Unforgettable Guest Experiences
The overall guest experience is the most vital factor in the success of any sports, entertainment, retail, gaming, corporate, or hospitality venue. In public gathering places, the environment should never be dismissed as a backdrop; people may come for an event or for another specific purpose, but immerse them in a memorable and enjoyable entry-to-exit experience and they will return again and again. This belief motivates all my work, and if I’ve had success over these past 20 years it’s because I’ve embraced this idea without reservation.
Many design programs don't pay enough attention to the human element, to the way people relate to manufactured environments, emotionally, socially, intellectually, or physically, in both positive and negative ways. The guest experience can't be an afterthought, and public places shouldn’t emphasize other considerations over an authentic, human experience.
Public Design with the Guest in Mind: Five Principles
If you’re involved in the design of public places, here are five principles for action that can dramatically increase the likelihood of a successful outcome:
1. Be courageous. Follow the road less traveled.
Don’t let yourself be caged in by other people’s conceptions of what public venues are supposed to look like, or how they may function. Creativity has limited inspiration outside of ourselves. What you produce may resemble or have connections to other things or places, but that is mostly coincidental; your influences are just that, influences. What you do with them is entirely up to you, and that’s nothing short of liberating. There may only be three chords in rock and roll, but they are your three chords.
2. Be generous with your investments.
Efficient use of time and resources are important once a project gets underway, but in the visioning stage, don't allow yourself to be constrained by cost. At least not yet.
Don’t start value-engineering right out of the gate. Make sure the final payoff is significant. A truly memorable guest experience means returning visitors and a clear return on investment, and that should be the ultimate goal. When you put people first, financial success tends to follow. Sure, the realities of things like cost, schedule, constructability, etc. will come, but don't start there. The strongest ideas will rise to the top and will need to be protected. In short, the key is to pick the right spots and be dedicated to the Big Idea, no matter how small it may be.
3. Interpret. Integrate. Iterate.
Your wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling scheme should be well coordinated and each element you add should blend seamlessly with the others. Visitors should be both excited and comforted by their surroundings rather than feeling overwhelmed, and that puts the weight on you to think carefully about your choices along the way. Find the story, arrange the pieces, and prepare to be flexible and adapt to the way that your guests actually utilize the place, as well as the changing habits, desires, and needs that expose themselves over time. It's nearly impossible to future-proof, but it is certainly possible (and more likely, required) to evolve.
4. Keep the team small, and keep it focused.
Successful teams remain in constant dialogue and have a unity of purpose and vision. Effective implementation of an overall strategy requires collaboration, but things are far more likely to get done if the number of contributing voices are kept to a minimum, each bringing complementary skills and outlooks to the table. The person who doesn't agree on a topic can often help to make things better simply by challenging an idea and at least making everyone question the validity of the decisions that are being made.
5. Give your work a unique personality.
Like every human being, any sports, entertainment, retail, hospitality or corporate gathering place should have a personality that sets it apart from the crowd. It should be an uplifting and engaging place to visit, unforgettable because it carves out its own unique niche. Think about the public places that have made the greatest impression on you, and ask yourself how that environment spoke to you, what worked, and what may have needed rethinking.
The voices we seek in the places that we create are an authentic expression of our senses and preferences—and that is perfectly okay. In fact, you probably wouldn't want it any other way.
Building an Infrastructure of the Imagination
Following these five principles won’t guarantee a masterpiece. They will, however, put you in a creative and fertile state of mind, where good things are bound to happen. Under their influence, you’ll construct an impressive framework that can produce amazing and memorable results.