I just returned from a wonderful Spring Break trip to Disney World with my family. I had been to Disney a few times when I was younger, and have always held all things Disney close to my heart. I was a fan of the movies and characters as a kid. I remember watching them over and over with my little brother and knew every line by heart. I had always been surrounded by Disney fans and didn’t think that anyone could NOT be a fan until college. Before a trip down with my family when I was about 20, the Disney haters suddenly came out of the woodworks. I didn’t realize how many people were generally unhappy with the Disney Company and had no intention of ever visiting its parks. I get the whole “down with the man” thing and I too get frustrated with big business, but to me, Disney represents a company that reached its success by utilizing design, theatre, and art effectively.
Every inch of Disney's parks are carefully planned with precision to ensure a happy (or dare I say magical) experience for their visitors. It is theatrical spectacle at its pinnacle. They spare no expense to leave you in awe. From the minute you are greeted by the world’s happiest employees (are they really? Who knows, but they like their jobs enough to fake it) to the final moments you are left with; a finale of fireworks that marvels the finest you’ve seen.
If you’ve never been, it is hard to explain what Disney World is like. The two most popular parks, Magic Kingdom and Epcot are very different, but were both created with the intention of displaying the forward thinking of Walt Disney and his company. Magic Kingdom was designed to provoke the nostalgia of people of all ages. Whether you are familiar with the characters or not, the attractions inspire a piece of familiar culture. Epcot is kind of like a school field trip on a cocktail of drugs. There’s something for everyone, especially for those who appreciate design.
The parks are set up so that you can truly escape. It is like a great novel or a t.v. show that you binge watch on Netflix; it allows you to enter a different world and be a part of it for a while. The landscape of Disney is set up to create this illusion of worlds and every participant is a part of this deception. When we returned home, my 4 year old looked at a building at the airport and asked, “ is that building real?” After seeing man made creations all week, his perception of what was real was a little off-balanced. It was for me too. Even portions of the park that aren’t ready for visitor's eyes yet are designed to blend in and further the story being told.
Disney thought of everything when planning these parks. The design of the lands, rides, and attractions themselves creates a grand world within a world. Beyond that, the layout and flow of the park itself was a design feat and was created successfully. Thousands of visitors go into these parks every day. There are so many people, in every direction. Lines for rides can be long. Lines for food are long. Lines for the potty with a 4 year old are long. Yet, for some reason, time doesn’t seem to hold the same value as it does in the real world. They are true magicians in the sense that people don’t realize they have been waiting so long for a ride. There are twists and turn in the lines carefully mapped out to keep you interested and ease the frustration. Visually, there is more to look at than your senses can even take and it is all done well. Disney hires real artists, not businessmen and the form of the park is an equal partner to the function.
While on the Sea in Epcot, the ride suddenly stopped. The soundtrack that was playing to carry the story forward was replaced momentarily by the same character voice letting us know what was going on. The ride didn't skip a beat. The veil was never lifted. I didn't have to break the escape mode I was in. After a few minutes, the character came back into the soundtrack to let me know that the ride was about to continue where it left off. Every detail is part of the larger design to ensure that clients feel safe, and are having a good time.
I can't help but be impressed by the design of these parks and the interactive experiences set up for visitors. One hour there inspires countless project "problems"
• How do you inspire nostalgia in a client base from multiple generations?
• How do you manage crowd control without being overbearing to your client?
• How do you use design to tell a linear story in a physical realm such as a street (or land in Magic Kingdom )
• How do you distract your client from unavoidable instances such as remodeling, or machine breakage?
I'm pretty sure a field trip to Disney is in order. Students would surely benefit from analyzing all of the problem solving that is taking place on a daily level at these parks and within this company. I'll get started on writing for that grant.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.