Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Thoughts on Experience Design in the age of COVID

Interview with Jumana Brodersen

In the global visitor attractions industry, COVID-19 has shut down properties, canceled gatherings, stalled projects, and changed perspectives. When the industry begins to recover, the public health concerns that emerged with the pandemic will impose new priorities. Going forward, how will this affect the practice of Experience Design?

This is, of course, a question on every designer’s mind. To get a sense of how things are likely to change, InPark editor Judith Rubin spoke to Jumana Brodersen, a seasoned master planner and designer with extensive experience in family attractions, animal attractions, theme parks and waterparks. Her company, JCO, is currently engaged as lead design consultant on a new arrival experience for the Jacksonville Zoo.

Brodersen forecasts that the change in design thinking will be as profound, lasting and broad in scope as the changes brought about by passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after it was signed into law in 1990.

Photo: JCO design for Navyseum Exploration Center, Chicago

What are some of the primary challenges and mandates you anticipate?

I think we must acknowledge that it isn’t going to be enough just to ramp up disinfecting practices to make guests comfortable in returning to the parks. We are going to have to rethink the design of new attractions and retrofit older ones.

In my mind, this is a challenge to be enthusiastically embraced. Our industry’s greatest designs and greatest guest experiences are people-centric. The guests always come first. Moving forward, it will be critical to emphasize this from first to last. It will be core to the experience that we both entertain the guests and protect them.

We can draw an analogy to the changes brought about by the ADA. That made a huge change in how we conceived and built things – a huge change in our infrastructure – and it was for the better. We will see change to a similar degree now. And as happened with the ADA, there will be unavoidable, hard costs, and a period of adaptation.

How will the design process change?

Coronavirus has reshuffled our priorities and the design criteria will change. A lot of elements that in the past have not been part of initial brainstorming sessions, will now have to be.

There are many questions and things to re-examine right away, in terms of updating existing experiences and building new ones. What is an immersive environment going to look like now? We will have to redefine that – we will have to redefine each guest’s personal space within the experience. How can we creatively change the dynamics of how people interact in a space? How will we support family togetherness, clusters of people walking together?

Infrastructure, operations and fabrication will be affected. Social media and digital interaction will be more integral.

Most important, we’ll want to preserve the bubble of the experience as we integrate the new protocols – protect and entertain the guests yet not lose the quality of seamlessness. We want to continue to build upon the amazing leaps that have been made in immersive experience design. That’s essential to remaining competitive.

How do waterparks fit into this picture?

Waterparks are leaders in sanitation and disinfecting that can certainly be instructive for the rest of the industry. Good waterparks have great systems in place to protect guests. There are also design elements that provide flexibility. For instance, if you have two wave pools, you can run one or both depending on attendance levels. And if there’s an issue with one, you can turn it off for maintenance while running the other.

Of course, waterparks will now be looking to take things up a notch themselves, with similar concerns to the rest of the industry. How can we design the spaces to ensure they are safe for children? What about locker areas? Food service? Auditorium seating?

More than ever there must be close collaboration between the design team, MEP (mechanical-electrical-plumbing) and fabricators. Overall, the dynamics of the creative process across the board, the interaction of the team, and who is at the table early in the process, are going to be more important than ever. Ironically, right now we’re physically farther apart than ever, but we have to keep the sense of togetherness and collaboration. We have to be connected.

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, publicist, strategist, blogger, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She excels at writing about all aspects of design and technical design, production and project management. Areas of special interest include AV integration and show control, lighting design and acoustics, specialty cinema, digital video and world’s fairs. Judith has ties to numerous industry organizations. From 2005-2020 she ran communications, publications and social media for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA, and co-chair of the 2014 IMERSA Summit. She was publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association in the 1990s, now part of the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) and has also contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Already making her mark as a magazine and book editor, Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. Launching as a freelancer in the mid 1990s she has contributed to dozens of publications and media outlets including Funworld, Lighting&Sound America, Sound & Communications, Urban Land, The Raconteur and The Planetarian. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. She has lived in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now makes her home in Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts and theater community.

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