Spectrum Conference in March


I will be attending the Spectrum conference hosted by the Rochester chapter of the Society of Technical Communication in March.

I will be presenting two sessions at the conference, both based on The Imagineering Toolbox.

The first is a presentation entitled “Disneyland Then, Now, and Forever: What Disney Parks Can Teach Us About Technical Communication” which provides an overview of some of the practices, principles, and processes used by Walt Disney Imagineering in the design and construction of Disney parks and attractions, and how those practices, principles, and processes can be applied to technical communication and information development to help us create effective and engaging experiences for our audiences.

The second session is a workshop entitled “The Imagineering Toolbox: Using Disney Theme Park Design Principles to Develop and Enhance Your Technical Communication Projects” which is an interactive session that includes group and team discussions and activities where we apply Imagineering principles, practices, and processes to example projects offered by attendees. Come prepared to participate and share your ideas.

Hope to see some of you there!


The Imagineering Toolbox at InterChange 2018


On Saturday October 27, I will be delivering two presentations at InterChange 2018, a conference organized by the New England chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

The first presentation is based on The Imagineering Pyramid, and the second based on The Imagineering Process.

Session 1: Imagineering and Technical Communication: A Match Made in Disneyland

Walt Disney Imagineering is the division of The Walt Disney Company responsible for designing and building Disney theme parks—engineering the magic that millions of experience each year at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and other Disney parks around the world. This presentation explores an “Imagineering Pyramid” of 15 theme park design principles, and how those principles can be applied to technical communication and information development to help us create effective and engaging experiences for our audiences.

Session 2: Designing Your Experience the Walt Disney World Way

From the moment you enter a Disney park—whether it’s at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or other Disney resorts around the world—you are immersed in an experience specifically designed to transport you to another world. In the words of Walt Disney, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” But how does Disney create such incredible experiences? Through a process called Imagineering—”the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how.”

This presentation explores the process Disney’s Imagineers use to design and build Disney parks and attractions, and how technical communicators can apply that same process when designing engaging and effective user experiences for our audiences. This session will also include an interactive workshop where we apply the Imagineering Process to an example experience offered by one of the attendees, so come prepared to participate and share your ideas.


I’m looking forward to these sessions as they provide an opportunity to talk about how to apply the ideas in the Imagineering Toolbox to a new field.




The Pyramid in Practice: Hidden Mickeys

As I explain in The Imagineering Pyramid, the interesting thing about Hidden Mickeys to me is that once you find one, you never see it the same way again. They are a fun and captivating way in which the Imagineers engage their audience.

During our recent trip to Walt Disney World, we found a handful of Hidden Mickeys, some of which we’d seen before, some of which were new to us. We don’t go out of our way to look for them, but if / when any of us spot one we make sure to share what we found.

So, which Hidden Mickeys did we see?

At Magic Kingdom we caught the plates on the banquet table in the ballroom scene in the Haunted Mansion.

At Animal Kingdom, I didn’t get a chance to see my all-time favorite Hidden Mickey in the Expedition Everest standby queue (we used a Fast Pass and single rider), but we found this one in the Kali River Rapids queue:


At Epcot, we saw Hidden Mickeys on a handful of of attractions, including:

  • On Living with the Land, we spotted the shrimp tube and the garden hose (among others),
  • On Soarin’ Around the World, we spotted the hot air balloons,
  • At The Seas with Nemo and Friends we found the aquarium rocks. 
  • In Spaceship Earth we saw another one of my favorites, the paint circles.
  • In the Frozen Ever After standby queue, we spotted this one:


What are some of your favorite Hidden Mickeys? Let me know in the comments!

[Links courtesy of Steven M. Barrett’s HiddenMickeyGuy.com website.]

The Pyramid in Practice: Theming and Resorts


In the Theming chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid, I wrote about the use of theming at the resorts at Walt Disney World, specifically the use of a filmstrip motif at Disney’s All Star Movies Resort.

I think the use of this filmstrip motif is a great example of theming at work outside of the theme parks. When the book was published I wasn’t able to include pictures of the ways in which the filmstrip motif is used at the resort. Fortunately, my family and I stayed at this resort during our recent trip to Walt Disney World, and I was able to get a couple of pictures to show how the Imagineers used this motif in the design of the resort. Let’s take a look.

First, the filmstrip can be seen on the backs of the chairs in the food court:

Chairs at the food court at Disney’s All-Star Movie Resort.

The filmstrip motif is also used on the hand railings on the upper floors of the resort buildings. These are further themed with items appropriate to the specific buildings (Fantasia, Toy Story, Herbie the Love Bug, etc. We were staying on one of the Love Bug buildings.).

Our “Love Bug” building  at the resort.

One other use of this motif is in the design of tiles in the bathroom showers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good picture of those during our visit.

As I wrote in The Imagineering Pyramid,

“The filmstrip motif serves as a constant and subtle means of reinforcing the movie theme around which the resort is built.”


Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice: Pre-Shows and Post-Shows in Pandora – The World of Avatar

This post looks at Pre-Shows and Post-Shows in practice in the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction at Pandora -The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


The Pre-Shows and Post-Shows chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid, opens with the following:

“When you experience a Disney theme park attraction, it’s uncommon that you do so without some form of introduction before the attraction or a reminder after it. In fact, nearly all Disney park attractions lead guests into and out of the attraction in some way or another. This practice is…what Imagineers refer to as Pre-Shows and Post-Shows.”


Pre-shows prepare the audience for what they are about to experience and often help convey the attraction’s creative intent.

The Pre-Show to Avatar Flight of Passage includes an extensive queue and “training” video that explains what Guests will experience when they link to their avatars and climb on board their banshees.

The following video provides a good look at this Pre-Show experience:


Post-shows reinforce key ideas and themes, and most often include themed areas or interactive activities or games. One specific form of post-show is what’s referred to in the themed entertainment world as “exit through retail” in which guests are led through a themed merchandise shop as they exit an attraction.

The Avatar Flight of Passage Post-Show uses this “exit through retail” approach, taking Guests into a shop called Windtraders as they exit the attraction.

But beyond  simply selling t-shirts, buttons, and other souvenirs, Windtraders also offers two specific experiences that help reinforce key ideas and themes from Avatar Flight of Passage.

The first is the opportunity to “adopt a banshee”. Banshees are the flying creatures that Guests (and their linked avatars) fly on when they experience the attraction, and this experience allows Guests to take one home with them. Watch the following video to see how this works:

The other experience is the opportunity to turn yourself into a Navi action figure. There is an area with kiosks with machines that scan the Guest’s face and allow the Guest to select other options about their action figure, and the figure is made for you while you wait. Check out the following video to see how this works:

These experiences take the “exit through retail” type of post-show to a whole new level, and provide new and interesting ways for Guests to take part of the magic home with them.

Thoughts?  Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice: Attention to Detail and Kali River Rapids

Imagineer Joe Rohde‘s Instagram feed is like an Imagineering Master Class, providing a steady stream of unique and fun insights into the areas of theme park design and placemaking.

One of his most recent posts is an excellent example of how the Imagineers use Attention to Detail to help tell their stories, and how the meaning of some details can change over time. This post deals with the placement of a boombox and stack of cassette tapes in the dispatching office at Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom.

As Rohde writes, the original Creative Intent of this detail (yes, even individual details within show scenes have their own Creative Intent) was to illustrate that the people working in the dispatching office were living in roughly the same time period as Guests. However, because that particular show scene has not been updated since it was first installed in the mid 1990s, to modern Guests the boombox and cassette tapes now suggest the dispatching office is from a time gone by.

It will be interesting to see if this ever gets updated as Rohde suggests, and if so, how.

Take a look:

View this post on Instagram

This is a shot of the dispatching office in Kali River Rapids. Certain details begin to shift their meaning because the research trips that led to this design took place in the mid-1990s, which is getting to be a quarter century ago. For example, there is a boombox on the shelf and a little stack of cassette tapes next to it. While the boombox was not brand-new when we installed it, it was meant to indicate that these people were living contemporary lives, and have access to electronic equipment, and were not living in some kind of fanciful ye olde long time ago. However, now, a boombox and cassettes are themselves strange antiques from some jolly olde long time ago. I promise you, that even people in a small village in Nepal probably have better audio gear than this. I mean…they have smart-phones after all!! At some point, it is certain that these props will probably need to be upgraded… Replaced with props that while still not being new, are contemporary enough to show that we are talking about people who live with us, in our time. That is an important message, because, even though our first research trips took place a quarter century ago, every one of the conservation crises represented in every one of our stories has gotten worse since we started…so we still need to make our stories pointed in the right direction. If rainforests, and elephants, and gorillas, and rhinos, and indigenous cultures, all become a thing of the past, then Disney's Animal Kingdom will become a fantasy park… Not the adventure into reality that it is. #disneysanimalkingdom #animalkingdom #kaliriverrapids #dak #conservation #wildlifeconservation #design

A post shared by Joe Rohde (@joerohde) on

You can find this post on Joe Rohde’s instagram feed here.

If you’re interested in Imagineering and themed entertainment, I strongly recommend following Joe on both Twitter and Instagram.


Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – Theming and Imagination Dental Solutions


In this post, I want to look at a company called Imagination Dental Solutions and a somewhat unusual example of Theming known as “Dental Theming”.

Imagination Dental Solutions is an award winning design and manufacturing studio with a decade of experience creating themed environments for dental offices. That’s right, dental offices. And this is where “Dental Theming” comes in.

According to the Imagination Dental Solutions website, “Dental theming is the transformation of regular dentist office into an amazing and entirely different environment through the use if murals, gaming, and 3D elements….Our theming creates positive patient experiences. Children are excited to visit a themed dental office, making it easier… to provide them with a foundation for good dental health.”

I think this is a great example of theming and “using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent”. The environments IDS creates are extremely detailed and elaborately themed, creating a transformative experience for their clients’ guests. The image below shows just a small sampling of the themed environments Imagination Dental Solutions has created over the last decade. You can see more at their website.

Copyright 2017 Imagination Dental Solutions. All rights reserved. Used without permission.


As a side note, Imagination Dental Solutions has a relationship of sorts with the theme park industry. Their parent company is  Studio Y Creations, “an innovator and leader in the theming and display industry… considered among the best companies in the world for designing and manufacturing three-dimensional displays.” One of Studio Y Creation’s clients is Canobie Lake Park, a small, family-friendly amusement park located in Salem, NH (a park near and dear to my heart and one I try to visit at least once a year). You can see some of Studio Y Creation’s work at Canobie Lake Park on their website.


Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – Theming and Life Is Good


In this post, I want to take another look at Imagineering Pyramid principles in practice “beyond the berm” This time I want to look at Theming, and in particular, an example of “corporate theming”.

Let’s start with a refresher on Theming, described on page 44 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

Theming is all about using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent. Theming means striving to make sure that your project delivers its message in a clear and consistent manner, one that supports and, if possible, enhances the intended experience.

So, what is “corporate theming”?

Later in the Theming chapter I write:

Other examples of theming include branding and the use of corporate logos and slogans, or what we might call “corporate theming”.

One of my favorite examples of corporate theming is the company Life is Good, Inc. Wikipedia describes this company as follows: “Life is Good, Inc. is a New England–based apparel and accessories wholesaler, retailer, and lifestyle brand founded in 1994 and best known for its optimistic T-shirts and hats, many of which feature a smiling stick figure named Jake and the registered trademark ‘Life is good’.” Up until a recent branding change in 2015, the apparel created and sold by Life is Good, Inc. was very distinctive and employed consistent use of design, lettering, and illustration style. Their theming helped reinforce the company’s mission of “Spreading the power of optimism” and their slogan “Do what you love. Love what you do.”

In this post I wanted to expand on this a bit with some pictures that illustrate the distinctive theming used on original Life is Good t-shirts.

Below are some pictures of a few of my Life is Good t-shirts (I have a couple of others as well, as do my wife and kids). You can see they all make use of a unique illustration and lettering style, including the original company logo on the inside collar.

Each shirt also features Jake’s face on the back, and a small tab bearing the company’s slogan “Do What You Like. Like What you Do®” (which I now realize I got wrong in the above quote – bad Lou, no biscuit!).


Other items featuring the original Life is Good logo and theming include hats, mugs, and even tire covers.

Beyond these examples, you can find hundreds of examples of classic Life is Good illustrations online. Many of the early Life is Good t-shirts and other items featured their mascot Jake. You can find an assortment of Jake images on Google here.

The consistent use of their specific lettering and illustration style helps reinforce the Life is Good brand and identity, make the brand easily recognizable, and help communicate the company’s message of optimism. And that’s what theming is all about!

Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – “Read”-ability and Fundraising

In this post I want to look at an example of using “Read”-ability in a (relatively) small project – specifically a local fundraising effort.

In the Winter of 2017, our local high school music department will be taking a trip to Walt Disney World, during which the marching band will march in a parade in Magic Kingdom, and the school’s a cappella groups will be performing at other venues.

To help support this trip, our local music booster organization plans to run a number of fundraising events. Our goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for the kids to earn money towards the cost of the trip. As President of the booster organization, I proposed that we wrap all of these events into a larger campaign that we could advertise around town to let folks in town know about the trip and the various fundraiser events we’ll be running. My idea was to create a logo and slogan for the campaign that would help us communicate our goals of bringing our high school music students to Walt Disney World. I wanted something that would “read” quickly and reinforce two specific ideas: Music and Disney.

The slogan I came up with was “Help us Bring Our Music to the Mouse”. I then thought to reinforce the Disney side of it by using a Disney font, and I came up with a few ideas, most of which were similar to this:


Not bad (IMO), but not great either. It was a start, but we clearly needed something better.

Fortunately, one of our music parents is a very talented graphic artist, and took my early initial sketches and ideas and came up with a bunch of ideas that put mine to shame. Following some discussion and suggestions from the fundraising team she iterated her designs (plussing her designs with each iteration), and eventually created the logo we selected for our campaign:

Music to the Mouse Logo
Designed by Tania Helhoski of BirdDesign. Tania also designed the pyramid diagrams in The Imagineering Pyramid.


I think this logo is a great example of “Read”-ability. The musical mouse head quickly conveys both Music and Disney (the two ideas we wanted to communicate), and the text helps to clarify the message. We plan to use this on various items for our campaign, including raffle tickets, posters, flyers, etc.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

The Pyramid in Practice – Front of House

In this post, I want to take another look at Imagineering Pyramid principles in practice, but in a slightly different way than in my previous “Pyramid in Practice” posts. Most of those posts look at fairly large-scale projects, including theme park attractions, Broadway musicals, or large-scale performing ensembles such as drum corps, but the principles outlined in The Imagineering Pyramid can also be applied to smaller projects as well. For example, let’s look at the “front of house” for a high school theater production.


This past Spring, our high school theater department put on “Legally Blonde: The Musical” as their Spring Musical . My wife and I were part of a group of parents who were helping out with the “front of house” for the show (we’re the folks who sell tickets and concessions, hand out programs and help people to their seats, etc.).

For our “front of house” we took over half of the school’s cafeteria, and set up a make-shift theater lobby with the following:

  • Tables for ticket sales, including walk-up sales and Will Call
  • A concessions table where patrons can buy refreshments
  • A table where customers can purchase flowers and gifts that can be sent backstage to members of the cast
  • A Senior Gallery featuring photos of the seniors in the casts and essays written by their teachers
  • A table with a variety of baskets to be raffled off
  • A table where we sold 50/50 raffle tickets
  • Tables where we sold t-shirts and other items

In addition, the entire area was decorated with streamers and balloons. Not exactly a small project, but certainly nothing the scale of a theme park attraction or Broadway show.

Over the course of the three performance days, I had the chance to step back and look at our “front of house” through the lens of the Imagineering Pyramid, and found examples of several different principles at work. For example,

It All Begins with a Story: The show’s story was a major influence in many aspects of our theater lobby, particularly around its theming. Speaking of…

Theming: Our “front of house” was strongly themed based on the show.

  • Pink is a major color in this show (it’s the main character’s signature color). All of the decorations, including streamers, table clothes and balloons were pink.
  • The contents of the raffle baskets were each based on one of the main characters from the show.
  • There are two dogs in the show, and several of the items on sale were doggie-themed (including pink dog-shaped refrigerator magnets – double theming!)

Wienies: The layout of our theater lobby used visual elements to attract and draw attention across the room such as balloons on the raffle table at the far end of the lobby, and large signs directing patrons to the Senior Gallery.

Plussing: Each night, the person in charge (my friend Sandra) was looking for ways to tweak things a little bit to make them better. We moved several of the tables and re-arranged things to help the flow of people walking through the lobby and to help promote sales of certain items.

To be clear, I’m NOT suggesting that Sandra or any of the other parent helpers read The Imagineering Pyramid and were consciously applying ideas from it. Rather, I’m just pointing out that Imagineering Pyramid principles are often right in front of us, even if we don’t notice them right away. And the more sensitive we are to how these principles work and can be applied in different ways, the more likely we are to leverage them in our own creative projects.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!