) instead of just 40 sf (3.7 sm). In addition, there will need to be space accommodations for food preparation and service. These factors would require the food facilities in this new park to become approximately 150% larger than current theme parks. 

 

Attractions and Shows

Attractions are the big draw of theme parks; coasters, dark rides, theatrical shows, and walk-through experiences will all be impacted by increased personal space requirements. While the impact of increased personal space will vary based on the type of attraction, a show venue is one of the most densely populated attractions in a theme park. A typical show venue that seats 200 people can be 8,000 sf (740 sm) or more. A person seated in the theater takes up about 5 square feet (0.46 sm), with an additional 35 sf (3.2 sm) going toward the overall facility. Now that personal space requirement will be 67sf (6.2 sm), bringing the overall facility size to over 20,000sf (1,860 sm)—more than double the current standard for a show.

 

Conclusion

From a simple space planning perspective focusing on the physical distancing recommendations, the theme park circulation will have to increase 100%, the retail by 180%, food service by 150%, and attraction areas from 150-200%. These factors, applied to the entire theme park property, result in a 110 acre (44.5 Ha) theme park growing to over 200 acres (89 Ha) to accommodate the same daily attendance. 

Discussing this thought exercise with Entertainment + Culture Advisors, ECA, it is important to note not only the space implications, but also the cost and revenue considerations:

“Revenue for a mega park is a product of attendance and guest spend. New constraints on capacity could shift the business model to identify new premiums in guest spend. The focus will be on pricing as significant increases in retail or dining spend are unlikely if length of stay is the same or less. Pricing in the industry was already moving toward peak admission pricing tiers and express passes and this trend will accelerate if capacities are further constrained. Depending on the premiums required for the business model, the response from the market may be reduced demand that rebalances the sizing needs of new mega parks to lower attendance thresholds that serve more expensive and exclusive experiences.”

Also noted by ECA, the cost and revenue impacts for a mega theme park will not only be limited to the theme park and increased spatial requirements, but also the context of hotels, retail, and mixed-use development.  A mega theme park by definition is part of a larger development with many integrated program uses and functions.

 

This thought exercise purposefully does not take into consideration all of the creative thinking and innovative approaches being used by operators and designers around the world to quickly help reduce the impact of this pandemic on our opportunities for safe and enjoyable experiences but simply focuses on the potential implications of physical distancing. As the world continues to learn from this experience, a mixture of spatial planning, smart design, and new technologies will help to create a more realistic interpretation of theme park design which fits within achievable parameters while still keeping visitors safe during their time at the park.

Keep the Preshow; Ditch the Queue

As theme parks start to reopen, post-COVID-19 operations efforts will have many new protocols like advanced reservations, limited attendance, required face masks, increased cleaning of ride vehicles & queue rails, and putting social-distancing ground markers in queues.

Ah, the dreaded queue. Most people cite queues as the least favorite part of visiting a theme park. This is why “virtual queues” like Disney’s FastPass have been so innovative, in lowering the perceived waiting time for attractions simply because you’re not in an actual line for part of that wait, free to enjoy the rest of the park’s offerings.

After Disney’s FastPass debuted in 1999, a major paradigm shift of theme park design in the last twenty years was creating overall circulation to accommodate more people in the pathways than usual — the logical effect of having less people in lines is that there are more people out and about in the park (which makes the merchandise and food & beverage people very happy — less time in lines means more spending money). In fact, the future of a “queueless park” has always been a bit of a theme park design holy grail — more theory than an actual possibility, as the truth of the matter, is that queues themselves are a very beneficial part of a good theme park experience.

First, they are extremely efficient; in the worst case of an unthemed rectangular switchback queue, you can still fit a ton of people in a small footprint. Even highly thematic, story-driven environments like the incredibly long and very detailed queue of Disney’s Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom uses clever and efficient architectural and structural design to hold tens of thousands of people off the park’s main walking paths — because most of that queue is designed to sit on top of the neighboring Na’vi River Journey show building.

Second, there’s the biggest benefit: through carefully crafted preshows, queues are great at establishing tone, mood and story for an attraction far in advance of actually riding it. Attractions benefit from the captive audience a queue can create, allowing guests to settle into an attraction’s story and gradually learn more about their role in it.

Ani-mayhem QueueAt Thinkwell’s Animayhem attraction at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, the highly detailed queue was a rare opportunity to dig deep into the history of the ACME corporation — with much of that story created specifically for the park, and now considered Looney Tunes canon — to prepare riders for their role as delivery drivers.

Like many other immersive queues, that attraction leverages the actual linear progression of being in a queue to slowly, deliberately deliver story moments through media, scenery, effects and cast member interactions to set the stage for the ride. Just look at Disney’s incredible Rise of the Resistance attraction for proof that a queue isn’t just an unwanted speed-bump before the main attraction — it’s designed to be a key part of the attraction itself, a part that no one wants to miss.

So what happens in a post-COVID world, when theme park designers start eliminating (or at least wholly shortening) the use of densely-packed queue lines? While it’s unlikely that this will lead to a 100% “queueless” park anytime soon, perhaps we can start imagining a different kind of future — one that acknowledges that guests want a “less densely populated queue” to feel comfortable, while combining mobile technology and line-reservation systems into a new form of storytelling that fills the role of an attraction queue.

Two things come to mind:

First, Disney’s interactive game attractions already have guests circulating throughout a park — Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom, Adventureland’s Trading Company and Pirate’s Adventure, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge Datapad, etc. — all of these are, in essence, digital “crowd controllers” within the small throughput of their own game mechanics, moving groups around from story point to story point, with the back-end system managing crowd flow and dispersion.

Second, immersive theater techniques at shows like Sleep No More manage to keep hundreds of people moving through a large, non-linear physical space, along paths of invisible, self-guided linearity that allow guests to experience their own story. Knott’s Berry Farm has found huge success with these techniques as an attraction in and of itself, with their Ghost Town Alive activation.

What if you combined the best of both of these things — using the entire park as your “queue”, and nodes of experience & interaction as your timed pulse points? That way you still get a  preshow to an attraction, but it’s not confined within a queue.

Guests could reserve an attraction time, but rather than show up at the entrance for the attraction, their mobile device would send them on a point-to-point story adventure throughout the park, each node engaging them in a story point through embedded media, effects, or even cast member interactions. This could be a 30-60 minute experience that, in essence, becomes an attraction queue, ending up at the attraction in a carefully managed flow of people with less need to queue up in droves.

The efficiencies of queues are hard to ignore, and the overall capacities of a large-scale roaming interactive experience like this probably wouldn’t compete with that efficiency — but in a post-COVID world, there will be plenty of opportunities to innovate the part of a theme park visit that people enjoy the least — waiting in line.

Outdoor Events in the Post-COVID-19 World

As the world begins to re-emerge from COVID-19 quarantine, we see a resurgence in demand for shared, in-person experiences that follow strict health and safety protocols. Both the Pop-up and Touring Outdoor Event sectors offer opportunities for innovation to meet the needs of the “new normal” era.

The way forward begins with accepting and leaning into that new reality. As the world reopens, maintaining health and safety for all guests will be top priority. But that won’t diminish the need to serve people what they crave: time with others, whether that’s the guests they go out with, or the performers they come to see. In-person experiences can provide a regenerative break from lockdown-induced “screen-burnout” and physical isolation. 

Outdoor events in particular are poised for a strong comeback–given the CDC’s latest guidelines indicating that outdoor air circulation mitigates virus transmission–and are thus  particularly ripe for reinvention.

There are many possibilities, but let’s look at just one example. Imagine a fresh, traveling take on the (mostly extinct) drive-in movie experience. 

Is there consumer appetite for a drive-in revival in a fixed, year round location? That’s uncertain. But the appeal of a traveling show that comes to town during certain times of year is hard to question, with the accompanying aura it brings of a special, communal, limited time offering. Call it the Drive-In Spectacular

Thinkwell Group Drive In Movie Outdoor Event

Imagine harnessing the safety of people gathering together in their cars, with the retro nostalgia of drive-ins of old. Take it further and add a dedicated app for ordering gourmet food-truck meals delivered to your spot by drone or P.P.E.-wearing car hops. Pipe state-of-the-art sound via mobile devices directly into car sound systems. Most importantly, expand the canvas beyond just movies to encompass music concerts, theatrical productions, dance performances, and more. Create “safe space” assigned parking spots, where each group of guests or family could put out beach chairs or stand and tailgate around their car, while maintaining a safe distance from their fellow guests in adjacent, marked off berths.

Leverage the live element and liberate actors and performers to circulate in between the cars at a safe distance, adding more  levels of immersive interaction beyond the traditional (and static) stage/audience relationship. Populate the area with multiple massive screens to ensure optimal sight lines for the movie or show taking place. Brand the festival and create an exclusive fan-event atmosphere. 

Live shows during the day, movies at night, make it an experiential festival that refreshes and renews, but this time all from the safety of a mobile protective pod you already own: your car. 

That’s just one of countless ideas for the outdoor event space. Here’s another: how about utilizing the latest lidar scanning and auto-calibrating projector technology to bring mapping shows to your favorite local landmarks–or even into your neighborhood? Ticketed admission to an experience that would display breathtaking visual and audio content–always mapped around a different location–making every performance unique and highly shareable. 

Specially designed media could allow local artists to contribute, or even kids in the audience who submit work in advance, adding to the memorable custom feel of the show. Come away with your own digitally unlocked video recording of the experience as keepsake, or an accompanying AR app that lets you take a portion of the show you saw and overlay it into your own home environment. 

Indoor Social Distance Escape Quest Concept

Shifting our lens from the outdoor to the indoor pop-up realm, we can see another unique set of opportunities in the post-quarantine era. Locking people up in confined spaces doesn’t sound that appealing or safe right now. Why not evolve the traditional escape room into an ‘escape adventure’ or ‘escape quest’?

Exploit disused mall or other retail space to create a multi-room, pulsed experience where self-selected groups move through multiple spaces. They’ll solve contact-free riddles, games, and puzzles and try to spot “I Spy”-style clues in the designed spaces around them. Audio-visual prompts texture the guest journey and keep them on their toes. Remove the crammed together, let’s-touch-everything aspect and open the experience up to become more of an on-the-move challenge. Play to the need for masks indoors and weave it into the narrative — perhaps guests are moving through an archeological site where nothing can be disturbed, or part of a medical survey team investigating a biological weapons facility leak. 

When we look at all these opportunities for re-envisioning what we do, one thing is clear. Continuous innovation is going to be required if we want to survive and thrive on the uncertain but hopeful road ahead.

Virtual Reality & The New Compromise

A Vision, Compromised

For years, the promise of digital immersion and alternate realities permeated its way into the zeitgeist of popular futurism. Yet it wasn’t until American entrepreneur Palmer Luckey revived the VR industry with the release of the Oculus Rift in 2012, paving the way for a new standard in enterprise, education, and entertainment. Virtual reality promised a bold experience, an inclusive platform, and a seamless bridge connecting our world to the virtual one. Companies from around the world sprung up overnight, chasing trends and financial forecasts, hoping to take home a piece of the prize. Fast-forward to 2020, and while virtual reality continues to spark interest in enthusiasts and hard-core gamers, it remains stifled by a range of detractors such as cost, comfort, locomotion, and hygiene.

If ever there was a concern about the hygienic nature of virtual reality, COVID-19 has shattered consumer confidence and left owners and operators reticent in the face of future development. However, virtual reality will not end with COVID, but instead will find new opportunities in a post-pandemic world, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the technology as it evolves into its next chapter.

 

Lessons Learned

In 2019, Thinkwell Group opened the first of its kind, indoor, vertical theme park, Lionsgate Entertainment World, in Zhuhai, China. With three, purpose-built, virtual reality attractions, we learned a great deal from our in-field observations and guest reviews about the benefits and challenges of virtual reality.

Immersion is king. Yet, transportive environments are only a piece of the puzzle. True immersion stems from guest embodiment and real-world physics. Whether wielding a flashlight, steering a motorbike, or solving puzzles, every interaction must carry the burden of the real world or risk breaking the illusion. In addition, real-time media proved far more engaging than pre-rendered content, allowing guests the opportunity to take agency of their world and create a personalized and repeatable experience.

Conversely, we learned about some of the limitations and challenges from our creative partners and guests. Accessibility remains a constant goal for designers, ensuring that all guests can experience safe and comfortable moments together. However, due to the size, weight and form factor of many early generation headsets, guests with limited visual acuity or physical mobility found it challenging to maintain an optimal posture or retain a clear, focused, and immersive visual environment throughout the experience. Thankfully, there continues to be a wave of emerging technology that caters to guest accessibility. While many are still in their infancy, we know that these challenges are not insurmountable, but rather, they are stepping stones along the path to an optimal guest experience.

 

Looking Ahead

As we look ahead to a post-COVID world, there will undoubtedly be a shift in education, enterprise and entertainment. From visualization in the form of remote collaboration, to annotation in the form of real-time, remote instructions, to storytelling, and a new wave of haptic immersion; students, educators, and professionals are at the precipice of a new era in experiential engagement thanks to advances in emerging technologies.

When it’s time to untether and venture outside, additional emerging technologies can transform public spaces without the use or necessity of limiting hardware. Technologies such as mapped projection, mixed reality glasses, and digital characters or environments can enhance our physical surroundings without the use of single-serving, cumbersome devices. However, there remain three key takeaways for any activation or attraction to remain successful: friendly competition, inclusivity and immersion.

In the days, months and years to follow, social etiquette will shift, industries will evolve and technology will advance. We will remove our masks, we will interact, and together, we will smile. People are inherently social creatures and we at Thinkwell will continue to explore safe, effective, and memorable experiences to bring people together, wherever in the world life takes us.

Telecommuting Lessons 2.0

I’ve telecommuted since before webcams and smartphones.

I thought this would be no big deal for me. A day that ends in y, as it were.

My husband is a molecular evolutionary geneticist who works in drug discovery and zoonotic diseases. I’m trained as a human geneticist. We watched events unfurl across the globe. And we knew.

We started to prepare, even while we lived like it was all going to be fine. We knew that when it finally hit here, it wouldn’t be just a few weeks of shutdown. 

2 months of every prescription, minimum.

A battery-operated nebulizer for our teenager, who has intractable asthma.

Cleaning up the pantry and freezers, sorting, organizing, buying, stashing. While at the same time buying Broadway tickets for the college tour to Philadelphia and NYC and sunscreen for a cruise to the Caribbean.

Watching. Reading. Plugging data into models.

Hushed conversations late at night. How long do we wait to cancel our trips? Are his parents ok? Does my mom have enough food, enough prescriptions? When do we go no-contact with her, given her health conditions? When do we move my best friend into our guest room so she’s not alone through this?

Telecommuting was supposed to be the easy part for me, the thing I knew how to handle and was already good at. I made a GIF-filled deck to help ease the transition for my colleagues who found themselves abruptly living in my world. Simple rules and tools to make telecommuting go smoothly and maintain your sanity.

I didn’t count on just how deeply everything would be thrown out of whack. How nothing would be normal. I had done the intellectual algebra but not the human calculus of what an ongoing, global-scale trauma would really mean. 

I hadn’t realized how utterly disruptive it would be to me, emotionally and physically, to have people in my space all the time and not be able to escape it. That I’d be rumbling with my teenager, worn thin from his school doggedly still holding every single class per the schedule and slathering on the quizzes and projects and essays, for the last cup of coffee. Or that I’d be creeping down the stairs so as not to interrupt my husband, trying to maintain the morale of his faculty, staff, and students in Zoom after Zoom from our dining room. 

I didn’t anticipate the dissonance of seeing my colleagues not as a group in a conference room with their easy camaraderie, but as a Brady Bunch game board of isolation and anxiety. Or the awkwardness of seeing into their personal lives so intimately – the child meltdowns overheard, the roommates walking behind, the master bedrooms and garages turned into offices. 

I didn’t foresee the explosion of demands on my time. The digital content, the webinars and info sessions, the happy hours and online conferences, the ‘you should see this!’ pieces telling me who’s put what cool thing online. And so I really didn’t foresee the screen fatigue.

I didn’t know to dread the paralysis. The harrowing feeling of staring at a blank Google document and being unable to get out a single word, as my brain was running complex calculations of when I was able to get an Instacart order slot for and did we have enough milk to make it till then and did we have enough bleach wipes given the decontamination process my husband has to put himself and everything he touched through every time he comes home from making sure the laboratories are still okay and functioning.

But I also didn’t count on the sweetness of getting more time with my teenager, of our gawky pas de deux in our awkwardly laid out kitchen when our lunch breaks overlap and we cook together. On my husband’s demented dedication to doing something weird in the house every two weeks, transforming it into a cruise ship, an Italian restaurant, a champagne bar. On being forced to play on the new foosball table which now lives right next to our kitchen table, instead of staying at my desk and just working working working.

I didn’t anticipate the little gestures of humanity. The meetings that turned into a genuine ‘how are you doing’ and not a reflexive ‘good and you’ call and response. The clients’ kindness and generosity of spirit as we all doggedly try to plow through. The vulnerability that we would all finally show one another.

I have found myself telling colleagues and peers, as they confess their fears and perceived failings to me in all of this, that they are not, right now, ‘working from home’. They are working at home during a crisis, and that ‘productivity’ might look and feel different right now and that’s okay and human.

I knew the basics. Real pants. Keep a schedule. Mute your mic. Lock the door and communicate your meeting schedule.

But now I know the basics aren’t so basic.

Real pants, but cut yourself slack when it’s all so overwhelming and the thought of one more thing to do makes you want to burst into tears.

Keep a schedule, but be good to yourself when you can’t fit it all in, when things derail.

Mute your mic, and forgive yourself when you don’t and your conference call can clearly hear precisely what your 17-year-old has to say about the college applications process and it is loaded with f-bombs.

Lock the door and communicate your meeting schedule, but shrug and say ‘welcome to my house!’ when you’re on-camera and get interrupted.

And most of all. Extend grace to yourself. Celebrate the tiny wins with your colleagues. Because we are all living and working through a wildly unsettled time, and to actually be accomplishing work is an achievement in and of itself.

Bonus points if you do it in real pants.

Post-script: I wrote this in response to Craig asking me what was different about telecommuting now versus how I usually work, at the end of May. Everything is now amplified. The urgency of protesting police brutality and how systemic racism oppresses people of color in this country, of working towards actual, lasting change makes proofreading a document or sitting in a meeting feel even more alien than it did during the first several weeks of COVID quarantine. And I say that as a white woman of immense privilege; I cannot understand how traumatizing this period is for my colleagues and peers of color. 

To my white colleagues in the industry: I know you’re tapped out from COVID and its personal and professional impacts, but you can’t shy away from the work of addressing systemic racism and unconscious bias. Goodness knows I’m interrogating myself and where I have failed, abided by bias structures and helped maintain them, and other hard, hard questions.  This isn’t just one more thing on your to-do list. You can’t fix systemic racism alone. But you’ve gotta do the work. If you’re looking for reading suggestions, see the resources I pulled together in support of my talk at SATE 2019. Showing Up for Racial Justice has chapters nationwide, check their website to find the chapter nearest you and additional resources, training, and ways to get involved. Feel free to do it in pj pants, even unshowered. Just do it.

It looks like a dance chart for our post-COVID world. It’s called the SIX FOOT DANCE.

Public venues of all kinds are re-opening to a radically different reality, as people venture out into the public space. Old ways and patterns of doing things are now different, ranging from shopping at the grocery store, to going to a theme park. The world has changed. It matters where you put your feet. How are wayfinding and operational signage adapting to a post-COVID world of public venues?

Thinkwell Group Design Example of Wayfinding Signs

Traditional wayfinding helps people make choices for where to go and what to do. Signs are placed at key decision points, like at intersecting paths or entry points, and reduce stress by making it clear to visitors what decisions to make and where to go. 

But for public spaces like parks, museums, food & beverage and retail locations to reopen, new sign types are required. Signage for social distancing markers on the ground, wearing masks in public, directing one-way traffic flow on narrow pedestrian paths, hand sanitizer stations and instructions for guests to wait in family groups are now becoming common mandates. Guess what? That means a lot more signs.

With public spaces already filled with signage and messages of all kinds, this poses a challenge. Theme parks, museums, live events, and public spaces now grapple with both directing visitors and need to change their behavior. Activities we take for granted are now obsolete or need to change. Waiting in lines for attractions could be things of the past. Teaching people to learn new patterns of behavior requires clear directions and signage.

One danger is that guests get information overload/graphics fatigue in spaces now filled with new yellow, black, and red emergency signage. Too much info, blaring in the same key and intensity, is likely to be tuned out as people become desensitized to the “new normal.” It is visually overwhelming.

This creates a real problem of key messages being missed.

Critical information can be ignored, because our brains are wired to tune things out over time, due to repeated exposure. This happens in physical and digital landscapes, whether we read online dialogue prompts, hear audio messages, or see actual signage. Anthony Vance, the director of the Center of Cyber Security at Fox School, says, “it often has to do with memory… we saw it last time, so we don’t have to scrutinize it so much this time. Sometimes we remember something more than we actually see it.”1

Our human tendency is to group similar patterns, colors and typography into simple schemas, which helps the mind organize information. In graphics (and psychology) it is called gestalt theory. It is a way of sorting out and classifying the information that surrounds us. While this grouping technique simplifies our life, it can make us miss the visual informational cues that help us navigate. Information that should be differentiated gets lumped in with other directional information that seems similar.

So the challenge is to create wayfinding and operational safety signs that are “sticky” and stand out in visually disruptive environments.

 

Here are five tips to improving important safety graphics:

1. Fear Overkill

Avoid signs looking like strident warning signs similar to hospitals, chain-link fences on government facilities and institutions or atomic labs (unless required). People get visual fatigue with signs that blare fear in red and black. Worse yet, they tune them out.

2. “Please” vs “Don’t”

Say “Please” instead of saying “DON’T”. Give a positive incentive for the desired behavior by making it more human, instead of a command. People respond to respect.

3. Humor

Humor can attract attention and be sticky, but needs to be tempered with the seriousness of the message. A sign should leave the reader with a smile and still show a sense of care for the topic. Keep calm and carry on.

4. Don’t Cry Wolf

Warning signs can create bad choices when it overstates the risk. “A warning sign can increase danger when it overstates the danger – meaning we take less precautions if our experience and subjective perception is that the danger is usually less than stated on the sign.”²

5. Branded vs. Off-The-Shelf

One-size-fits-all solutions from code required sign catalogs all look the same. If you need a signage solution in a branded customer facing space, design the sign for that space. Use your brand colors, fonts and imagery, (where possible) to show that this is a deliberate response, not an imposed reaction.

 

The right next steps:
Creating wayfinding signage as a tool to inform safety decisions is key. If you want to impact behaviors, you will need the right strategy. Assess how your clients, customers, and guests interact with the space, and see what works in similar venues. This will help you to develop a signage plan that will be visible, easy to understand, and differentiated from other competing messages.

If you need our consulting or signage design services, contact Thinkwell’s team of experienced wayfinding and location-based graphics professionals. We are skilled in developing signage solutions customized to your unique needs.

 

References

  1. Megan Alt , Tuning out Security Warnings, Temple University Fox School of Business, January 28, 2020
  2. Dr Robert Long – PhD, Why Do We Ignore Safety and Warning Signs – Sometimes With Tragic Results? safetyrisk.net

Bringing the show to the audience rather than the audience to the show

The Theater Guest Experience

It wasn’t long ago we were packing stadiums for concerts, or filling every theater seat for the opening weekend of a blockbuster movie. Guests would line parade routes at theme parks to catch a glimpse of their favorite princess, or to sing along with a marching band blasting a popular song. Theater makers were innovating new tactics to market traditional plays and musicals, to “get butts in seats,” as the old adage goes. And meanwhile, a new crop of artists were pushing boundaries, blurring the lines between audiences and performers, immersing visitors in the action of a play, haunted house, or escape room.

It seems like, in the blink of an eye, the entire live entertainment and performance industry has changed. The novel coronavirus has shuttered venues from Broadway’s largest houses to the tiniest Chicago storefront theaters. High capacity stadiums and small capacity escape rooms all went dark. But like the ghost light that remains lit on any stage, artists are finding their way through the dark to figure out how to bring entertainment to the world despite the restrictions and guidelines that dominate our new normal.

Escape Room Guest Experience
Escape Rooms, like Tommy Honton’s “Stash House,” asked guests to solve riddles and puzzles in an immersive environment, up close and personal. Thinkwell’s own Dave Cobb seen at right, above.

The internet became an immediate resource: artistic powerhouses like National Theater London started airing superstar performances, available on YouTube (for free) for limited runs. Other companies tinkered with paywall options to stream content that was (thankfully) recorded before the virus shut them down. Here in Los Angeles, the experimental opera company, The Industry, had to shutter their immersive, multi-path, wildly innovative Sweet Land well before its scheduled closing date. The company was able to think quickly and film the entire show, offering folks who missed out on the live event (yours truly included) a chance to watch from the safety of our laptops.

These are all great options. Pivots. Adjustments. But as shelter-in-place drags on, and restlessness sets in, performers and producers are beginning to think about how long term solutions can produce not just adjustments, but new inventions and fantastic innovations to the live events industry.

Here at Thinkwell, we’ve been brainstorming this head-scratcher using one of the basic tenets of our charrette (creative development work session) process. We’re assessing the parameters of our unfortunate situation: we assess CDC guidelines, think about how humans are going to respond to the “reopening” of their world, and understand guest expectations and wants for live entertainment. Then, we create the “box,” or the set of given circumstances that creates our creative sandbox. Personally, I love understanding the limitations of a creative conundrum! I think that knowing the walls and barriers of a task actually yields more creative solutions than “the sky’s the limit” thinking. 

Socially distanced audiences

And our creative sandbox has yielded exciting results! We are coming up with all kinds of ways to flip the switch on how to put live entertainment on the “stage of life,” so that we keep audience members safe. We want to produce parades-in-reverse, in which audience members drive past entertainment. We want to deliver immersive, content-driven shows that wind their way through neighborhoods, across the country, creating surprise and delight moments far beyond what happens when kids hear the “Turkey and the Straw” of an ice cream truck. We are tinkering with the idea of delivering neighborhood “walk-in” live shows or movies, utilizing park space or parking lots for communities to catch the newest blockbuster or a kids’ puppet show, all while staying socially distant. 

Storytelling, from a performer to an audience, has existed since time began. This virus won’t stop storytellers from putting on a good show. Thinkwell is ready to dream big about solutions to bring the show to our audiences.