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Understanding how designers create theme parks could help us reimagine our most social institutions.
Almost a decade ago, I started designing services for theme parks, a job that’s harder than you might think. It takes extraordinary effort to make theme parks believable. To be believable, they must be immersive. To be immersive, they must be technologically sophisticated. But make them too sophisticated, and they’re no longer believable. The best theme parks use technology as a means to an end, freeing visitors to become joyously lost in the moment. They feel simple, intuitive, and magical. Understanding how theme parks enchant visitors could help us redesign some of our most important social institutions—like hospitals, schools, and other environments—that have become mind-numbingly tedious.
Immersive worlds have a rich history. From the municipal parks of Frederick Law Olmsted to the World Expositions to modern-day theme parks, examples abound of aspirational utopias that let you travel without leaving home. Technology has always figured prominently in creating a theme park’s fantasy. Think about the 3-D rides at Universal Studios and the optical illusions and animatronics at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Today, technology is also being used to improve some of the more mundane aspects of an amusement park’s experience, so that the magic doesn’t stop when you climb off the roller-coaster. […]