High On Etsy (web series)
Under the Rainbow (short film excerpt)
Obsolescent Sweet Pea (short film)
Thick Like Honey (feature film outline)
5 Women Poets (November 2018)
ring ring (May 2016)
for STACKEDD MAGAZINE
• Follow Your Arrow: The Benefits of Queering Businesses
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• Sure Shot: 10 Questions with Director Hayley Young
• Living Room: Do Lesbians Need More Than One Bar of Their Own?
• Hollaback Grrrls: Catcall Zine Reframes Call-Out Culture for Seattle Feminists
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• Instant Karma: The GreaterGood Finds Philanthropy in Click Culture
• Seattle Musicians Communicate Your Feelings of Love and Insecurity This Valentine’s Day
• Naked Eye: The Seattle Exposure Project Visually Explores Self-Acceptance
• Stray Cat Strut: Give Harvey Milk a Home for PRIDE
• The Sweetest Taboo: A String of Pearls on Math, Radical Feminism, Foreign Policy and her Queer Core Pop-Soul Debut
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• Forever & Always: Katrina Spade and the Urban Death Project
• 18 Cheap Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day
I am currently collecting stories about experiences of radical hospitality. How can good design create accessibility, productivity, and impact? This series includes video & audio interviews. If you are the curator or manage of a space, or if you have visited a space that delivered amazing hospitality, please be in touch. (bonniestinson at gmail dot com)
> The Future of Decision-Making in the Workplace: Artificial Intelligence Managers in 2028 by Bonnie J. Stinson
What is the future of decision-making in the workplace? In 2018, employers are looking for more data and more control. Current trends include workplace surveillance and digitally-created psychological profiles of employees. AI is already entering workplaces; HireVue uses AI to help companies make decisions about compensation and who to hire. These companies rely on black box algorithms and deep learning to incentivize desirable personality traits, and employers hire them even though that process is fairly opaque. This puts workers at a huge disadvantage, unable to act with true agency in the workplace. On the one hand, algorithms can deny the workforce the opportunity to advocate for themselves. But on the other hand, algorithms can help ferret out unskilled and dangerous people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field by prioritizing diversity. Who would be rewarded in a 2028 workplace where AI is in charge, and how might they attempt to manipulate such a system?
According to a recent study from Deloitte, “more than 40% of employers world-wide have implemented artificial intelligence processes of some kind” (Moise 2018). These processes primarily use text-based analysis, but experts agree that the future of workplace AI will focus on facial expressions and voice tones. HireVue, used by Dunkin Donuts, IBM, and the Boston Red Sox, already incorporates facial analysis of micro-expressions during AI-conducted interviews, in which a single numeric score is generated for each applicant(Zetlin), similar to China’s social credit rating system (Ma 2018). Additionally, Littler’s 2018 Annual Employer Survey showed that 31 percent of respondents already use big data to make strategic and employee management decisions (Nagele-Piazza). Some reports predict that “by 2019, 40% of all digital transformation initiatives – and 100% of IoT initiatives – will be supported by AI capabilities” (Morris 2017).
But who runs these workplaces? The New York Timesrecently reported that “men named “John” outnumber women in positions in power across multiple fields” (Mercado 2018). The majority of current leadership positions are held by white men, leading to biased and limited decision-making. Companies have tried to solve this problem with algorithms. For example, because it is known that gender-blind and race-blind job applications result in more diverse hires, algorithms can be trained to ignore or counteract “Stacy” or “Ngozi” or “sorority” during a resume review (Rinne 2018). Many believe that AI would make better decisions than humans, due to the depth, rapidity, and logic of machine learning. Human managers of the future may likely hand off “logical” decision-making to machines to allow them to focus on more complex tasks like supporting a team, relationship building, and conflict resolution.
Specific implementations include Hitachi’s robot boss, which has brought greater efficiency and productivity to their production floor, prompting journalists to explore whether “the absence of a human boss can enhance the productivity and overall employee morale in a workplace” (Ghosh). IBM’s Watson is now utilizing AI to determine mood, with the ability to notify an employee after a client call that “he seems anxious and should take a break before his meeting” (Nicastro).
So, what will happen in the future, when AI technology is applied beyond 2018’s basic interviews and morphs into AI-enabled cubicle cameras, AI-mediated dismissal and promotion decisions, AI-performance management, and even larger AI-managed investment or strategic partnership choices?
Let’s take a step back. What traits does this generation (and the next) desire in their future workplaces? Will they code their AI managers to reflect those traits? Industry trends indicate that companies of the future want innovation, safety, emotional intelligence, and service orientation (Zambas). Pop culture and recent political elections corroborate the notion that in order to survive and flourish, we must embrace diversity, listen harder, and design better.
I imagine a future where our subservience to the algorithm becomes a powerful tool for equity. In a future where one’s job depends on the performance of pleasantness, I argue that prestige could shift to historically marginalized groups like women and People of Color who have been socialized to perform emotional labor and politeness in order to survive under white supremacy and patriarchy. If the goal is a safe workplace, why would a logical algorithm choose to hire white men, who carry out the majority of mass shootings? (Mitchell 2018). If the goal is a workforce of emotionally intelligent, service-oriented people, women will be favored among job applicants.
Those currently in positions of power will surely resist. Political systems will either experience the friction necessary to incentivize useful, inclusive, and equitable policies, or political systems will begin to breakdown as people realize that governments and bureaucracies have no intention of meeting their needs. As a result, citizens will begin to locate their hopes and dreams outside of the ballot box, and explore how to build a new world outside of policy, in partnership with artificial intelligence.
In the IBM cubicle of 2028, where securely encrypted cameras feed facial expressions, tone, and body language to an AI boss, women are also the group best equipped to dupethese kinds of systems by performing desirable traits in order to please their AI managers and keep their jobs. Perhaps in the future, women will finally be able to flip the patriarchal script and profit from their socialization, becoming highly sought-after experts in reflective listening, emotional intelligence, and service-oriented leadership. Perhaps disenfranchised populations will rise to power and save us, all thanks to the “logic” of algorithms.
What is the future of decision-making in the workplace? It is a binary future we must resist at all costs. As we relegate mundane tasks to AI helpers, and rely on machine logic to dictate our future, I feel it is likely that our human ability to interpret data and make good decisions will wane. The good news is that marginalized people are the population best equipped to retain human agency, empathy, creativity, and cooperation. The bad news is that our machine overlords – and their CEO creators named John – don’t see them as valuable. Yet.
In the next ten years, AI will either lead to the powerless claiming their power to force change, or result in a situation like my Artifact predicts: But when those in power finally get a dose of powerlessness and realize their own future depends on equity, too, will it be too late?
> On the Theming of Public Spaces: Towards Playful Citizenship by Bonnie J. Stinson
Could applying theme park design principles to public spaces lead to increased cross-community engagement, and thus more effective citizen problem solving?
ORIGINS OF THEME PARKS
The first theme parks were places for people to marvel at the grotesque and bizarre: World’s Tallest Man! (Grande), and they created strong communities among their physically and socially marginalized performers. But as medical knowledge advanced, and the public became aware that “freaks” had real medical conditions and diagnoses, these shows became seen as gaudy and unsavoury. In the mid- to late-1800s, the World’s Fair shifted the trajectory of the attractions industry, moving beyond simple showcasing of peculiarity to an exposition model of displaying themed inventions and industry objects. The Industrial Revolution led to an increase in wages (and income inequality), and people with disposable income sought novel ways to spend it. At the same time, Coney Island was founded to provide amusement for poor and rich alike.
Into the early and mid-1900s, a maturing film industry alongside new technological innovations in communication created a truly global market for stories. With many Western countries mired in war and struggling with economic depression, people wanted stories that entertained and inspired. Production studios and industry grew savvy to the potential of mass media and employed fictional – and often nationalistic – stories to reach huge audiences with story-related products (Murray). The first superhero comics appeared during the Great Depression and throughout World War II, and, in 1955, at the peak of white flight and the emergence of American suburban culture, Disneyland opened its doors. Since 1955, more than 600 million people have visited the park, with an average annual attendance at Disney World of 52 million.
ENTERTAINMENT & CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY
As the world’s largest and most influential collection of theme parks, Disney’s design choices set the standard for the industry. Theme park designs are directly derived from the city planning methods in use at the time of the park’s development. Disneyland uses an “architecture of reassurance” (Cunningham 118) modeled after American suburbs. But after Disneyland was built and launched, experts in community development grew increasingly aware that the protected and bordered suburban life came with plenty of problems: “cultural homogeneity, mind-numbing public and private architecture, and familial/personal dysfunctionality” (Cunningham 113). Popular opinion then moved towards New Urbanism, which aims to “create a feeling of local identity”and is created by intentionally blending diverse groups of people in the same walkable, mixed-use neighbourhood (Cunningham 118). But the entertainment industry, mostly built environments, was slow to catch on. Most parks continued to adhere to older principles of design, creating a trickle-down loyalty from older generations to new.
With the arrival of the Internet and exponentially more powerful computers, the 1980s and 1990s saw a fundamental shift in the nature of mass entertainment. Whereas amusement had been limited to a particular location, online gaming, text-based storytelling, and virtual reality opened up new possibilities for storytelling. These powerful yet enigmatic innovations rattled the public’s understanding of identity and participation, and warped existing models of gaming, gambling, journalism, and politics. Young people suddenly had access to stories, tools, and worlds beyond the reach of many people in older generations; their participation and identities shaped the interactivity and principles of emerging new media. Modern production studios caught on, and eagerly combined big data with behavioural psychology to deliver a power punch of profit.
By the end of the 1990s, the attractions industry had undergone a critical change in function. Traditional theme parks located beloved popular stories within simulated planned communities, planting opportunities for consumerism along the way. But by 2000, attractions bypassed simple nostalgia and entered the age of imaginative and immersive world-building. The Harry Potterseries introduced a visual universe to billions of people, creating the world’s largest fandom. And in order to remain relevant and competitive, amusement centers responded to fans. They introduced bottom-up designs using multisensory stimulation and emotional persuasion borrowed from film and gambling.
By 2001, the dot com bubble had burst, and a recession was on the horizon, but casino culture continued to steadily rise (Goodman). Persuasive design was no longer shady and implicit, but rather explicitly de mode: a celebrated feature of technology, not a shameful tactic. With the official launch of Facebook in 2005, persuasive design began to pervade all new media, extending greater social permission for other games and parks to use these tactics.
PERSUASION, PUBLICS & PEACE
Contemporary thinking in theme park design has evolved beyond mimicking suburban 1950s planned communities. Now, designers tempt profit by utilizing gaming principles to produce experiences that highlight nuance and diversity, prolong engagement, and invite imagination. Design strategies include variable rewards(Lewis), the five planes of player experience(Ferrara 291), uncertainty, absorption (Higgins), and multisensory embodied play (Reijnders, Waysdorf). Parks have learned to revere rather than reject fandom, observing that fictional worlds, by design, speak to a certain public (Warner). When people identify themselves as part of a public by entering a theme park environment, that space becomes particularly “welcoming and special. Being in the park not only means being surrounded by the narrative world but also being surrounded by this community” (Reijnders, Waysdorf). Designers now know that safety and inclusion can be profitable.
But cutting-edge theorists caution against the cultural trend toward gamification, a favoured technique among many civic and entertainment bodies, such as Ontario’s Carrot Rewards program. Experts say that the game itself has more merit than any “strip-mined” gamification could ever offer: games persuade, simulate real environments, accelerate learning, and facilitate cooperative experiences (Ferrara 293). Theme parks have transformative power specifically because they have boundaries and rules, enabling players to explore new ways of being within a level of acceptable risk. Parks are a “framework to imagine potentialities and alternatives” (Reijnders, Waysdorf 177). There is a “core assumption…that visitors would like to intensify and bring a favorable experience into their real lives” (Dong, Siu).
So if games are a hypothesis, and play is evidence (Ferrara 299), what implications could that have on civic problem solving and potential policy development? Playback theatre has attempted to unite these ideas by using trained actors to help people in conflict situations to act out, pause, replay, and try out different actions until a preferred outcome is achieved. This corroborates the concepts above, that there is power in communities with a shared identity coming together to imagine new worlds.
In the field of conflict resolution, most experts agree that successful mediation utilizes “cognitive-historical pathways” (Lejano). In situations with two opposing “sides”, this means that each side 1) affirms self-identity, 2) explores joint-identity, and 3) considers what a common identity might mean for the future (Lejano 574). When the conflict is related to territory, as in the two Koreas, a popular solution is a peace park which creates a neutral buffer zone, but this plays into the idea that physical proximity only exacerbates conflict. This ‘rational’ perspective also limits the concept of peace to a state-actor perspective. Another way is the model of care, which posits that peace parks function because people act in “coherence with the web of relationships,” not because of “clear lines of authority or the pursuit of individual interest.” In this model, peace is achieved when the identities of individual and community-actors shiftin accordance with a new understanding of their relationship to other players. The space of the park becomes a “template upon which a complex web of relationships can evolve” (Lejano 576). The park is inscribed as “a moral ‘contract’ written not on parchment, but in terms of place.”
My hypothesis: If we apply theme park design principles to public spaces, it could lead to increased cross-community engagement, and thus more effective citizen problem solving.
Studies demonstrate that shared space helps resolve conflict when 1) a new joint identity is forged among players, and 2) when the space acts as a guide for developing a web of relationships. Whether explicitly given to peace activities like in Cyprus, or whether functionalist like the Jordanian & Israeli co-operated Red Sea Marine Park, both naturally facilitate peace because opposing parties practice imagining themselves into a joint future.
When these players gather in shared spaces, we can use theme park design principles to heighten and improve they ways they imagine and simulate a new reality. Game design studies prove that participants are more positive and engaged inside highly immersive, nuanced, and emotionally engaged experiences. Modern theme parks prove this as well, succeeding by balancing the delightful uncertainty of fictional worlds with the safety and boundaries of a well-managed classroom. Theme parks bring together diverse people around a common unrelated interest, and forge or strengthen that new identity through prolonged experiences of a simulated world.
I want to combine these principles to create immersive and realistically uncertain simulated civic environments for cross-community actors to accelerate problem solving ability and build joint identity through game play. My hypothesis is based on the conviction that citizen-actors have superior problem-solving ability over state-actors, and that simulated environments are better than real environments at providing cross-community citizen-actors with a safe interface in which to develop a powerful web of relationships under the model of care in conflict resolution. If we use persuasive design principles and worldbuilding techniques to make public spaces attractive and engaging, we can develop areas that bring together diverse communities and produce a web of relationships that will efficiently guide communities toward peaceful, citizen-led solutions to conflict.
Happy to hear from others on this topic!
> Evaluating the Success of Interactive Queue Technology in Satisfying Multigenerational Guest Groups by Bonnie J. Stinson
Interactive queues can be hit-or-miss with theme park visitors. Those who tend to love them are typically younger audiences or people with an appreciation for technology. Diehard purists tend to hate them. These queues are designed to serve two purposes: firstly, they bring guests intimately closer to the IP, and secondly, they help make a long waiting line seem shorter (Ledbetter).
The queue design process has many challenges, no matter how digitally interactive it will be. For instance, how do you ensure that essential safety information is communicated appropriately? How do you design it for non-English speakers? How do you keep guests of all demographics engaged? How do you design for multigenerational groups, so that grandmothers and pre-teens can enjoy it together? And how do you design for the incessant presence of mobile devices, while also maintaining the all-important social dynamic of a theme park queue?
In particular, interactive queues amplify some of these design obstacles. Consumer blogs and industry experts indicate two overarching challenges for interactive queues. Firstly, how do you meet consumer expectations for the look and feel of an IP whilst incorporating cutting edge technology? Whether updating the queue for a beloved older ride or selecting appropriate technology to match the IP in a new ride, it can be challenging to keep fans of different generations happy and engaged. And secondly, how do you ensure that people with different physical abilities (blind, deaf, or using a mobility device) can enjoy the queue at the same level as other guests?
These questions are especially relevant because most theme park visitor groups are multigenerational (Niles). This is a good test group because older and younger visitors encompass varying physical abilities, as well as different expectations and capacities to participate in interactive activities.
Today’s best interactive queues fall into one of four categories of interactivity: (1) tangible interactions within the queue, affecting either the immediate queue environment or the ride itself (e.g., Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; Big Thunder Mountain; Haunted Mansion); (2) immersive and embodied experiences (e.g., Avatar Flight of Passage); (3) queue-less interactivity, typically when guests flow through different themed holding areas (e.g., Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York); and (4) activities on mobile devices, either single-player or multiplayer, either affecting the immediate environment or simply as entertainment (e.g., Toy Story Land; Soarin’). Tangible and embodied interactions, when used in combination with a compelling IP and well-designed queue, seem to be the most successful in engaging multigenerational guests.
This blog post evaluates how interactive queues help bridge the physical and digital worlds in a way that satisfies a multigenerational group of theme park visitors. I see a trend toward tangible and embodied interactions, so I will focus on those interactive technologies. Specifically, I will analyze their effectiveness in three queues — Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Haunted Mansion, and Toy Story Midway – to see how they satisfy multigenerational theme park visitors.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: Tangible and Embodied Interactions for All Ages
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an updated ride in Disneyworld. The original ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, was selected to be revamped when Disneyworld renovated Fantasyland. The new ride opened in 2014, building on a few of the old ride’s elements and still identifiable as inspired by the original Walt Disney breakout film, Snow White(1937). The ride itself presents a family-friendly runaway mine train story, using an open coaster, animatronics, and both outdoor and indoor show scenes (Levine).
The queue for Mine Train contains three notably interactive activities. The first is a series of ungated and uncaptioned tabletop screens grouped together. It’s a screen-based jewel swapping game that uses tangible interactions to get guests touching and swiping to match and collect gemstones. A complete interaction can take up to 10 seconds and needs minimal explanation to understand. The second interactive activity is a set of water spigots with wooden animal heads, where passing your hand beneath a spigot produces a shot of water, light, and music. People of most any height can reach the spigots, and no complicated gesture is needed. Any motion is registered, and a simple tone is produced for touching just a single spigot. Latency is near zero, which helps guests easily understand the functionality and thus explore the spigots beyond their initial test. Thirdly, there is a group of spinnable wooden barrels mounted on the floor, filled with glittering jewels. When spun, each barrel projects the image of a character onto the ceiling. Small children are able to move a barrel, and no special movements or coordination is required.
The activities clearly succeed in satisfying guests from different age groups because they require minimal explanation, minimal physical strength, minimal comprehension of the movie plot, and minimal coordination or intellectual processing. To those who are familiar with the original story, each activity fits delightfully into the narrative of a dwarven mine full of beautiful treasures. Activities is easily discoverable by observing other guests, and the interfaces are accessible to people with zero understanding of technology, even though the actual technology is modern and complex.
Overall, the Mine Train queue accomplishes the primary goals of an interactive queue while also satisfying multigenerational guest groups. Its activities bring guests closer to the IP by allowing them to physically interact with props and characters. It accurately foreshadows the tone and style of the upcoming attraction, which balances nostalgic Snow White moments with cutting edge technology like projection mapping expressions onto animatronic figures. Finally, the queue successfully invites multigenerational guests to collaborate, socialize, and explore, achieving the primary goal of turning wait-time into play-time and reducing perception of queue length for guests of different age groups.
Haunted Mansion: Tangible & Sound-Based Interactions
At Disneyworld and in multiple Disneylands, there is a beloved attraction called Haunted Mansion, the first iteration of which opened in 1969. It experiences a seasonal boost in popularity in autumn and winter, when the park creates special events around the attraction. The Disneyworld attraction is based on the story of the Ravenswoods, “a family of Western settlers who struck it rich during the gold rush and were later affected by a series of mysterious demises.” The queue and ride present a tour through the haunted mansion, where ghosts appear, and a murder must be solved. The queue was most recently updated in 2011 to incorporate more interactive technology.
Queue activities range from obscure and intellectual to obvious and tangible, all themed within an ostensible cemetery. A collection of busts contains poetry with clues about the mysterious murder. A “musical mausoleum” or “composer crypt” presents a large and sturdy panel resembling a tombstone, which invites guests passing by to touch various carved instruments to generate haunted music. An organ nearby plays music when the keys are pressed but playing too long results in a puff of water mist directed at the player. Another mausoleum in the queue belongs to the character Prudence Pock, a writer who died of writer’s block. On her tomb, various carved books pop out of their shelves and guests can push them back into their slots. Her ghost recites unfinished poetry from within her tomb, and visitors can speak into microphones to help complete her poems. As the queue reaches the building, guests enter the show portion of the attraction, including several rooms that use theatrical effects and technology to introduce the plot and tone of Haunted Mansion.
Creating a family-friendly attraction with a haunted theme is indeed a design challenge, and this attraction relies profoundly on sonic devices to convey the story of Haunted Mansion. This is true not only within the queue but also throughout the attraction itself. This fits with the wise and longstanding method of telling a good scary story, which wisely prioritizes sound effects over visuals to frighten audiences (blood curdling screams, horses whickering). Imagined horrors are always scarier than those we can see. Sound-based storytelling has the added benefit of reducing the need for fancy and expensive visuals, which aligns with Haunted Mansion’s plotline in Victorian times, when parlor tricks and sound effects often sufficed to produce a spooky story, sans the cutting-edge technology of 2019.
Unfortunately, because many of Haunted Mansion’s interactive queue activities rely primarily on sound, they exclude a large portion of guests. The only non-sonic activity is the family of busts with mysterious poetry, which young children who cannot read (and non-English speakers) will not comprehend. For the sonic interactions, young people may have trouble following the Victorian accents and meter of Prudence Pock’s poetry. Older adults may be confused by the functionality of the musical mausoleum and struggle to fully create music. An unacceptable oversight of this design is that deaf and hard of hearing guests will experience less than half the interactivity available to other hearing guests in the queue.
Otherwise, tangible and sound-based interactions can be very discoverable by virtue of their obviousness. That is to say, guests who are further back in the queue can observe someone touching a carved trumpet and understand they can do the same. Sound which is multidirectional can help spark guests’ curiosity about an upcoming interaction, even when they can’t see it yet. For instance, you can hear the sound of Prudence Pock’s voice before you arrive at her tomb. The technology here is almost too hidden to be enjoyed, since guests have no mental model of speaking to a ghost in a tomb to guide this interactive activity.
Overall, the Haunted Mansion queue does succeed in entertaining multigenerational guests by utilizing tangible and sound-based interactions. A major success is the alignment between queue theming and ride theming, both of which reflect a comedic and Victorian air of horror and mayhem, communicated primarily via sound and theatrical effects. The queue interactions generally need minimal explanation, muscle power, or technological savvy. There is an opportunity to improve accessibility for non-hearing guests, as well as to improve discoverability for the very old or very young who do not have the mental framework to understand cutting-edge sonic interactions. The future of sonic interactions in theme park queues is still coming to maturity.
Toy Story Mania!: Mobiles Devices and the Immersive Power of Nostalgia
Opened in 2008, this attraction is interactive in every nook and cranny, from queue to coaster. This attraction wavers slightly from this paper’s mandate to explore only queues, as Toy Story Mania’s primary interactivity is located within the ride itself. Toy Story Mania! is one of Disney’s most technologically complex (and most expensive) attractions (Burkett). Styled after carnival rides, guests are offered 3D glasses and toured through multiple interactive virtual game environments on screens that feature Toy Story characters. Each game presents a real opportunity for guests to affect gameplay, sometimes within the game or in an upcoming game, although the Easter eggs are not easily discoverable on site. A scoreboard screen displays the tally within the vehicle for riders to see. Overall, the design and interactivity of this attraction aligns excellently with the IP, and it presents accessible opportunities for multigenerational guests to engage with activities.
A major highlight of the queue is an audio-animatronic Mr. Potato Head, who entertains guests by singing and speaking to them, occasionally identifying specific guests by their clothing. Oversized game pieces from nostalgic childhood games are strewn throughout the queue, like Uno’s Wild Cards, the Candyland gameboard, and even an Etch-a-Sketch. Unfortunately, these items are purely decorative. Disney’s real triumph in recent years is the Play Disney Parks app, which capitalizes on the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices to create themed interactive experiences throughout the entire park. Visitors waiting in the Toy Story Mania! queue can fire up the app and play branded games like Andy’s Boardgame Blast! and Playset Party. It’s a sly move by Disney, as very young children are already quite accustomed to being handed their parents’ cellphones to provide entertainment when they are required to sit still for long periods.
Ultimately, the success of Toy Story Mania’s queue is due to good theming and appropriate use of technology. For the majority of theme park guests, whether old or young, from America or from abroad — childhood is a fairly universally intelligible design scheme. You’ve either been the young child playing Uno at the cottage, or you’ve been the grandfather playing dominoes with the grandkids. The theming of the queue represents the crux of Toy Story, which celebrates the universal experience of make believe and toys coming to life. Because the queue is an ode to childhood, it works well for guests of all age groups.
In the design process for the Toy Story Queue, the Imagineers probably explored many cutting-edge technologies to creative interactivity. But relying on Disney’s mobile application to provide an engaging experience seems to have been a very smart choice. Geolocation makes the experience seamless for guests and teaming up with new friends keeps the experience social rather than insular. According to the designers, “We were really going for more of a family game night vibe. These aren’t just burying your nose in a device type of games. We don’t want people just staring at a device when there is this amazing, spectacular place around them” (Sposato).
This queue manages to speak directly to multiple generations without complicating the design. Younger guests will be enchanted by the mobile interactivity options, which set the tone for the actual ride itself. But best of all, Toy Story Mania’s physical theming is so thoughtfully done that imagination actually does the work for older guests, inspiring memories of childhood that help pass the time while they wait.
This post explored how three different attractions satisfy the need for multigenerational interactivity in queues. Successful methods of engagement include tangible and embodied interactions, sound-based interactions, and mobile gaming. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train excels by offering intuitive, tangible, mini-moments of interactivity that are easy for guests of all ages and technological skill level to understand and discover. Haunted Mansion incorporates tangible interactions and utilizes sound to help guide guests through each activity. While sound-based interactions can exclude the hard of hearing and non-English speaking audiences, they can be useful for illustrating story and interactivity guidelines for those who cannot read or who are easily overwhelmed in crowded queues, like the very young or very old. Finally, Toy Story Mania! combines mobile gaming with a spectacularly conceived design scheme that delights guests from all generations. Children, who are mostly already familiar with gaming on mobile devices, easily grasp the interface of the Play Disney Parks app. The queue of Toy Story Mania! doesn’t offer older adults any tangible interactions, but instead chooses to spark emotion by highlighting childhood experiences with excellent installations of nostalgic games.
In the future, I anticipate a growing desire for tangible and embodied interaction, as well as increased geolocation and mobile phone interactions. Especially with the advent of augmented reality, technological expectations for universal entertainment will grow. We are already seeing this with recent news on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a land is said to “provide new opportunities for guests to engage with the land, like translating a galactic language, learning what’s hidden inside crates and containers, and accomplishing certain tasks by participating in missions. This app will allow guests to interact with a variety of elements found around the land, including antenna arrays, door panels, drinking fountains, droids, media screens, and ships” (Sposato).
Theme parks know they must simultaneously meet the needs of multigenerational guest groups, including a toddler’s first visit and a grandparents’ fiftieth. When appropriately applied to an IP, and where inclusively designed, mini-moments of interactive technology are truly the best way to delight and entertain multigenerational guests within theme park queues.
> Reporting Back from My Field Trip to Orlando, Florida! by Bonnie J. Stinson
My intentions for the Florida field trip were to learn more about Universal’s application of interactive technology in theme parks, and to observe real-world guest interactions with that technology. Queues are the most popular way to incorporate immersive technology, so I focused specifically on interactivity within queues. I was eager to see how theme parks are incorporating tangible media, wearable tech, multisensory design, and if they are building in ways that solicit user feedback. Additionally, the talk of the industry right now is Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which is supposed to set the bar for immersion and cutting-edge technology. I wanted to ask top Universal creatives how they plan to incorporate similar deep immersion where a guest’s actions create consequences within the land, if gamification is part of their strategy, and how they design for pre/during/post visit interactivity using mobile devices and other interactive merchandise.
- How do guests of different demographics actually behave in queues?
- How are guests balancing the use of mobile devices with social interactivity in queues?
- How do multisensory design and tangible media increase engagement?
- What spaces or resources are available to guests with extra sensitivity to stimulation?
- Do guests use wearable tech, and what purpose is it serving?
- And what opportunities are there to improve upon existing practices?
The creative team at Universal answered many of my questions about the design workflow for themed attractions. Firstly, it’s not sexy to admit but all projects spring from a logistical requirement, like needing to make more money or satisfy a certain goal for guest capacity. Project ideas are evaluated against the statistical goals, and then vetted against the story. In other words, the first stage is feasibility, and then blue sky, and then further development only once commitment from IP owners is procured. Ross and Brian shared that physical mockups can be more effective than virtual prototypes for communicating a concept, especially to busy and non-technical executives. Every design must be immersive, but immersion is not only physical but also emotional and mental. They explained that IP owners are usually deeply involved in the creative process, often on a daily basis. Justin Schwartz recommended finding inspiration by bringing technology from other industries and applying it to themed entertainment. Each person concurred that physical infrastructure is considered a more reliable investment than anything digital, because technology changes so often. Plus, physical environments are already deeply immersive and can tell a full story without too many other expensive bells and whistles.
I gained valuable insight into the motivations of theme park designers and guests, and the biggest trends and biggest problems currently facing the industry. A major trend is queue-less attractions, followed by interactive queues. The TapuTapu system at Volcano Bay brought this one-touch queueing to Universal, whereas Disney’s Magic Band already provides this queueing capacity along with many other abilities. Designers were very excited about the potential for augmented reality, as it fairly cheap to create (compared with physical installations), easy to update, and relies on a guest’s own mobile device.
Gamification was a particular interest of mine, because although I see it trending across many different industries, I think it lacks the intrinsic motivation and immersion that leads to guest satisfaction. Justin Schwartz corroborated my suspicion and elaborated, saying that gamification can be problematic because of the steep guest learning curve. He also pointed out that gamification is only compelling when there is a possibility of failure, but no one wants to pay to visit a theme park in order to fail at something. He also reminded us that high immersion translates to low capacity, so many amazing ideas have been sidelined because they just don’t serve the entire guest population. Justin said that the illusion of interaction can be just as effective (and cheaper!) than actual interactive technology.
Our speakers emphasized that parks are communal experiences and need to be designed for social moments rather than individual moments, which to be honest I hadn’t really considered. This relates to the challenge of designing for omnipresent mobile devices, which is being solved by incorporating mobile interactivity into queues and throughout the park. Battery life of guest mobile devices is a huge challenge, as many guests use smartphones for social media and wayfinding purposes (and social media is free advertising). Designers are working hard to seamlessly incorporate smartphones into the park’s immersion scenario.
The creative team is looking ahead five to ten years and trying to figure out how theme parks can stay relevant when you won’t need to go to a theme park to experience cutting-edge technology. They agreed that re-rideability is the future of themed environments, where your experience changes slightly each time but the core experience is the same to ensure that each guest has a shared element and satisfies the IP, but they didn’t offer many specific ideas to solve this issue which indicates to me that it’s not urgent. The executives we met with seemed satisfied with accessibility in terms of multigenerational guests and non-English speakers. We did discuss that the future of accessibility in theme parks should focus on preference rather than disclosure. In other words, some guests may simply prefer assistive audio amplification and everyone should have the option to use it; “just like amputees, tired people also need somewhere to sit!” We also touched on the cybersecurity ramifications of obsolescence products in a rapidly changing software and technology environment.
We attended an evening course at a local college, where undergraduate students discussed the ways in which people might be replaced by technology in the future, and the ways in which people are irreplaceable. The famous story of Katie the Prefect made a strong case for investing in people over technology. Stephen Hanna, a Universal employee, shared valuable first-hand knowledge with us, including the startling statistic that 98% of team members who originally open an attraction leave after a year due to burnout. He also observed that food and security measures are often missed in the theming process, but pointing out that Potter excels in the food arena and Enchanted Airways in Singapore excels in security, with their wood-wrapped metal detectors.
I made note of many new terms and metaphors used by industry veterans: GSAT (guest satisfaction rating), ATI (advanced technology interactions), value engineering, midway balancing, kinetosis, RI (responsible individual), theory of the ride portion of the manual, GPS (general performance specifications), show supervisor, obsolescence projects, the ponytail guy (the creative weirdo), theme park arithmetic (combining existing elements of rides to create a brand new ride). Additional quotes from experts we met with: “Theme parks are like churches but with more bells and whistles.” “Disney is like a battleship, Universal is like a SEAL team.” “Thou shalt not art direct” – engineering motto. “Schedule, show, quality (pick 2).” “Fail to a safe state.”
I was particularly inspired by Steve Birket and his small engineering firm, an area which I previously knew nothing about. Steve’s design philosophy relies on the metaphor of “Girl Scouts with sweaters,” meaning that one must consider all kinds of possible scenarios to design a safe ride. He also used the term coopera-tition, meaning that healthy competition helps make the whole industry better. He reminded us that it’s not wise to innovate too much, especially for things like ride control, because it wouldn’t be safe or easy to train operators on a completely new system.