Experience Theme Tool

What guides an Experience Designer? What criteria governs the design?

Designing or conceptualizing an experience for customers, patients, clients or guests requires more than designing the stage, scenery and props, it entails full conceptualization of flow, form and purpose. These elements can be easily over-looked during the long design process causing a design to get off track too easily, especially if the client or designer focuses more on the ‘event’ of engagement and not the complete picture.

Francis Ford Coppola uses a tool of a single word to guide each of his films. When a question of design, scripting or esthetics is in question, he looks to his one word theme to determine if it will add to the story or detract from it. Did it compliment the theme?

“I remember in “The Conversation,” they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.” — Francis Ford Coppola

For experience designers, the idea of theme is not new nor should it me absent from the idea. Part of that idea is also what makes the experience personal and memorable. The key memorable is emotion. To be personal and memorable you must touch on an emotion. Emotions are the mortar of memories. Without connection to a emotion, an experience fades quickly and the moment is lost. It needs to be part of the equation.

As the old saying goes, ‘stand on the shoulders of giants.’ There are a handful of consistent great storytellers, so, why not use their knowledge and build on that idea. For experience design I suggest taking Coppola’s one word principle and add one emotional outcome to encapsulate and guide the theme.

Take Disneyland or Disney World as an example or exemplar. The description motto for Disneyland is ‘The Happiest place on Earth.’ There’s the emotional outcome. Now add the description of ‘The Magic Kingdom’ and you have the experience theme. Magic or magical and Happiness. One word plus one emotion equals a guiding theme of an experience. 

This concept can even apply to non-experiences as well. This theme tool can be a guide for a business’ purpose or brand intent. It tells the customer what you are about. Imagine if Disney were only in the clothing business and used their same motto and description of magical and happiness. What idea could a designer leverage that would make the Disney clothier the greatest fashion store experience. 

You see, even a goods or services business can begin to merge into becoming an experience if the design and purpose of your business is based on an intentional outcome of emotion wrapped by a single word governor. 

Simply put, pick a word as the design tool and then pick the emotion outcome you want your customer to leave with and this will become your design theme. Everything you do, create or stage will have intentional purpose. Those things we think would be cool to have can now be weighed against your theme. If it doesn’t add or connect to the theme, it can only detract from it. 

The tool; 1 Word + 1 Emotion = Theme.. to guide the experience.

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