Becoming Dementia Friendly

In the world of museums and cultural spaces, conversations surrounding inclusive design, creative aging, and sensory awareness position us to consider an ever-growing audience segment – those with dementia and their caregivers.

Dementia Friendly is a term used by organizations educating and promoting awareness of people living with dementia. Dementia friendly communities are places “where more people understand dementia, there is less fear and avoidance, and people living with dementia are included and supported to live independently for longer.” As part of their communities, cultural and entertainment venues can actively support this goal. 

At Thinkwell Group, we recognize that thoughtful experience design can significantly impact health and well-being for a population segment that is frequently underserved, misunderstood, marginalized, and ever-growing. By ensuring that our Thinkwell community is Dementia Friendly by providing free training for all staff, we empower them to carry the work forward into their jobs, communities, and personal lives. 

“Dementia” is not a disease. It is a set of symptoms. The root cause may be a disease, including Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s, as well as temporary conditions such as medication imbalance, vascular issues, and even stress.

Dementia impacts one in nine (11%) people over the age of 65; and one-third (33%) of those over 85. 5.8 million people in the US currently live with some form of dementia.

This number is projected to double by 2045. It is estimated that 80% of those with dementia live in the community, as opposed to an assisted living facility. Up to 40% of those in the community live alone. Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of dementia and is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

With this growing need, the work to make a community dementia friendly is needed and achievable. Local and regional Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) may provide training through partners such as Dementia Friends or Purple Angel. These classes support those in the community who encounter dementia patients daily, such as bank tellers, retail clerks, health care workers, and library and museum staff. The goal is to empower people across all facets of a community to support daily life for those with dementia in a safe and kind way.  

The training defines dementia and explores how it can present. There is a focus on empathic practice for individuals with dementia and caregivers, not diagnosis. Content also covers interactions, language use, and communication styles. A frequent expression of dementia is the loss or delay of language, in the same way that a person on the Autism spectrum might experience “losing their words.”

One aspect of the training that often surprises participants is the impact dementia can have on the senses. A loss of peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to discern color contrast can all be part of dementia. Understanding the holistic experience of dementia enhances empathy and provides opportunities to design safer, kinder, and more meaningful experiences for all audiences. 

As we move forward with this Dementia Friendly Initiative, we strengthen our commitment to live our values of intentionality, respect, and learning. This work allows us to bring Dementia Friendly perspectives to clients and partners, ensuring our audiences and their experiences are central to everything we do.

Repeatability: Once More, With Meaning

The question of what makes an experience “repeatable” offers a paradox. Humans are stimuli-seeking creatures who crave novel experiences, so usually “repeatability” is couched in terms of how to make an experience different each time. Yet we’re also the same species that invented the auto-loop feature for playing the same song on repeat. When addressing the question of how to design a repeatable experience for our guests with words like “variability” and “interactivity,” I sometimes wonder if we’re over-complicating the answer while still missing an essential ingredient.

For me, the question crystallized last fall after I had been waiting nearly an hour for The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. “Blinding Lights” started playing, again—one of about three hit songs of The Weeknd’s in heavy rotation. I was tired, everyone was tired. But as soon as the familiar beat started for the umpteenth time, half the queue started gently moving to the rhythm, some mouthing along to the lyrics. It didn’t matter that we had all heard it many times before, both in the past hour or over the past years. The repetition was part of the appeal. It was familiar, which made it meaningful.

It was a minor moment, and perhaps unsurprising. Yet it struck me as both a perfect example of what repeatability is, while also being the exact opposite of what we usually mean when we talk about the topic. In our line of work repeatability is quite literally a million-dollar question, as attractions look to extend length of stay and convert one-time visitors into return guests and annual passholders. Often, the question is answered by one of two things: Variability or Interactivity. Allow me to indulge myself as I once again over-complicate the answer.

Scooby-Doo Museum Mysteries Photo Op

Variability aims to sustain the novelty factor across repeat experiences by making the experience different each time. Sometimes this is done with branching storylines. For Scooby-Doo: The Museum of Mysteries at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi (pictured), we designed three separate ride paths that would each encounter different characters and gags. Other times an element of randomness is introduced. Next door, Tom & Jerry: Swiss Cheese Spin was designed as an indoor roller coaster with free spinning vehicles to ensure no two rides are ever the same. (I should know; I took it for a spin close to a hundred times during testing and programming in 2018!) Sometimes the randomness is introduced via programming, such as on the ever-popular Star Tours at the Disney parks, with dozens of possible scenes across four segments randomly assembled into literally hundreds of potential story combinations. 

But a word of warning: “random” does not necessarily mean “different every time.” If an attraction has the possibility of playing one of five different songs during the experience, and guests ride it precisely five times, the probability of hearing a different song each time stands at less than 4%.

Interactivity is a related concept, except it puts the agency of determining variability into the hands of the guests themselves. For The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride at Lionsgate Entertainment World (pictured), we once again created multiple ride paths, which guests could experience during each of their midnight motorbike rides through the virtual reality world. But instead of leaving the paths to chance, here guests were in full control of where they wanted to go.

Interactivity has several powerful advantages over simple random variability when it comes to the question of repeatability. For one, it allows guests to choose exactly how they want their experience to be different from last time… or the same. With gamified interactivity that tracks a score, there’s also an element of mastery and self-improvement—powerful drivers of repeatability because now each subsequent experience is imbued with more personal meaning for the guest.

But there are also pitfalls to interactivity. Learning curves for gamified interactives can negatively impact the first experience in order that the third or fourth might be better… assuming guests will want to repeat it even a second time. In some cases, interactive elements are added as an afterthought and lack meaning. I’ve gone on interactive dark rides where the entire experience is focused on finding and shooting little red blinking lights, completely ignoring the placemaking and storytelling around it.

Neither interactivity nor variability by themselves are a panacea for repeatability. An interactive mechanic of endless repetitive grinding is unlikely to be fulfilling for all but the hardest-core gamers. Random variability can easily turn into indistinguishable static noise if care isn’t taken to create contrast between the differences and give each outcome meaning. That is the key to repeatability: creating experiences that mean something to the guest.

Experiences based on novelty, discovery, and surprise can be deeply meaningful. If there are ways to sustain or even increase those qualities on repeat after the initial surprise or discovery was already revealed, even better. But for many guests, the experiences they most want to repeat over and over (and maybe buy an annual pass for, and eventually bring their children and grandchildren to experience together…) are rarely the ones that simply include randomness for variability’s sake, or grinding gameplay for interactivity’s sake. Repeatability can benefit from variability and interactivity, but sometimes the warm sense of familiarity or the anticipation for a beloved beat can be even more effective at getting people to hit the replay button. A story well-told; a song well-played; an attraction well-crafted—that is what makes an experience meaningful such that guests will ask to hear it again, and again.

2022 Updates From Our Diversity & Inclusion Council

We’ve written about our Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Council here before, and we have shared with you a fraction of the work the Council and the LA Studio as a whole have engaged in as part of “Thinkwell 3.0”. Now, a few months into 2022, it’s time to take a closer look at our progress to date and plans for the future.

Thinkwell’s D&I Council is empowered to engage in three important types of work: 1) assessment, 2) identification, and 3) program development and implementation. 

The first round of assessment and identification led the Council to group issues into four categories where we could really begin our work:

  1. Recruitment and hiring
  2. Internal culture and professional development
  3. How we work and what we make 
  4. Industry pipelines

From this list, the Council was able to research best practices and begin programming for Thinkwell’s teams.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, the amount of work the Council has achieved and the way we’ve set the stage for even more impactful efforts in the future is impressive. We want to highlight some of the Council’s initiatives across the four categories above…. And these are just a few of the efforts they’ve championed:

Recruitment and Hiring

  • Training for key Thinkwellians in anti-racist recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.
  • Shifting our recruiting practice to focus on relationship building with a broader pool of schools and professional organizations that are diverse along a number of metrics.
  • Reducing or eliminating education requirements and increased options for related experience in job postings to reduce barriers.
  • Developed and deployed new tools and processes in our portfolio review system to reduce bias .

Internal Culture

  • Revised the Vision, Mission, and Values, heavily shaped by workshops with the council.
  • Launching a new segment in the Weekly All-Staff, to help engage and inform.
  • Rolling out a Salon series soon, with subject matter experts leading discussion on a variety of IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access) topics and their specific relevance to our industry.
  • Implemented feedback training for all LA employees as part of Thinkwell 3.0.

How We Work

  • Revising the employee handbook, with all policies being reviewed for bias and inequity.
  • Developed and deployed resources on culturally sensitive and inclusive art.
  • Increased and streamlined employee surveying and transparently reporting out results.
  • Overhauling our job descriptions.

The Industry at Large

  • Expanded our relationship with LA High School of the Arts with internships and scholarship opportunities.
  • Partnered with Ruh Global and Billion Strong, groups focused on disability inclusion across industries, to leverage our expertise to amplify their message and expand impact
  • Shared our findings and our efforts with other companies in the industry as they launched their own D&I Councils and initiatives.

It has taken the better part of a year and a half of intensive research, listening, and ideation to identify these, and many more, efforts. Now the hard work truly begins. Thinkwellians – not just D&I Council members – will help advance these and other efforts. This year will see not only the Salon and scholarship program launches, but also D&I field trips, improved processes for content review, new curriculum partnerships with universities, and continued assessment. Inclusion, diversity, equity, and access is philosophy and practice. We’re dedicated to the ongoing work.

TAIT To Acquire Thinkwell

Deal Positions TAIT as the Most Comprehensive End-to-End Developer of Entertainment and Experiences

LITITZ, Pa. and LOS ANGELES: TAIT, the global group of creative engineers, fabricators, producers, and technologists for live entertainment environments, announced today it has agreed to acquire Thinkwell Group, a global strategy, experience design, and production agency specializing in the master planning, design, and production of world-class guest experiences for theme parks, museums and brands. Thinkwell will join the TAIT Group, comprised of a roster of unparalleled innovators, to set a new standard for the live and location-based entertainment industry, positioning TAIT as the most comprehensive end-to-end developer of entertainment and experiences. 

Operating since 1978, TAIT is a premier, global leader in the live entertainment industry. TAIT’s diverse group of markets include theme parks, theaters, cruise ships, concerts, and corporate events with marquee clients ranging from Princess Cruises, Fortnite World Cup, and U2 to Disney, Universal, and the Olympics. At the core of its services is TAIT Navigator, an industry leading show control and proprietary automation platform that maximizes the client’s creative vision.

For over 20 years, Thinkwell has been creating compelling, immersive experiences with nearly 2,000 projects in 28 countries around the world. The company’s diverse portfolio of clients includes Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Google, Lionsgate, Smithsonian Institution, and Cirque du Soleil. Thinkwell has offices in Los Angeles, Montréal, and Abu Dhabi, with teams and collaborators located across the globe. The leadership team including CEO Joe Zenas, COO and CFO François Bergeron, and CCO Craig Hanna will remain with the company as it stands focused on delivering the exceptional world-class service that Thinkwell has become known for.

With complementary culture and skillsets in experiential design and client management, the partnership offers a unique opportunity for both companies to achieve significant, sustained growth. The acquisition will allow TAIT to build off the momentum of the recent ITEC Entertainment acquisition, boosting capabilities in creative design, including media and interactives, along with exposure to major location-based entertainment projects.

“For decades, our incredibly talented teams have created some of the most engaging and dynamic      experiences for brands and IPs around the world,” said Joe Zenas, CEO, Thinkwell Group. “The combination of Thinkwell’s world-class talent and extraordinary project portfolio with TAIT’s ambitious vision and shared commitment is a natural progression to expand the global footprint and broaden the reach of both companies.”

“Thinkwell’s trusted reputation, exceptional talent and extensive portfolio are valued by all of us at TAIT,” said Adam Davis, CEO, the TAIT Group. “Together we will usher in a new era of live and location-based entertainment for the industry.” 


About TAIT 

TAIT creates moments that move people. We bring extraordinary ideas to life, collaborating on design concepts and delivering precision engineering, architecture, and manufacturing. With our own industry leading show control and automation technology, we orchestrate complex movements for artists, brands and venues around the world. We are a global team of creative engineers, fabricators, producers and technologists for live entertainment environments. For over 40 years, we’ve been creating ground-breaking live entertainment experiences by finding and nurturing the best talent and technology in the industry. With over 900 employees across 17 office locations, we’ve delivered projects in over 30 countries, all 7 continents, and even outer space. Our diverse roster of clients include Taylor Swift, Cirque du Soleil, Nike, The Metropolitan Opera House and NASA. For more information, visit


About Thinkwell Group

Thinkwell Group is a global experience design and production agency with studios and offices in Los Angeles, Montréal, and Abu Dhabi. For 20 years, the multi-disciplinary team has created compelling experiences for a wide range of clients and brands around the world. Thinkwell’s creative, collaborative team brings extensive experience in the strategy, planning, design, and production of theme parks, destination resorts, major branded and intellectual property attractions, events & spectaculars, museums & exhibits, expos, and live shows. The award-winning company has become a leader in experiential design by bringing a unique holistic approach to every engagement. Thinkwell most recently delivered the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. For more information, visit

Trend Report Deep Dive: Taming the Algorithm

The “Algorithm.”

As a colloquial term for the recommendation engines responsible for customizing many of our online search results and social media feeds, the ‘Algorithm’ has, perhaps surprisingly, emerged as one of the more controversial forms of artificial intelligence (A.I) technologies within public discourse.

Developed as a tool to help people find what they’re looking for faster and discover new things matched to their interests, the ‘Algorithm’ has also been criticized for the way it can lead to self-reinforcing consumption habits, particularly within social media, which could partially explain trends for political polarization and extremist ideologies. Despite these misgivings, most people still use (and even enjoy) at least some forms of the ‘Algorithm’ as part of their daily online experiences, and the technology is even becoming more integrated into many physical location-based experiences as well, a trend that is unlikely to reverse.

Thinkwell’s 6th Annual Guest Experience Trend Report was an opportunity to predict and envision new ways we expect to see A.I. technologies (such as recommendation algorithms) become incorporated into theme parks, museums, and resorts. Yet, more importantly, it was also a chance to reflect and listen to what our guests actually want from these technologies and experiences.

As part of the trend report survey of over 1,300 people, participants were given hypothetical concepts of A.I. technologies applied to theme parks, museums, and resorts, and were asked to rate their favorite and least favorite aspects of the experience. Among these concepts were several that incorporated recommendation algorithms as part of the guest experience: 

  • A theme park could eliminate queues with virtual queuing and A.I. recommended scheduling.
  • A museum could create a personalized digital tour based on the visitor’s interests.
  • A resort during a busy holiday could automatically schedule reservations and activities that guests might like when they become available.

Participants rated all these concepts positively overall, each with its own particular reasons for why they liked it. Yet when asked about potential concerns with these concepts, one consistent trend emerged across all the data:

Guests want control over their experiences.

For all of these three concepts, the most disliked aspect was the technology’s proposed ability to structure the guest experience and make plans for them, which was perceived to reduce guests’ sense of personal agency and spontaneity. These concerns were shared by between 41% to 51% of participants in each category.

Interestingly, this concern was separate from the participant’s confidence in a recommendation algorithm’s ability to accurately make good recommendations. For the resort concept, 50% of respondents said they wanted more control over their plans, while only 33% reported that they didn’t trust the algorithm to make good recommendations. This may suggest there’s a subset of people who expect to enjoy what the system recommends but will still dislike the fact that they weren’t given the freedom to choose it for themselves. A further 37% of participants specifically called out the ability to discover new activities as a top reason in favor of the concept.

Indeed, when separated from the mandatory planning aspects, participants responded quite positively to the technology’s ability to suggest recommendations based on their interests. While 48% of respondents to the museum concept were concerned about their ability to freely wander (the most common concern), 53% of participants still selected “I’ll see unique exhibits more related to my interests” as a positive reaction. This feature gained the single highest positive response rate out of any of the multiple museum concepts in the survey. While visitor attractions always strive to offer guests as much choice as possible, with increasing demand for quality guest experiences, it has become necessary for capacity management systems such as virtual queues and pre-planned booking to limit guests’ options.

Online tickets for museums often mean committing to a specific date; popular resort activities require advanced reservations; and virtual queues for attractions often assign limited return windows. Recommendation algorithms can help these systems offer guests better choices when faced with limited options, but it can also turn guests against the recommendations entirely if they come to associate it with the technology that is limiting their ability to engage the way they want.

Recommendation technologies applied to location-based experiences should always be used to empower guests. For the near-future, it’s important to give guests a reason to trust the ‘Algorithm’ as a way to discover better experiences that are already available to them. If restrictions are necessary, do so in a transparent way that allows guests to retain as much control over their experience as possible, without asking any more from guests than what is absolutely needed.

Looking further ahead, it’s possible that A.I. technology will become sufficiently advanced so these recommendations and restrictions can become effectively invisible to guests. Imagine, with detailed probabilistic forecasting, an A.I. system could figure out for each guest the most likely paths they’ll take and decisions they’ll make, and hold several ‘phantom’ reservations for their most likely desired options. These invisible digital reservations could be in a state of constant reassignment by the system as demand fluctuates and the algorithm updates its recommended forecast with new real-time data. A ‘phantom’ reservation would only become tangible and activated the moment the guest arrives at the restaurant, attraction, or special exhibit… just as if it had been the guest’s spontaneous choice all along.

Obviously, there are many logistical and technological challenges to overcome in order to make this vision a reality. But the development of A.I. technologies won’t be slowing down. As experience designers, it’s essential to do our own forecasting of future possibilities, and that includes understanding what our guests actually want. It’s clear that artificial intelligence can’t become a substitute for human decision-making. As humans, we all want to be treated with respect for the choices we make by our own free agency. Sometimes, that also means relying on a trusted recommendation.

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,

Fans can sign up to join the waitlist at 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.

Access for All

The wheelchair access queue line, the closed-captioning on a ride safety video, the legendarily long paragraphs of signage telling you ‘if you have any of these conditions don’t go on this ride’ – inclusion of all guests – regardless of disability –  in location-based experiences like theme parks, museums, amusement parks, immersive theater, and more often comes across as an afterthought. But it shouldn’t be: according to the World Health Organization there are over 1.3 billion people who have one or more disabilities1. They are a wellspring of humanity that our places, spaces, stories, and structures have historically excluded, ignored, or failed to serve. This community is far from a monolith, with varying wants, needs, and desires – just like any other group of potential employees, colleagues, collaborators, clients, or customers. And, like other historically marginalized groups, they have not only failed to see themselves meaningfully represented or welcomed into these places but also been subjected to laws, policies, and structural bias that have deprived them of agency and equal opportunity. 

Three Black and disabled folx cracking up while strolling down a sidewalk on a windy day. On the left, a non-binary person walks with a cane in one hand and a tangle stim toy in the other. In the middle, a non-binary person rolls along in their power wheelchair. On the right, a woman is walking with fabulously windswept hair. A street parking meter is in the background on the right.
Photo Credit: Disabled And Here

Historically, disability inclusion has focused on what’s necessary from a legal and safety standpoint. As with any global industry, location-based entertainment (LBE), and thus experience design, has to grapple with varying laws and regulations regarding inclusion of persons with disabilities. But it’s especially acute for experience design – the teams and clients we work with overseas are subject to different laws and regulations, and cultural sensibilities. The places we design and build must at the very least abide by local laws. It can feel overwhelming quickly.


But we can do so much better than the low bar of what’s legal. Philosophically we begin from two very simple suppositions.

  • First, we must partner with subject matter experts, just as with other areas which contribute to the overall success of the project, center the voices of expertise and lived experience, and be transparent in our discussions. 
  • Second, laws and regulations define minimums for compliance, not optimal or practical scenarios of diverse accessibility. Abiding by, for instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) means we can design an exhibit or ride that we won’t get sued for, but that doesn’t mean the resulting experience is welcoming, inclusive, or even good.

In a tight economy concerned with making up lost ground from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, it could be all too easy to do the minimum – that doesn’t just lead to an inferior product, it is also short-sighted, creates a poor user experience not only for the individual but also for the accompanying friends and family, and leaves significant money on the table. 

This is not a tiny demographic with a small financial impact: in 2018-19, more than 27 million travelers with disabilities took a total of 81 million trips, spending $58.7 billion on their own travel alone (up from $34.6 billion in 2015). Open Doors Organization (ODO) – a non-profit that strives to educate businesses on disability inclusion in the workplace – noted with speaker and ODO Executive Director Eric Lipp, that “the true economic impact is higher, potentially even double, since people with disabilities typically travel with one or more other adults.”2 In an effort to engage the disability community, it is not enough to simply have good intentions. “Nothing about us without us,” a mantra in disability activism that gained traction in the 1990s, isn’t just a snappy slogan: it is foundational to being successful. 

Even in the course of writing this article, Thinkwell and our friends at Ruh Global IMPACT – a leading consultant agency who amplify the impact of organizations’ disability inclusion strategies –  had a spirited discussion about person-first (“people with disabilities”) and identity-first (“disabled people”) language. It speaks to the importance of having a variety of empowered voices at the table from the very beginning – and in this case, of simply asking what language someone prefers, honoring that input, and realizing different people will have varying perspectives.3 Recently there’s been a movement in disability activism to use identity-first language, and Thinkwell tends to utilize a mix of identity-first and person-first as a result, depending on the context, situation, and the stated preference of those involved. Ruh Global’s inclusive team preferentially uses person-first. You’ll see in future articles, if we are quoting from or interviewing an individual, we will use their preferred terminology and we’ll be explicit about it – so there’s every possibility you’ll see multiple terminology choices in a single article, depending upon the people involved. Everyone has different wants and needs, and this isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Wheelchair access sign in theme park

Similarly, in our design processes, we cannot treat persons with disabilities as tokens or use a one-size-fits-all approach. A guest who is blind may have some accessibility needs and concerns that overlap with a wheelchair-user, but simply put, they fundamentally do not have all the same needs. Meeting the needs of one segment but shrugging and saying meeting the needs of other segments is too hard, expensive, or impinges on the work environment or designed experience is unacceptable.  In order to fully live up to “nothing about us without us”, companies must be willing to put in the work to examine their culture and policies for ways in which they are unwelcoming, exclusionary, and/or biased; redress those failings; re-evaluate and iterate. They must genuinely listen when team members with lived experiences or focus group participants from the persons with disabilities community give them negative feedback and incorporate that input into the work.  It’s not all negative – this is an opportunity for designers and teams to get creative and innovative. 

Universal design, which in our context means to craft environments and experiences that can be used by the greatest number of people, is our holy grail. Wheelchair access queues on rides are useful, but oftentimes they mean guests who utilize them miss out on the pre-show experience. Offering sign language interpretation of shows is helpful, but when it needs to be booked two weeks in advance it’s inconvenient and exclusionary. Universal design is better for everyone, whether it’s seating and rest opportunities in a queue making it easier and more comfortable for a kid who’s flagging by 3 pm or someone with a balance disorder to wait in line for a ride, or provide clear and easy means to increase font size on a touch screen for guests with low vision or emergent readers or the aging.  Just like moms with strollers, tourists with rolling luggage, and food cart vendors use the curb cuts originally designed for people who use wheelchairs, universal design in location-based entertainment makes a better experience for everyone.

Photo Credit: Disabled And Here

The Return of Anticipation

Since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, we all have gone through a lot. Whether it was missing a family reunion, an anniversary cruise, a vacation with best friends, or simply a special dinner out. What all these things have in common is the one thing we didn’t know we were going to miss: anticipation. 

From the American Psychological Association: Anticipation is a state of expectation or excitement about an upcoming event or situation. It is a state of suspense and expectancy. For example, when you know an old friend is going to drop by you probably are in a state of anticipation while waiting for them–you are excited, maybe a little nervous, and filled with expectations about their visit. 

Before the pandemic, our lives were full of anticipation. Upcoming movie releases, lunch with a colleague, a trip to the museum, a dinner with a loved one, a pending concert. These things all slowly (and quickly!) ended. Restaurants closed so reservations were canceled. Concerts that were months away became unceremonious credit card refunds. Family vacations turned into airline vouchers and cancellation emails from hotels and rental car companies. 

But we need anticipation. The very nature of that feeling is all about future reward, and right now, almost more than many other things, we deserve a reward. From lunch to travel, anticipation is the bringer of excitement, the harbinger of adventure, or simply the feeling that we are going to be doing something unmapped, uncharted, and different. Anticipation often includes daydreaming, research, and planning. 

The Doblin Group, an innovation consultancy based in Chicago, codified compelling experiences. Their research showed that one of the key attributes to any compelling experience is the first of three phases, attraction. “Attraction” referred to the build-up to the experience itself, notably research, planning, and daydreaming. In other words, anticipation. 

Kelsey Borresen, a Senior Reporter with Huffpost wrote a piece last year called, “The Psychological Benefits of Having Something to Look Forward To.” In it, she wrote

Research suggests that living in the present moment and practicing mindfulness can increase happiness.

“However, during particularly stressful moments in time, like our current pandemic, it can be more beneficial to have something to look forward to,” said Atlanta therapist LeNaya Smith Crawford.


Anticipation, in many ways, is hope for the future. That state of suspense and expectancy is now its own ecstasy, an ecstasy we are can control. “It is the implicit knowing that positive emotion will happen in the future,” says Guy Kuchnick, a New York psychologist and founder of Techhealthiest. According to research published in the journal Psychological Science, planning your itinerary, booking tickets, and anticipating a vacation can boost your mood long before you step on a plane. 

We’ve been stressed. We need anticipation. 

Theme parks are open or are opening up. Vaccines are moving through their phases and the CDC’s guidelines for gathering are loosening as a result. Local jurisdictions are allowing, in many cities, for restaurants to open indoor dining again.

All these things bring hope because they are the impetus of anticipation. 

Airlines and cruise lines have better, more flexible cancellation policies now than in the past. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, we can journey again. Why not enter that “Attraction” phase of any compelling experience and start researching your next vacation, plan that cruise, start organizing the next family reunion, or simply consider where the first place will be when you go out to dinner again?

Let’s bring back anticipation.


Trend Report Deep Dive: A Look at The Bias In Artificial Intelligence

The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) has opened a window in time to discuss, debate, and dream of the many ways this technology could impact all aspects of our life. Being on the precipice of an era where machines can emulate human intelligence is also cause for reflection on questions and issues around what it means to be human.

The 6th Annual Thinkwell Trend Report isn’t just about the future possibilities of A.I. technologies within location-based experiences, but also about the realities and challenges that face the people that use A.I. The survey and report were created during a challenging year which laid bare many of the ways in which different human identities can lead to vastly divergent lived experiences. We saw evidence of deep divisions and conflicts along racial, social, socio-economic and gendered lines in recurrent marches and protests, in disturbing revelations of harassment and assault, in the way a worldwide pandemic proved disproportionately deadly based on age, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, and the continuing and widening gap between different economic groups. 

For these reasons we felt it was important that this Guest Experience Trend Report on Artificial Intelligence include questions within its survey of over 1,300 people that could evaluate the ways that race, gender, and age can influence one’s general attitude towards (and direct experiences with) emerging A.I. technologies. The results from this set of survey questions were then summarized in two Data Analysis articles accompanying the main trend report.

  • Bias in A.I. – How have different people experienced bias in A.I. technologies, and how would they suggest addressing the issue?
  • Generation Gaps – To what degree does age determine attitudes towards A.I. technologies?


Among some of the key findings of these reports:

  • Racial identity of respondents contributed up to a 15% difference in reported first-hand experience of bias, as well as general concern about bias in A.I. technologies. 
    • Asians reported both the most concern and direct experience, while white respondents reported the least.
  • Men and women exhibited similar levels of concern about Artificial Intelligence bias. Men were more positive about reporting personal examples of bias they experienced than women, who were more uncertain about their experiences of potential bias.
  • Younger people were both more concerned about the challenges of A.I. (and supportive of regulating this technology), yet were also more optimistic about its future benefits than people from older generations.


The implications of this data should have a profound effect on the process of designing for social experiences that involves A.I. technology. For example, facial recognition technologies have been touted for their ability to provide more personalized, seamless, or interactive guest experiences, yet emerging evidence of their uneven performance across ranges of skin tone and race- or gender-linked facial characteristics may unfairly target or exclude certain guests. Additionally, the very presence of this technology may trigger or enhance existing concerns of guests. The data also suggests that younger audiences in particular may demand more transparency about how A.I. technologies are used as part of the guest experience.

Being anti-bias requires a proactive approach. We at Thinkwell believe that inclusive design must engage every member of the design and development team, and that the team must include people of diverse backgrounds, identities, and viewpoints at all levels of seniority within the company structure. To be proactive in this belief, Thinkwell has established its own Diversity & Inclusion Council. The Council is tasked with continuing to identify not just challenges, but possible solutions, and with the goal of continuing to empower diverse voices within our company and within our industry. A small but important aspect of that empowerment includes collecting the data necessary to better understand and work against racism, sexism, and ageism within the experience design industry, a task that the Trend Report helps to further illuminate.