Purpose-Based Design: The Next Evolution in Immersive Environments
“To all that come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. “
― Walt Disney
I’ve been involved with quite a few development projects throughout my career, in every project my goal has always been the same; to build places where people love to be. In his book The Immersive Worlds Handbook: Designing theme parks and consumer spaces, Dr. Scott A. Lukas, put it this way, “…people come first to experience, second to revere, and third to love and incorporate as part of their life traditions”. Consider your favorite place to spend time: Is this a place you revere and love to come to year after year? As a designer or builder, do you try to create spaces in the reflections of Walt Disney’s famous invitation…to be welcomed to this most happy of places? Imagine if your designs had the opportunity to leave a lasting difference in this world and your legacy were connected to the happiest of places where people experienced real life change.
When we examine the design of public places, we find that some places are reflections of culture, but others shape the world around their ideals and purpose. Iconic structures define cities, serene reverence is felt in gothic cathedrals, even theme parks can create a culture of language and community over time. When the designer and developer focus on creating a sense of purpose within the built environment, the investment is transformed from a purely capitalistic endeavor to the highest order of achievement – that ideal place where capitalism meets societal good. A purpose-based design philosophy seeks this happy medium.
My family has a deep connection to the history of SeaWorld. SeaWorld is a good case-study example where a purpose-based design approach might have done a world of wonders. Over the years I watched as beloved family members moved up the ranks, weathered ownership transitions, weathered public relations nightmares, and yearned for a rejuvenation that sadly, in my opinion, never came. I also saw a deeply held love for animals, for conservation, and for the internal purpose of the park that I wish had been at the forefront of every SeaWorld attraction development project. Even today, I have personal connections with SeaWorld employees whom care deeply and only want to share the wonders of marine creatures with the rest of the world…. if only they had told that story a little better…. if they only they had adopted a purpose-based design philosophy.
Purpose-based design takes an extraordinary effort to focus on a deeply held and personal connection to a cause, a cause that an individual embodies as their own, is changed by the experience of the space, and is moved to a call to action. A purpose-based design philosophy can convert casual interaction towards that third level of immersion Dr. Lukas writes about – a place that people come to love and incorporate as their life tradition.
So, What are some of the central components of purpose-based design?
Central Concepts of Purpose-based Design: 1) Story, 2) Connection, 3) Sense of belonging and 4) Experience
It starts with the story. In purposed-based design, the story enables the guest to empathize and understand the troubles and trials of the greater calling. The story aims to promote understanding between the guest, the cause, and to one another. The purpose-story promotes healing. Lastly, story entertains while also informing the guest of the purpose and the reason they are a part of that story.
The entire experience should focus on connection. People are fundamentally social beings that yearn to connect with one another. Once the guest is well situated toward a connection to the big idea, purpose-based design provides opportunities to connect with other guests, towards a common purpose and a personalized call to action.
Architectural and environmental features play a large part of shaping the experience. If we think in terms of a movie, the experience begins with the wide shot – from the street, from the parking lot, the set up that begins to inform on what they will experience within. As the guest approaches, we follow with the mid-shot – As the guest gets closer what is revealed? Can they quickly identify what they are expected to do? Ultimately, the immersion occurs with the close-up interactions – the tactile connections from the individual perspective. Additionally, the soundtrack can be deeply involved in crafting connection space, the designer considers the environmental sounds the guest experiences. If you ever visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum you have seen these concepts in action. The architecture makes one feel small and cold, the sounds and looks of the elevator ride to the top invokes images of a fateful transport, every display evokes a connection to the past and the concluding experience offers the guest to make a difference, a commitment to a future free of similar atrocities.
Purpose-based design of the built environment must convey three important feelings. First, something about the space must evoke a sense that this place was specifically designed with the individual in mind. The guest should be thinking, “this place was designed for me!”. Second, purpose-based design requires discovery. While the guest feels the sense of belonging, there must be something new to discover time and again (the hidden Mickey’s of interaction). To move the guest from a one-off interaction to that third tier of immersion – where the place becomes a cherished lifelong tradition for the individual – the guest needs to feel that the person is somehow changed by the space. When the guest is moved towards that third tier of immersion the space has achieved the connections that will stand the tests of time.
My Ph.D. focused a significant amount of study towards the interactions between the built environment and technological development. I particularly appreciated the book by Erik Brynjolfson and Andrew McAfee entitled, Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. The authors highlighted a shift from an industrial based economy to an intellectual based economy. While automation may take some largely manual jobs, it elevates the human intellect and actions towards a higher calling. Towards a purpose-based economy. Even today we are seeing evidence that investors are looking to do more with their money than a simple R.O.I. A recent article in the N.Y. Times featured BlackRock (financing and investment firm) C.E.O’s commitment to funding investment decisions based on environmental sustainability as a core goal of all future financial investments. Purpose-based design of the built environment provides many opportunities for making the world a better place.