Monday, March 11, 2013

Success in Themed Design - A Personal Message to A Young Designer

Following a passion for no one but myself...

In my position as a design manager for Walt Disney Imagineering, I am often approached for advice by those looking to make a career in creating theme park designs.  In my responses, I in no way speak for the Walt Disney Company.  I instead present the thoughts and feelings which have propelled me the most in my life, and relate those which have resulted in the amazing position I have made for myself not just at work, but in my life as a whole.

I was asked for advice recently on what resources a first year architectural student should investigate on their path to becoming a theme park designer.  I wrote back about a shift of mindset of which I have only recently become consciously aware.  I hope you find this insightful.  I welcome any feedback you may have, or any thoughts which this may inspire within you.

You asked about what resources to look at in regards to architecture.  I will turn that a bit around.  Themed architecture has a heavy component of integrating very desperate goals, disciplines, personalities, and mindsets.  My greatest asset in this work has been the breath of my diverse understanding of multiple viewpoints and priorities.  As I have broadened my empathy for other individual’s ideas, passions, bigotries, and the deep personal histories which drive their daily moods, thoughts, and attitudes, I have become more and more effective at the role of coordinator, and translator for a complex and brilliant team. 
I have also found that empathy for others begins with empathy for your self.  I highly encourage you to delve deep into as many of your passions* and emotions you possibly can.  Challenge your assumptions, and really make an effort to see the world not just from other people’s eyes, but from their deep seated history.  
Themed environment projects bring together one of the most rich and diverse groups of people assembled in order to deliver the final experience.  Anything you can do to put yourself at the center, deeply connected to the most numbers of those personalities, will increase not only your measurable success, but your personal pride, humility, and of course happiness.  
In abstract terms, read up on psychology, logic, and philosophy.  In more practical terms, work on practicing honesty, connection, curiosity, and empathy in your own life every hour of every day.  Start by asking yourself how you feel about a given situation right in the moment as you are feeling uneasy or passionate.  Try not to jump to conclusions or easy answers about feelings.  What we feel are the springs bubbling up from deep seated responses to long strings of experiences in our subconscious.  To start to empathize with the sources of our own feelings is the break-through which allows us to start to truly empathize with others.  
As for WDI, our department heads tend to hire interns who are in their last two years of schooling as they are looking for someone who can hit the ground running.  *Another example of a direct next step is to explore your passions directly and without shame.  If you are interested in themed design, go do themed design, whether someone will pay you or not.  
I felt the passion for it, so in my third year of school with no thoughts of landing a job, I built a themed fa├žade for my dorm room.  I did it just to relive my own tension and fulfill my own curiosity.  I designed it, built it, installed it, marketed it, and even had an opening ceremony with ribbon cutting.  I felt completely off the wall at the time, but in parallel, my actions felt like the most natural thing in the world:
Keep me up to date!  And I would love to talk with you more if any of this piques your interests.
Park Street Place was a themed set piece for my dorm room.

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