By Richard Smith
August 23, 2019

“Story” is something that your client may rail against, saying, “No one will know or care”.  However a story, when done well, informs everything on a project and enhances its profitability and that guest experience.  Whenever you’re designing; wherever you’re designing, there is a story to be told.  This is especially true in themed entertainment but works well in any building type.

When designing in a themed environment, the guests expect not only to be entertained but also immersed.   They want to be somewhere else; it’s not the product so much as the experience they desire.  Once thoroughly immersed, guests will want to stay there.  A family may travel miles and plan months to spend just one day in a place not their home.  They want a diversion, something that takes them away from the real world to someplace more exciting, more entertaining, and better than reality.  A proper story will drive that experience.

For instance, ice cream can be purchased just about anywhere.   Guests know that, but what they are buying is experience.  They’d rather have their ice cream in a turn of the century Parisian glacee parlor.   How can a fast food joint compare to the memory of sharing a cone with your friends or family purchased from “Josephine’s Chocolat Parlor” and enjoyed in the shade of your parasol as a roller coaster whooshes overhead?   The product doesn’t matter as much as that moment, that memory.

No matter the time constraints or the budget allowed, there is always a way to make it happen.

A story doesn’t always need a large budget.  It should work with what the designer is given.  If the budget is minimal the story can respond in scope and materials.  Work with what is around you. Use the realm you’re in to enhance what you have.  Sometimes signage and paint can carry the day, other times it takes more.  Budget will drive the story just as much as time and product.   You can combine existing environments with the new story, enhance an existing one, or create whole new world from nothing.  It all depends on the pieces you’re given and the scope of the project as a whole.

Recently we were tasked to develop a freestanding themed building in the middle of the most traveled area in a theme park.  We only had 4 months from concept to opening day, so time was not on our side.   We used what the surrounding buildings gave us – developing a venue based on an old tea house which fit in with the existing medieval streetscape. The story? The original owner of the building, finding his guests no longer craved his exotic teas, converted his shop to sell modern drinks and snacks.  We designed the interior of the shop with tea shelves above the new drink fountains and heavy timber framing throughout, thus keeping true to the realm and true to the story surrounding us, simple and effective.

Story, no matter how simple or elaborate, is the heart of any compelling space.  It’s not just building a restaurant, an attraction, or even a restroom. It’s all about the story and the environment in which it lives.   There should always be a sense of place and time that binds a project to its realm, keeping the guests fully immersed.  Remember, people travel to get away from home, to experience new worlds, new things, and make memories.

We’re not just selling ice cream.

« Back to news & insights