Lesson 2: Make the Experience Personal

Aspire—a place for refl ection and where theatrical disciplines contribute to the work.
“The Experience Architecture Forum at Harvard,” the notice read to my as yet disbelieving eyes. And then this: “Experience Architecture applies what we have learned from 150 years of world's fairs, guest venues, and the theatrical arts to mainstream design assignmentsä. These projects require a heightened degree of collaboration among the design, communication, and technology disciplines. Architects are now faced with the challenge of understanding how the growing ‘experience economy,' with its emphasis on story and interaction, can be rendered into successful projects. As clients require more integrated, content-driven environments, it's resetting the expectations about both building performance and design practice.”

Remarkable, really, both for the nature of its endorsement of the coming revolution in architecture brought on by the exploding requirements of experience-based businesses and for the nature of its insight about the convergence of disciplines to create these new, captivating places. No longer will generic space that, historically, could have housed any one of a number of different businesses, meet the challenge of companies that have developed their own uniquely themed performance. (For examples, see Lesson 1 in the first article of this series [HEALTHCARE DESIGN March 2005, p. 20.]: Harness the power of a theme). Not only will architects increase their study of set design and performance technology to build these one-of-a-kind stages, but they also will be studying the business practices of companies like Dell, Amazon, Ritz-Carlton, Hertz, and Select Comfort (see sidebar, “Getting Good at Getting Personal,” p. 28).
Discover—an inspiring place to do transformational work, complete with intentions carved into chairs.

Why would architects and their most forward-thinking clients do this? The answer would be more obvious if the list included Disney, Hard Rock Café, Wannado, or a variety of other cutting-edge performance venues. But what we wouldn't find there is one of the most important developments in the Experience Economy: the personalized, customized experience. Keeping that in mind, let's look more closely at what this trend will mean to the design of the new experience places.

No More Static Environments

The four most dreaded words an experience-based business can hear are, “Been there, done that.” The phrase is basically a condemnation of even the best experiences if they fail to change in personally engaging and relevant ways. The meteoric rise and fall of the Rainforest Café and Planet Hollywood show us that it will take more to remain successful in the Experience Economy than just an elaborately themed but nevertheless static environment. It follows that if experiences are getting ever more personal, then the spaces and technology that stage them will need to be more personal, too. For the customer, the feeling should be, “Everything was built just for me today.”

That brings into focus why studying the best “mass customizers” in our society will be so important for aspiring designers of the next generation of experience places. We are not talking about a building that can change or adapt with each tenant that inhabits it, but rather with each of that tenant's customers who experience it. That sounds like an almost impossibly tall order—until you realize that the best mass customizers have learned how to do only two important things well:
Explore—one of the places where our modern day explorers are personally put in the company of the greatest explorers of all time.

Starizon Technology—enables us to customize each explorer's environment and experience.

First, they have developed a way to remember the preferences, requirements, and even aspirations of their customers. Second, they have modularized their offerings in such a way that they can efficiently “snap them together,” almost like Lego® blocks, to create an endless number of customized offerings based on what they remember about each customer. Isn't that what Amazon's “if you like this, then you'll like that” recommendation list is all about? How about their “write with your favorite author(s)” program? The book buying experience becomes ever richer and more relevant the more Amazon knows about you.

So how can these principles of remembering, modularizing, and customizing be applied to a “brick-and-mortar” building? First, the building must be keyed into the theme of the experience and how the producers of the experience intend to personalize it. What is the specific customer profile we intend to remember, and how can the building “morph” to support it? One way to make the building more conducive to presenting a personalized and ever more meaningful experience is to “modularize” it—and not through the use of moveable walls and collapsible furniture. Instead, experience architects will create memorable “places within the place,” all with their own distinct names and purposes, allowing them to be “assembled” in any one of a number of unique ways. Think, on a large scale, of the “Lands” within Disneyland or the various parks within Disney World. Or, on a smaller scale, remember the 60 uniquely themed guest rooms at The Library Hotel we discussed in the first article of this series.

Now take it one step further: Marry these modularized places to a dynamic customer memory system to create “unique each time” experiences. Can you imagine how much more vibrant the Disney experience could be if the company remembered (and acted upon) your preferences about specific attractions, parks, and purchases during your last visit, and created a uniquely personal experience for your next visit? How about the “just-for-you” frequent-stay program The Library Hotel could establish if its staff remembered what “subject rooms” you occupied on previous visits? We are, in fact, starting to see some of this already. But Bill Gates's house won't be the only place that uses technology to transform the color, art, and ambience of each room based on each guest's preferences. We know, for example, of two large-scale shopping malls—one in the eastern United States and one in the Middle East—that are being developed with this idea at their core. And we'll be seeing a lot more of it.
Starizon—a possibilities place, not a consultant's office.

Eating Our Own Cooking

What about the standard office building? Would any of this apply? That structure certainly is the last bastion of generic, one-size-fits-all space. Sometimes when I'm speaking on these subjects, someone will challenge me and say, “That's great for all these fancy places, but what about just a regular office? Better yet, what about your office? How is it an experience place?” Basically, it's not your typical arrangement of cubicles scattered among windowed offices and a nice conference room. All of the spaces at Starizon are named—and with names like Aspire, Create, Invent, Imagine, Explore, and Discover, it's pretty obvious what kind of work goes on here (see photos throughout article).

We conduct an extensive profile of the preferences and aspirations of each member of our client's team before they arrive for a consultation. We then use some newfangled technology and some old-fashioned attention to detail to customize everything about their working and living spaces while they are with us. The theme of our consulting experience is “Explore. Discover. Transform.” And since we wanted our clients to see themselves as explorers and had planned for some of the great explorers from history to show up at Starizon (in the form of very talented actors) to encourage them in their work, we also created some unique performance spaces for this purpose. Every time different, every time more personal. Through this combination of powerful experience and personalized space, we have been able to successfully challenge the conventional wisdom in the consulting business that clients would never travel to their consultants.

What Will You Build?

So, what about the hospitals, outpatient centers, doctors' offices, cancer centers, medical spas, and the myriad of other healthcare places you are building? Before you dismiss the idea of constantly morphing, more personalized healthcare space as a luxury the industry can't afford, consider these daunting facts: Every 20 years, the cost of processing a single bit of information decreases by a factor of 1,000. This means that 20 years from now, it will be a thousand times cheaper to remember your preferences and personalize your experience. What do you think that will mean both to the explosion of personalized experiences and to healthcare's expectations?

To help you “see” what this could look like, let's join one of our Imagine sessions, this one addressing a sports medicine clinic that wants to go from merely providing services to staging experiences. They have developed a “Personal Best” theme based on the realization that, at their best, they don't just treat the injury or meet sport-specific rehabilitation requirements. Their best performance happens when they “treat” not just the injury but the aspirations of the athlete in his or her sport. Using their Personal Best theme, they have conceived a Personal Aspirations Profile and a variety of processes, programs, and partnerships driven by it.

What did they imagine? Here are a few examples: Instead of a waiting area, an interactive Personal Best gallery that celebrates personal achievement at all levels—from Roger Bannister's four-minute mile to a patient's walking the mall twice with her new artificial hip. Participants imagined exam rooms with the patient's name on an athletic locker that also contains reading materials on his or her favorite sports heroes; visual projection technology that changes the ambience of each exam room through use of the patient's favorite sports images; strength equipment that is computer-card–driven, with the patient's personal workout programmed on the card to operate each machine. You get the idea. How would you like having to compete with a place like this, supported only by the traditional sports medicine physician's office décor of sports memorabilia hanging on the wall?

Even in the event that everything I've written so far about the Experience Economy in other industries doesn't come true in healthcare, we will still have to build the spaces I've described. That's because the most powerful customizing technology ever invented in any industry is now being invented in healthcare. Do you know what it is? Gene-based medicine. We will no longer be treating the disease; we will be treating the disease in you. Do you believe that this most personalized of healthcare technology will be delivered in the generic, impersonal, often dehumanizing environment so common to healthcare facilities? I don't believe it either.

Best Principles

The principles we can extract from the best mass customizers to build the stage for creating the personalized experience include:

  1. Use “remembering” technology.

  2. Modularize the space (offering uniquely memorable places within the place).

  3. Marry the two to create a customized experience.

When enough of us follow these principles, the people at Harvard will need to rename their cutting-edge program. How does The Personal Experience Architecture Forum sound? HD