Rick West on putting the parks back into theme park design

Friend and fellow show writer Rick West recently published an article on a disturbing trend he feels is weakening theme park design: mainly that too few park attraction designers and creators spend time in theme parks or are even aware of park trends and guest experiences in the industry.

It’s an intriguing observation and definitely worth a read by anyone who cares about the future development of existing and yet-unborn theme parks that will shape this skill-spanning art form and business. It’s definitely required reading for those of us working inside the industry already who have encountered the frustration of collaborating with anyone who clearly lacks the enthusiasm and desire to advance this hybrid craft of conceptual dream-building and hardhat park construction.

I know that both Rick and I share a great admiration for Walt Disney, the man who popularized and revolutionized the modern theme park as we and billions around the world know it today. One of Disney’s greatest creative strengths and personal attributes was his continuous interest in sampling the guest experience at his flagship Anaheim park, Disneyland, viewing his creation not from the boss’s point of view but as an unaffiliated visitor. Could his guests navigate the park efficiently and enjoyably? Did his themed lands “read” easily so guests knew where they were at all times while immersed in his storytelling show designs? Were the Jungle Cruise skippers as entertaining on an uncrowded Wednesday afternoon as they were on a park-packed Saturday?  Perhaps most importantly, how could Walt plus the rides that were already established hits with guests and fans?

Walt Disney enters the courtyard of his Disneyland castle before the first guests arrive for the day.

Walt Disney paid as close attention to how his E Ticket rides operated daily for guests as he did evaluating the paint job on park benches and the cleanliness of Disneyland’s streets. A master of themed entertainment details and a visionary in the industry he helped create, Disney knew well that attention paid to the small, seemingly meaningless details affected the big picture that was the “Disneyland experience.”  Failing to visit the parks during daily operation would provide Walt with no picture at all, which is likely why he insisted on visiting his park in person often so he could ‘feel’ the park experience viscerally, emotionally, and not just read cold, lifeless data about it in a company report.

I’ve addressed the same issues reinvesting in theme park design and desire here on my blog, most recently in light of Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter’s unceremonious departure as a full-time creator and mentor at WDI. Upon reading Rick’s new article, I knew it deserved attention and a link up here at SWSC. I encourage everyone to give Rick’s piece a read and some consideration, especially by those in our industry who still harbor an undying love and enthusiasm for theme park creation but may also know of a couple co-workers who aren’t anywhere near as inspired to dream and build as some of those on the outside yearning to do more and build a better industry in that unseen tomorrowland ahead of us.

Rick’s article A Call For Enrichment and Education Within the Themed Entertainment Industry appears on his website ThemeParkAdventure.com, a labor of love nearing its second decade of existence in print and online. Rick West has also been a professional working inside Disneyland, Walt Disney Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and most recently Thinkwell Group, an independent themed entertainment design house.

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