Thinking Caps On!
When visiting significant attractions of any type—theme parks, museums, aquariums, and other venues—guests often marvel at the creative genius that’s manifested. But what sparks the imaginative ideas in the minds and hearts of those who design them?
There’s a genesis of this creative process, a specific time and place where it starts. “It’s listening,” says Dave Cooperstein, senior creative designer for global planning at design firm PGAV Destinations of St. Louis, Missouri. “Listening to what the client wants. Listening to the stories the client is trying to tell. Listening to ideas from other team members. Listening to what’s inside my own head and trying to find a method to express that in a meaningful way so others can listen to me. Listening leads to understanding, and understanding is a powerful way to create a strong foundation for any set of creative ideas that spark the design process.”
Bob Rogers, founder and chairman of BRC Imagination Arts in Burbank, California, echoes this, saying, “The first step is always the same: Listen. And listen deeply. Listen deeply to the client’s inner dream because it was their dream long before it became yours. What does [the attraction] mean to the people it hopes to attract, and how can it better deliver on that promise or expectation? Listen to your own team and encourage them to bring their perspective.”
This listening leads to the brainstorming sessions where the ideas are born. Carol Breeze, senior creative designer for PGAV, says listening provides the guardrails for these sessions. “Once we have those guardrails, the fun part starts,” she says. “Sitting in a room with diverse thinkers from different design backgrounds and working together to solve a design problem and create that spark is one of my favorite parts of a project. The whiteboard starts off blank, and before you know it, people are writing on the board, trading marker colors, and the board is filled with a mosaic of words, arrows, and doodles that will eventually lead us to the idea.”
“We will take a good idea from anyone, regardless of whether they are the creative lead or the receptionist.”— Bob Rogers, Chairman of BRC Imagination Arts
Breeze says the size of these sessions varies by project, but brainstorming is key to generating many ideas quickly. “The ideas are flying around the room, and then one idea seems to be floating in the middle of the table and everyone can see it together,” she says. “Sometimes the spark happens there and other times it happens later, when it all clicks and forms as someone is mulling it around in their head or doodling with their pencil. The next step is to inspire the rest of the team to see it, believe it, and want to make it.”
At BRC, Rogers maintains that his teams will seize and embrace a great idea regardless from whom it comes. “Our charrettes (brainstorming meetings) and progress reviews are always cross-disciplinary, involving multiple points of view,” he says.
But Rogers stresses the need to be a long-term observer of ideas that are timeless. “Remember the [Henry David] Thoreau quote: ‘Do not tell me what is new; tell me what is never old,’ because any brick-and-mortar attraction must remain current and meaningful for many years,” Rogers says.
Whatever manner the team reaches and agrees upon the best idea, Cooperstein asserts the common thread in the creative process is invariably teamwork, since he believes creative ideas don’t get better in isolation. “Ideas grow and evolve by sharing them with others, talking about them, drawing them together, challenging each other’s ideas, learning from the rest of the team or the client, and then going back and refining so the sum of everyone’s ideas are stronger than anyone’s individual idea was alone,” Cooperstein says.
He contends he can’t think of a single project he’s worked on at PGAV in the last 20 years in which the creative process didn’t benefit from input from the rest of the team. He says sometimes that means telling someone his or her idea is on track, but other times, the team does what’s desperately needed—telling someone an idea is misplaced and how it can be made better.
“The [client’s team members] know their guests better than anyone else—their perspective is essential. They understand what guests feel, what matters to them, where the pain points are in the day, and the things that resonate with them.” — Carol Breeze, senior creative designer for PGAV
If there is one concept strongly stressed by these attraction creators, it’s that close partnership and teamwork with the client is essential to success. “In our entire history, BRC conceptualized exactly one show before pitching it to a client,” Rogers says. “Absolutely everything else has been developed with collaboration.”
Rogers says at BRC this client process begins with a charrette, from which a plan is developed. Initially these meetings may involve two to four people from BRC and then later grow to meetings with six or 10 individuals. He notes they look for the heart of the client’s brand, and along the way, they sometimes discover they believe in the client’s mission even more than the client does.
“We ask them how their world and the guests’ world will be changed by their idea,” Rogers says. “You carry them back, and they realize they created the DNA of everything that follows in the project. That’s a real key to it. We get the client to buy into the DNA of their project so they’re not constantly redirecting us based on surface notions. If you really listen to them, you develop a substantial trust.”
Cooperstein agrees and adds the collaboration allows the client to become part of the process and gives them an ownership of the agreed-upon ideas that they otherwise wouldn’t feel. “When the design team and the client both take ownership of the creative ideas, the success of the project is now on the shoulders of everyone involved,” he says. “Now, everyone is working toward the same creative goals.”
When the initial creative sessions are accomplished and it’s time to create an attraction from the imaginative ideas adopted, Rogers cautions that a creative firm must remember one crucial point about its client and the client’s guests: “The great discovery of working in this business is realizing it is not about your own self-expression. It’s about them, not you. So, don’t tell your story; tell theirs.”
Whale of an Idea
During the creative collaboration process for Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, Zhuhai, China, Dave Cooperstein, senior creative designer for global planning and design firm PGAV Destinations, says the project benefited enormously from the deep interest and involvement of Su Zhigang, chairman and CEO of Chimelong Group.
“Mr. Su’s vision for Ocean Kingdom was one that PGAV worked tirelessly to fulfill,” he says, “and it was a vision that ultimately pushed us to imagine stories, places, and experiences that may have never come up had we been designing in a creative vacuum.” He notes that over the course of two or three years, PGAV drew, sketched, rendered, and modeled more than 200 ideas for the main icon of the park that ultimately expressed Su’s vision—a 60-meter-tall whale shark at the door of the world’s largest aquarium.
“That level of involvement by Mr. Su in the creative process is one of the reasons that Chimelong Ocean Kingdom set a new bar for theme parks in China upon its debut in 2014.”
Contact Funworld News Editor Keith Miller at [email protected]