Thursday, May 24, 2018

Designing Like Imagineers

Trying to Believe
Matt O'Keefe wrote an article for Theme Park Tourist in which he listed 8 Key Principles That Disney Imagineers Use to Develop New Attractions;

Don't Give Up
Fill Specific Needs
Blue Sky Speculation
Plus It Up

I liked where Matt is going and wanted to take it a little further. In order to do that I'm going to compare Matt's list with the principles of Design Thinking, as taught at the Hasso Plattner Institutes of Design, also known as the  Design Thinking and Imagineering are both associated with extreme innovation, so we might expect to see some parallels.

Design Thinking follows a consistent, repeatable, process which was described by Herbert Simon as;

Define - Research - Generate - Prototype - Choose - Implement - Learn

Each phase of the process has methods and set of principles associated with it. Basically they address the questions of What, How and Why to do something in the context of problem solving.

I'm going to start by moving Matt's list of Imagineering principles around a little bit;

We start with Identifying a problem, or need(s) to fill.  This phase is what Simon calls Define and Matt calls Fill Specific Needs. The output of Imagineering's need identification is a document called the Scope of Needs, which is a list of what all the attraction "stakeholders" want, beginning with the Guests, including operations, maintenance, finance, etc. That's the WHAT part.  

How to identify a problem is addressed by Design Thinking's very well developed Interview with Empathy methods, which basically involve talking with real users in the real world about their experience and desires. This has a parallel in Disney's Storytelling, as successful empathic interviews typically trigger the customer telling a story that involves how they felt about a problem.

Why identify a problem or fill a need?  Filling needs creates happy customers. Put another way, it creates value. This is also where Plus It Up starts to come into play because exceeding customer expectations results in delighted customers. Plus It Up also relates to paying deep Attention to the Details.

Disney Imagineering's emphasis on the Guest Experience has a parallel in Apple's focus on look and feel (and WDI's "kinetics") which have to do with the emotional content and presence of their products.

How to generate ideas a.k.a Brainstorming is the most direct parallel, as both Design Thinking and Imagineering use the same term. That is done extensively in Disney's Blue Sky phase, where judgement is suspended and anything and everything goes.

Design Thinking also dives deep into explaining how to execute on developing and proving new ideas with Rapid Prototyping. Disney does lots of this during the Concept and Feasibility phases of their process.

Combined and rearranged the lists look like this:
  • Identify specific customer needs with Storytelling
  • Generate ideas with Blue Sky Brainstorming
  • Test and Learn about the ideas with Rapid Prototyping
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Plus it up to exceed customer expectations
Along the way, it helps to be curious, optimistic and persistent.

Follow this method and you'll be well on your way to creating solutions that suspend your customer's disbelief and making some magic.

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