Technology - January 2017

Keep It Simple: Tech Advice for Today

by Michael Switow

When the Denver Museum of Nature & Science wanted to spruce up one of its world-famous wildlife dioramas, it considered creating a virtual salmon stream bed on the floor of the gallery.

Before deploying a new technology, though, museum staff wanted to be sure it would resonate with visitors and would not detract from the main exhibit. The solution?

“We brought guests into a lab and let kids play,” the museum’s director of technology, Eric Boen, told a standing room-only seminar entitled “How New Technology is Changing the Landscape of the Guest Experience.” After watching how random guests interacted with the prototype, Boen’s team made adjustments. The version that made it onto the museum floor after a month of testing allows kids to try to catch virtual salmon amidst growling bears.

“The most important thing nowadays is to bring in guests early on to the design of any interactive or computer-based experience, as well as stakeholders that you’re developing back-of-house software for,” Boen added. “We will prototype in the museum space and engage visitors to help us test things. We’ll give them a little background of what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ll have them test it. We’ll take notes. We’ll come out the next day with a new version.”

At SeaWorld Parks and Resorts, designing with the guest in mind means placing brightly colored buttons on the consoles of a new interactive ride called “Submarine Quest” that will be introduced in San Diego soon.

“You can throw all kinds of things at guests, but you’ve got to keep it really simple, because they’re in theme-park mode and they don’t want to work hard. You can over-complicate things very quickly,” explained Brian Morrow, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment vice president for theme park experience design. “Play testing told us we needed buttons, because kids want to touch them, because guess what they can’t do at home? Touch buttons. But guess what they have at home—iPads—so our screen feels like an iPad, so they’re like less interested in the iPad and they go right for the buttons.”

Cedar Point Director of Communications Tony Clark agreed that simple is often better. The park offered season passes and other prizes through a game of “Plinko”—the famous “The Price is Right” contest where you place a chip against a board and drop it through a maze of pegs—and guests loved it.

“Don’t have shiny-object syndrome,” advised Morrow. “Play with it in the backroom. See what guests tell you. Don’t get it wrong.”

When you are investing in higher-tech solutions, the price tag can at times be eye-popping. But new technologies can often be re-purposed, re-skinned, and applied in other places in your attraction, these experts said. Just be sure to get input from your guests first.