My professional journey started with the first office job I took in my first year of undergraduate school at an Exhibit Design firm. Their specialty was designing zoo, aquarium and visitor center exhibits. Their challenge at the time was “how to create a guest experience where one could learn by interacting, getting immersed and becoming emotional about the experience” – on a shoe string budget! Yeah… real easy to do with fish, frogs and otters, right? Well – I learned and we had the tricks of the trade – flip books, graphics, interactive labs and ranger stations, beautifully natural animal and aquatic environments, controlled specialty lighting, special effects fog, artificial, trees, rockwork and corals, eventually touch video screens and oh yes! – LIVE ANIMALS! Our ultimate goal was to create an “Emotional Immersive Experience” – being part of the environment and “feeling and caring for” the subject matter.
Designing to evoke emotion started with creative writers. They developed the storylines for guest experiences that described elements of color, awe, surprises around every corner, and variations in lighting and surprising special effects. Our design team had to make that story come to life. After 5 years of design and construction, the Florida Aquarium was finally a reality. As I saw the crowds joyously watching playful otters, coming curiously face to face with spoonbill birds, and as I noticed two elderly ladies holding their hands to their chests in awe watching angelic fish swim freely through the most colorful (artificial) coral reef, and a little boy running through a simulated grotto cave shout “I LOVE THIS PLACE!!!” – I realized that what my team has designed truly evoked emotion.
Fast Forward – 10 years of zoo and aquarium life later – I went to Universal Studios, Orlando for the first time EVER, and quickly realized something about “Designing to Evoke Emotion” – guests will return again and again AND they will stand in long lines on hot summer days IF YOU HAVE a really creative, emotional story (and enough budget). I’d never experienced anything like my first simulator ride – Back to the Future. Then – a few years later – the SPIDERMAN RIDE came along. Again, awe inspiring! Both of these experiences are based on telling an emotional story (usually one that a few million people already know from the movie theater), incorporating a controlled environment (complete with 3D holograms, heart-pounding music and sound), ultra-large video screens, special effects steam and water, and out-of-control ride cars – all designed to evoke emotion! And don’t forget that promising retail store placed right before the exit so you can purchase a souvenir to memorialize your emotional experience.
This amazing visit to a theme park came with a deep appreciation. In fact, so much so that I was driven to become part of it. I wanted to share my compassion for using my knowledge to create that emotional experience, and within 2 years of that moment, I moved to Orlando wanting to be a part of it all. Since then, I have taken what I have learned all over the world – whether for a family entertainment center, a large outdoor apparel chain, a land for a theme park, multiple themed restaurants and retail stores or simply a community Center – the essence is to take creative, expressive story and design to places that evoke emotion within the guest for an experience they will never forget.
FAST FORWARD 20 years – my design story continues now with BRPH and the era of designing evocative, emotional guest experiences is here – we’re living it, and we’re designing excitement and immersion at some of the world’s largest theme parks every day. We’re evoking emotion in every attraction we create – making people laugh, scream with delight and enjoy memories with their families that will last a lifetime.
I would never want to be involved in designing anything else!
Jay is a Senior Project Manager and an intuitive architect and creative designer that assists clients, construction and design professionals in developing design and construction for architecture, retail, restaurant and exhibit themed environments and attractions that inspire awe and keep guests coming back for more.