An interview with Craig Hanna, Chief Creative Officer of Thinkwell Group.
1) How important is the analysis of the guest experience for anyone involved in the design of amusement parks?
For Thinkwell, every element of our designs is driven by creating the best guest experience possible, whether it’s a theme park, museum exhibit or live show. We always look at our projects from the guest perspective to serve as a guide. These spaces need to be resonant with the audience on an emotional level and create a unique shared experience that not only connects the guests to the space, but the each other as well. Without guests, these places wouldn’t even exist. At the end of the day, it’s about creating experiences that inspire people.
2) Any visitor experience at amusement parks strongly involves the five senses: How can mobile devices give more interaction?
What’s great about this industry is that it’s not about a single technology or single aspect of entertainment; we’re an industry of generalists, who understand the entertainment space as a whole, and create full systems of experience, engaging the guests with literally every sense, and multiple points of physical and social engagement. Rides, shows, exhibits, food, shopping, even buying your ticket and in-park wayfinding can be something that has the possibility of being augmented or enhanced through mobile technology.
Plenty of companies will create compelling experiences specifically for mobile devices. We don’t need to compete for that space, and it’s as much an opportunity as it is our competition. Our experiences can enable, enhance, and ultimately transcend that tiny screen space. Accept that guests might bring their own technology & distractions. Acknowledge what these technologies are capable of if you leverage them. Augment (but don’t replace) the real world experience with technology.
We innovate not by falling in love with a speciﬁc technology for its own sake, but rather by harnessing various technologies as they emerge to bring together the emotional power of physical places, the compelling power of storytelling, and the social power of groups, to create lasting, meaningful experiences.
3) Thinkwell also designs experiences in museum spaces, in which the environment is static, so it’s essential to improve the visitor experience with information and multimedia content. Amusement parks offer a dynamic experience. Are there points of contact between these sectors? What could managers learn from each other? Is there something that museums can learn from parks and parks from museums and vice versa?
The distinction between theme parks and museums is becoming blurred as competition for leisure time is only going to get more crunched — more after school activities for the kids, more moments when the office intrudes with the ping of an email on the phone, more experiential places to spend time. The attractions industry, whether we’re talking about theme parks, museums, or events, is going to have to continue to push the envelope on creating meaningful experiences. Those moments of personalization and customization, when guests or visitors are encouraged to be active participants in and co-creators of the experience, will become even more important. We see both technology and good old fashioned interpretive techniques and storytelling supporting this.
4) Finally, from your observation point, what are some trends in the design of new attractions?
We’re already seeing the rise of boutique experiences, like small-group escape games, Ollivander’s Wand Shop at Universal, and highly interactive meet-and-greets like Enchanted Tales with Belle at Disney. These aren’t necessarily high cost add-ons, like a separate VIP experience, but rather part and parcel of the overall experience. We only see this kind of jewel-like moment getting bigger. And of course advances in technology will be a big driver and not just in these personalized experiences. Advances in laser projection, for instance, are going to offer some new and exciting ways to tell stories.