Let your guests find their way easier around your park!
WATO is a product-service that improves way-finding in theme parks. This is done through smart and dynamic signage. It consists of a system that analyzes the current flow of people and the way visitors navigate through the park, and uses this information to determine the ideal route for visitors. Once the ideal flows has been determined, the system sends information to the signage in the park. The signage changes depending on the current state of the indicated direction. The signage consists of two parts: foldable arrows with fixed graphics, and a static screen on which different images and information can be displayed.
The inspiration for WATO came from my endless interest in Theme Parks and how they are designed. For the subject of my thesis I was looking for a subject that combined this passion for theme parks and my endless interest in interaction design throughout the world. While visiting in ‘den Efteling’ (Netherlands) on a busy summer day in 2019 the idea popped into my mind! How can be half the park is empty, and the other half is full? I didn’t know the solution yet, but found the problem to write my thesis about!
Before you start watching the presentation video I would like to thank you for your time. If anything isn’t clear in the video because of my Dutch accent, i tried to write everything out in the explanation below the video. Enjoy.
This was my thesis for my master in product design and engineering. Because the design had a research and design process of almost one and a half year only a small, but the most important, portion of my work could be included in the 10 minute presentation. If you are interested you can learn below about the research, design process and other topics of my thesis not included in the video. Be sure to contact me via mail or the website if you have any further questions.
Research and mission
As stated above WATO started out as an annoyance while walking around ‘den Efteling’. After a deep dive into literature of the themed entertainment industry; how parks get constructed, how visitor flows designed and what kind of psychology applies to visitors of theme parks, I quickly realised I needed field research. For this I contacted KMDA, the non-profit behind Zoo Antwerp and Zoo Planckendael. Whilst gaining insights on how visitors behave in theme parks, I started distilling a theory on how the decision making of guests in theme parks works. With my field research and tests in virtual reality environments I created the three point theory.
This theory states visitors go trough a decision making process going from a superficial way finding decision to a well thought true decision. A visitor can make his or here decision at every stage, but has to pass trough the previous stages to make a decision in a further stage.
- The first stage is the stage where the visitor only needs a small nudge to make a decision. This could be a roar of a lion or the shape of the signage.
- In the second stage the visitor needs a little more information. This for example could be a view of the roaring lion or the words Lion on the signage.
- For the third stage the visitor decides with all the information available. He wants to know what’s left, what’s right, why should I go to the right and not to the left, … The visitor really ponders over where he should go.
While observing and verifying this theory I stumbled upon a bigger explanation for my problem: Currently visitors all tend to follow the same route trough a given park. This creates a certain oscillation trough the park. Visitors who start there visit at e.g. 10am all stay in one group. Visitors who start at 12am stay in the same group, … Even with the current ways of trying to break this pattern (applications to communicate waiting times or virtual queuing trough for example fast-passes) literature and experiences of several park managers states that there is no real solution yet.
In my design I will try to solve this problem, and use the three point theory as a design driver. With WATO guest should be able to have a better and more relaxing theme park experience.
Lastly Zoo Antwerp asked for a system where rout changes can be quick, responsive, professional and without any employee going into the park.
After the literature and field study phase it was time to start designing trough an iterative converging en diverging process. Every design iteration is comprised of a diverging phase where trough brainstorms, user interviews, field studies and design study several ideas where generated. In the converging phase the best idea’s where filtered out, to get one step further to a solution. After several designs, prototypes and VR-studies the final result was finally generated.
Because of the dynamic problem of wayfinding the design should be dynamic. This translates to a dynamic shape, as well as a dynamic screen for variable content display. Finally the design needs to have a non intrusive shape that is easily branded and reshaped to the thematic of a certain area.
The main steps in every design are:
- Making quick and dirty sketches on paper (designing shapes, type 1 visitor).
- Translating those sketches to simple 3d animations to get a feeling of the movement (designing movement, type 2 visitor).
- Distilling the best animated sketches and making higher fidelity product sketches (combining shape and movement, type 1 and 2 visitor).
- Prototyping in cardboard to get a sense of scale and really understand the movements (type 1 and type 2 visitor)
- Translating the best product sketches to 3d- and VR-animations with graphics (type 1, 2 and 3 visitors).
- Finally I prototyped the signage. This resulted in 3 real life models with moving parts, graphics for the arrows and a fully developed animation for the on screen part.
Also the system behind WATO had to be designed. This was more of a concept and systemic design with more theoretical and less visualised iterations.
WATO consists of four main types of signage, all with its own way finding purpose and shapes and movement adapted for this purpose. For a full explanation of the movements of the signage I would like to refer to the presentation video.
- First of all, the information board. This will be placed in the location where a visitor starts his visit, or restarts it after a lunch break. Because of its overview function it will display only one direction and be able to dynamically change if the signage nudges visitors to that direction or not. Also it has the ability to display certain park wide information, or not to display this information.
- The sign post is more wide spread around the park. It gives a more specific sense of direction of the nearby area. The signpost can display two or more directions, although for the ease of mind of the guests it is best to keep the amount of decisions he has to make on a certain decision point to a minimum. The sing post will keep all the information of all the directions displayed, although there is a clear hierarchy in routes to follow and it shows only one main direction that is magnified trough the current shape of the signage.
- The info Board is a type of signage that shows visitors where to go when a decision has to be mate that has no impact over the complete experience. This is best explained with an example. In the Zoo Planckendael there is a building to watch the elephants. This building has a ground and top floor. Neither platform gives a better guest experience, so if on platform almost has to much visitors the system might decide to send visitors to the other platform. No information of the other direction is kept. The signage will just scream; THERE IT IS
- The last type of signage in the line-up is the storytelling type. This displays what is here on this location. As a result there is not really a direction to show, but still the shape should translate into de thought, here it is. It is one with the environment.
For the explanation of the system controlling WATO I would like to refer to the presentation video, as this is easier to follow. Nonetheless I will explain it in text as well.
In the ZOO of Antwerp there is an area that will always be over crowded on busy days. This because of a playground, restaurant, and quite a lot of interesting animals on in just one route. Lets say this route gets clogged at lunch time because of a big influx of restaurant guests and parents hanging out at the playground with there children. A park employee or an AI system controlling WATO might decide the visitors not yet in this area should be guided around it, to come back at a later time. Only this way the optimal experience for all guests can be guaranteed.
So, the system controlling all the dynamic signage points will calculate a new route to guide guests around the overcrowded area. This new route gets communicated to all the visitor decision points around the park. If a decision point has an impact on this route the signage on this point will react according to the way finding update given by the AI-system. So in the park all the signage on the newly calculated route changes direction or changed the displayed information.
This will create a new movement in the routes and the behaviour of visitors around the affected decision points. Hopefully no new guests, or at least fewer guests will flow to the old and overcrowded route. And finally a monitoring system checks the effects on the visitors trough a visitor tracking system that gives feedback to the initial decision makers. This way, if the crowded area doesn’t get less crowded the system can once again self-adjust and search for the most optimal guest distribution in the park.
The verification of my product is fully explained in the presentation video. To summarise, when the WATO system was used visitors tend to have a more intuitive way of decision making around the theme park. Also visitors follow the predetermined route significantly better when the WATO-system is installed. This is true in virtual simulations, as well as in a real life test were about 600 groups of real guests where observed in situations with and without the WATO-system installed. Because of this more intuitive way of way finding guests stated the experience, and especially the immersion of the experience was enchanted.
WATO will provide a better guest experience in theme parks. This is because of the better guest flow created with the dynamic approach to signage. Because the signalisation is created in a way that a park can build upon the shapes and graphics provided, WATO provides an industry wide solution to the over- and under crowding of certain area’s in theme parks. WATO is adaptable to every thematic. With this better experience guests will be more eager to pay for a theme park with the WATO system installed. This experience improvement, and a dynamic and professional solution to on the go theme park navigation problems will give an added value to every park that will instal the WATO system.