Design at Disney

two columnar plants at Disney World

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit Disney World for spring break.  I think I was just as excited as my kids (maybe even more).  I had two big reasons for my enthusiasm - an opportunity to spend an entire week with my family sans electronics, plus the good fortune of being immersed in great design.

For those that have never attended Disney World, please set aside any preconceived ideas.  It isn't just fluffy pink balloons and pixie dust.  It's composed of carefully planned spaces to make you believe you've entered a different world such as India, the Swiss Family Robinson tree house or even the back waters of New Orleans...among many others.

As designers we have a lot to learn from this magical curtain swoop. How often do you walk into a space as a surprising "ah" crosses your lips? I can't explain how many times this happened every time I turned a corner or entered a new space at Disney World.  

Below are some simple design lessons that were reinforced on my trip:

1. Have a strong design concept or theme. Not a generic one, but something specific and fabulous.

2. Good design can create a mood. Walking through the "streets" of Asia and Africa in Animal Kingdom felt amazing. The colors, the architecture, the plants, the music...all combined to transform me into special outdoor spaces.  Everything influenced my mood - I felt happy there.

3. Pay attention to the details. If it can be seen, pour your heart into it. Every inch of your outdoor room is important. Disney is fabulous at this when you stand in line for rides.  You're not just waiting, but learning about what is to come through artifacts and creative educational props. The setting is being revealed as you approach your destination...making anticipation grow stronger.

4. Make your choices count. Everything should have a reason and support the overall idea for your space. Amazingly, my electronics-driven 16-year-old son made this comment..."Mom, it seems they keep changing the plants to make us feel like we're in a different place. That's neat."  When design choices support the overall theme, it makes your space unified and a pleasure to be in...even for a teenager.

5. Control views and circulation with focal points.  Each of the amusement parks capture your attention at the entrance with a powerful focal point. Whether its the Chinese Theater, a larger-than-life tree, an overpowering sphere or a magical castle, all feed our curiosity and draw us deeper into the landscape. Even more amazing, once you reach that destination, more focal points and surprises reveal themselves.

Even if you're unable to experience Disney World, always take note of inspiration as you explore outdoor spaces. Commercial districts, parks and even your grandmother's lovely backyard all have something that make it special. Write it down and think about how you can incorporate that feeling into your own designs. 



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