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First person
Mastering the magic

The best theme parks use architecture to evoke emotion in visitors, and none do it quite as well as Disney, says Storyland Studio’s Justyn Smith


Deep within the magic and marvel of Disneyland lies a sophisticated psychological tapestry woven intricately into its very fabric. A masterclass in the fusion of architectural design and human psychology, the park’s layout is more than just a spatial blueprint; it’s a meticulously crafted emotional journey. This labyrinth of wonder, with each turn and corner, has been carefully curated, not only to astound and delight but to resonate deeply with the human psyche.

The reason it resonates so powerfully is that it’s designed on a foundation of storytelling, and humans are hardwired to be moved by story. As we delve into the corridors of this iconic wonderland, we’ll unearth the principles that make Disneyland not merely a theme park, but an embodiment of psychological ingenuity, invoking feelings, memories, and experiences that transcend the physical realm.

Entrances as emotional connectors
The Main Street USA entrance at Disneyland is a paradigm of emotional design. Drawing on research like that found in The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, the entrance’s turn-of-the-century aesthetic is no arbitrary choice. It’s crafted to evoke a sense of nostalgia, a longing for a simpler, more idyllic past, which research suggests can create a positive emotional state. Similarly, Universal Studios’ entry replicates a movie set, instantly immersing visitors in the glamour and excitement of film, directly aligning with the notion that environment significantly influences emotion and behaviour. Ask yourself: Does your entrance pave the way for emotional engagement?

The significance of scale illusion
The Sleeping Beauty Castle employs forced perspective to appear larger than it is, enhancing visitors’ sense of wonder. This technique is grounded in findings such as those in the environmental psychology field, where it’s understood that perceived spatial dimensions affect human emotions.

In a similar vein, the Hogwarts Castle at Universal’s Islands of Adventure uses forced perspective, creating a sense of awe and majesty that supports the thematic narrative. It’s worth taking inspiration from these projects and thinking about whether your design amplifies the visitor’s spatial experience.

Choice as an empowerment tool
At Disneyland, guests can choose from various paths to embark on their journey, supporting the psychological need for autonomy, as outlined in Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. This mirrors findings from Iyengar and Lepper’s 2000 study where subjects presented with limited choices were more satisfied than those with an overwhelming array.

Epcot’s World Showcase allows guests to select countries to visit in any order, fostering a sense of control and personalisation in their experience.

Surprises as engagement boosters
Disneyland is replete with hidden Mickeys, fostering a sense of discovery akin to the dopamine-driven feedback loops discussed in Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking theory. This application of surprise echoes the engaging nature of hidden elements found in other parks, like the whispering arches at St. Louis Union Station, which invite visitors to partake in the 1890 legendary discovery, thereby deepening the engagement with the space.

Strategic deployment of colour
The colour palettes of Disneyland are no accident; they’re designed to elicit specific responses, a strategy backed by research such as the Impact of Colour on Marketing study, which found up to 90 per cent of snap judgments about products can be based on colour alone.

The calming blue hues of Tomorrowland facilitate a sense of tranquillity, while the vibrant colours of Toontown stimulate energy and excitement. Legoland uses bright primary colours throughout its parks to evoke a playful and creative atmosphere, engaging visitors, especially children.

The essence of multisensory engagement
Engaging all senses, Disneyland creates an immersive experience. Studies like Krishna’s An Integrative Review of Sensory Marketing suggest that multisensory experiences can lead to more profound emotional connections with a brand or space. The smell of vanilla and freshly baked goods on Main Street creates a welcoming atmosphere, while the tactile nature of the interactive exhibits in the Innoventions area engages visitors in a physically and mentally immersive way.

This multisensory approach is replicated in places like Singapore Zoo, where the use of natural sounds and scents complements the visual experience to engage visitors more deeply with the exhibits. How is your park tapping into this rich vein of memory-making?

Queues as narrative extenders
The concept of turning queues into an engaging part of the story is exemplified by Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, where the line winds through a carefully recreated archaeological dig site. This approach is grounded in Maister’s proposition that perceived wait times can drastically affect customer satisfaction. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios takes this further with its Hogwarts queue, engaging guests with talking portraits and replicas of iconic rooms from the series, making the wait part of the attraction itself.

In essence, Disneyland isn’t just a park; it’s a masterclass in leveraging human psychology for unparalleled experiences. As we chart the future course of themed entertainment, let’s be guided by these insights, ensuring our creations are as profound in impact as they are grand in vision. Here’s to a future driven by insight and imagination.

Photo: Justyn Smith

Justyn Smith is a children’s theming expert and story catalyst at immersive design company Storyland Studios

ABOUT STORYLAND STUDIOS

Storyland Studios is a full-service strategy and design firm whose mission is to imagine, design, and create immersive experiences and environments. With offices in California, Atlanta, Orlando and London, its team of professionals specialise in strategic storytelling in theme parks, museum and resorts projects.

Clients include Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea Life, Legoland, BBC Earth, Universal Studios Florida, Seoul Grand Park and Storyville Gardens.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock/Chioric
Disneyland’s Main Street USA has been designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia Credit: Photo: Abigail Nilsson
The colours used in Disneyland are designed to elicit specific responses Credit: Photo: Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort
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iPlayCo was established in 1999. [more...]
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First person
Mastering the magic

The best theme parks use architecture to evoke emotion in visitors, and none do it quite as well as Disney, says Storyland Studio’s Justyn Smith


Deep within the magic and marvel of Disneyland lies a sophisticated psychological tapestry woven intricately into its very fabric. A masterclass in the fusion of architectural design and human psychology, the park’s layout is more than just a spatial blueprint; it’s a meticulously crafted emotional journey. This labyrinth of wonder, with each turn and corner, has been carefully curated, not only to astound and delight but to resonate deeply with the human psyche.

The reason it resonates so powerfully is that it’s designed on a foundation of storytelling, and humans are hardwired to be moved by story. As we delve into the corridors of this iconic wonderland, we’ll unearth the principles that make Disneyland not merely a theme park, but an embodiment of psychological ingenuity, invoking feelings, memories, and experiences that transcend the physical realm.

Entrances as emotional connectors
The Main Street USA entrance at Disneyland is a paradigm of emotional design. Drawing on research like that found in The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, the entrance’s turn-of-the-century aesthetic is no arbitrary choice. It’s crafted to evoke a sense of nostalgia, a longing for a simpler, more idyllic past, which research suggests can create a positive emotional state. Similarly, Universal Studios’ entry replicates a movie set, instantly immersing visitors in the glamour and excitement of film, directly aligning with the notion that environment significantly influences emotion and behaviour. Ask yourself: Does your entrance pave the way for emotional engagement?

The significance of scale illusion
The Sleeping Beauty Castle employs forced perspective to appear larger than it is, enhancing visitors’ sense of wonder. This technique is grounded in findings such as those in the environmental psychology field, where it’s understood that perceived spatial dimensions affect human emotions.

In a similar vein, the Hogwarts Castle at Universal’s Islands of Adventure uses forced perspective, creating a sense of awe and majesty that supports the thematic narrative. It’s worth taking inspiration from these projects and thinking about whether your design amplifies the visitor’s spatial experience.

Choice as an empowerment tool
At Disneyland, guests can choose from various paths to embark on their journey, supporting the psychological need for autonomy, as outlined in Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. This mirrors findings from Iyengar and Lepper’s 2000 study where subjects presented with limited choices were more satisfied than those with an overwhelming array.

Epcot’s World Showcase allows guests to select countries to visit in any order, fostering a sense of control and personalisation in their experience.

Surprises as engagement boosters
Disneyland is replete with hidden Mickeys, fostering a sense of discovery akin to the dopamine-driven feedback loops discussed in Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking theory. This application of surprise echoes the engaging nature of hidden elements found in other parks, like the whispering arches at St. Louis Union Station, which invite visitors to partake in the 1890 legendary discovery, thereby deepening the engagement with the space.

Strategic deployment of colour
The colour palettes of Disneyland are no accident; they’re designed to elicit specific responses, a strategy backed by research such as the Impact of Colour on Marketing study, which found up to 90 per cent of snap judgments about products can be based on colour alone.

The calming blue hues of Tomorrowland facilitate a sense of tranquillity, while the vibrant colours of Toontown stimulate energy and excitement. Legoland uses bright primary colours throughout its parks to evoke a playful and creative atmosphere, engaging visitors, especially children.

The essence of multisensory engagement
Engaging all senses, Disneyland creates an immersive experience. Studies like Krishna’s An Integrative Review of Sensory Marketing suggest that multisensory experiences can lead to more profound emotional connections with a brand or space. The smell of vanilla and freshly baked goods on Main Street creates a welcoming atmosphere, while the tactile nature of the interactive exhibits in the Innoventions area engages visitors in a physically and mentally immersive way.

This multisensory approach is replicated in places like Singapore Zoo, where the use of natural sounds and scents complements the visual experience to engage visitors more deeply with the exhibits. How is your park tapping into this rich vein of memory-making?

Queues as narrative extenders
The concept of turning queues into an engaging part of the story is exemplified by Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, where the line winds through a carefully recreated archaeological dig site. This approach is grounded in Maister’s proposition that perceived wait times can drastically affect customer satisfaction. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios takes this further with its Hogwarts queue, engaging guests with talking portraits and replicas of iconic rooms from the series, making the wait part of the attraction itself.

In essence, Disneyland isn’t just a park; it’s a masterclass in leveraging human psychology for unparalleled experiences. As we chart the future course of themed entertainment, let’s be guided by these insights, ensuring our creations are as profound in impact as they are grand in vision. Here’s to a future driven by insight and imagination.

Photo: Justyn Smith

Justyn Smith is a children’s theming expert and story catalyst at immersive design company Storyland Studios

ABOUT STORYLAND STUDIOS

Storyland Studios is a full-service strategy and design firm whose mission is to imagine, design, and create immersive experiences and environments. With offices in California, Atlanta, Orlando and London, its team of professionals specialise in strategic storytelling in theme parks, museum and resorts projects.

Clients include Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea Life, Legoland, BBC Earth, Universal Studios Florida, Seoul Grand Park and Storyville Gardens.

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock/Chioric
Disneyland’s Main Street USA has been designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia Credit: Photo: Abigail Nilsson
The colours used in Disneyland are designed to elicit specific responses Credit: Photo: Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort
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COMPANY PROFILES
QubicaAMF UK

QubicaAMF is the largest and most innovative bowling equipment provider with 600 employees worldwi [more...]
DJW

David & Lynn Willrich started the Company over thirty years ago, from the Audio Visual Department [more...]
iPlayCO

iPlayCo was established in 1999. [more...]
RMA Ltd

RMA Ltd is a one-stop global company that can design, build and produce from a greenfield site upw [more...]
+ More profiles  
CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

03-05 Sep 2024

ASEAN Patio Pool Spa Expo

IMPACT Exhibition Center, Bangkok, Thailand
03-08 Sep 2024

Spa Peeps International Corporate Cruise

Cruise London, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, United States
+ More diary  
 


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