Field Notes: Designing for Everyone at The Crayola Experience

Creativity and design are everywhere – we just have to keep our eyes open!

Creativity and design are everywhere – we just have to keep our eyes open!

Years ago I remember a mentor saying to me, “Ashley, everyone is a designer.” As someone with no formal design training, I wasn’t sure I believed him at the time. But years later, as I have gone out into the world, I’ve realized that his words are true.

Everything (and everyone) is a product of design – the putting together of experiences, contexts, stories, inputs and outputs that result in who we are and how we move through the world around us. Sometimes these design choices are explicit and intentional, but often times these decisions are made unintentionally or without thought. Everyday I see opportunities for us to more consciously design our products, services, experiences and interactions. Often I take note of them, sometimes I might mention them to a friend or colleague, but rarely do I catalog them in any more formal or thoughtful way. And yet, I keep noticing them.

When the universe tells you to pay attention to something, you’re smart when you choose to listen. So, today I’m launching a new series called Field Notes – I think of them as musings on the designed world, plus the prompts that these moments can offer us to consider as design practitioners. 

Today's Field Note comes from Easton, Pennsylvania – the home of the Crayola Experience.

Imagine this: a four story building dedicated to all things crayons: the history, the colors, the creativity. Of course, in addition to playing and coloring, there’s also a lot of opportunity for parents to shop – new crayons, new toys, and much more. Recently my husband Dan and I took our son Eli to this crayon heaven and while Eli was ensconced in the experience, I noticed a few things:

Title: Immersing Yourself in the Experience of Your Customer

Observation: In addition to four stories of kid-friendly crafts, adventures and play structures, the Crayola Experience building also serves as Crayola employee workspace. As you round the stairs to reach each level of fun, visitors may notice that each floor also connects to a locked door, above which reads “Employees Only”. One peek through the glass window on the door and you can see the offices and cubicles of Crayola employees. Additionally, interspersed with toddlers running around and kids melting crayon wax into art pieces, you may also notice some visitors look a little different. Whereas most adults at Crayola are frazzled parents chasing after children or escaping the heat, there are also men walking around in dress slacks and polos, and women in heels. Clipboards and folios replace diaper bags and lunch boxes. In a place where almost no adult is without at least one child, packs of ‘grown ups’ walking around sans kids was quite noticeable.

Prompt: Even on a Monday morning, the Crayola Experience was bursting at the seams with sweaty kids, packs of campers in colorful shirts, and tourists speaking different languages. By ‘co-locating’ its office in the same space as its customer-facing play space, Crayola is sending a clear signal to its employees about the value of understanding the children and families they serve. What opportunities for empathy – and innovation – might be borne out of this merging together of work space and play space? How might we create opportunities for immersion as a way to recognize new ways to get to know and serve our customers or community better?

Title: Idle Time and Designing for the Whole Family

Observation: In the center of one of the most popular Crayola attractions was a huge indoor play structure, with lots of slides, ropes and other places to jump and climb. Flanked around this structure were various low tables and chairs with crafting stations – perfect spots for kids to make their own shark mask out of construction paper, color and cut their own puzzle, and dip their hands in melted wax. While all of these choices looked fun, anyone with a child knows which option is almost always going to win out: the playground. Like moths to a flame, kids of all ages rushed to this indoor, multi-level play set – which, for many reasons, was not suited for parents (chief among them, the play structure offers parents a moment of rest and quiet while the kids go nuts). As Eli climbed, jumped and explored, Dan and I stood around and watched him. There wasn’t really any seating available for us so we leaned up against a post, fidgeting with our bags, checking our phones occasionally and taking in this quiet moment. Looking around, I noticed other parents in similar states – exhaling because our children were other occupied (and safe) but feeling a bit idle and perhaps unsure of what to do while we waited. And then a funny thing happened: I looked around at the kids' crafting stations and realized that parents were the ones doing the projects! Forty-something fathers assembling colorful masks out of glue and feathers, young mothers coloring in pictures and cutting them into puzzles – and not a child in sight.

Prompt: Because our children were busy and happy, we parents suddenly found ourselves with nothing to do. What did Crayola miss out on by not designing a parallel experience for parents while their children played? How often do we design engagements that only focus on one segment of an audience, and what is the impact or effect of this? A friend of mine recently told me about a workshop for parents to teach them healthy cooking methods – but because the workshop didn’t offer childcare options, the organizers missed out on serving the population of parents it wanted to reach the most. How might we consider family systems and the interplay between family members when designing experiences or interactions?

Did you enjoy this Field Note? Have a tip or suggestion from your own observations? I'd love to hear from you.