I recently came across the informal guidelines that have inspired and guided generations of Disney Imagineers as they design and manage the Disney theme parks and guest experiences. These guidelines are based on the original insights that Walt Disney used when he built Disneyland in 1955. But it was Marty Sklar who documented these principles and called them “Mickey’s Ten Commandments: Ten Things You Can’t Forget When You Design a Theme Park”. Sklar was one of the unsung heroes of Disney. He joined Disney one month before Disneyland opened, and until his retirement in 2009 directed the Imagineers using these Commandments.
The Commandments are very simple and the principles can be applied to many situations related to tourism development, branding and marketing, urban planning and visitor experience management.
1. Know your audience - Don't bore people, talk down to them, or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.
2. Wear your guest's shoes - Insist that designers, staff, and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.
3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – Use good storytelling techniques, tell good stories not lectures, lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.
4. Create a ‘weenie’ – Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey.
5. Communicate with visual literacy – Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication – color, shape, form, texture.
6. Avoid overload – Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects, don’t force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.
7. Tell one story at a time – If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories. People can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.
8. Avoid contradiction – Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. The public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen. (Yes, Walt Disney was advocating the principles of branding long before they were applied to places.)
9. For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of fun – How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let them participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all of the senses.
10. Keep it up – Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance,
people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on a broken and dirty environment.
In suggesting Disney principles and techniques I am not advocating the “Disneyfication” of cities and downtowns. Make no mistake, Disney properties are theme parks. They are not city or community downtowns where residents live, work, study and play. However, Disney locations have raised best practice standards in visitor experience design and consequently provide excellent learning opportunities for ambitious communities. The genius of Walt Disney never ceases to amaze me, along with lessons from his systems that we can apply to communities everywhere.