Why Asking Why is the Key to Innovative Experience Design

In my last blog post on how to design entertainment experiences, I wrote about the importance of a holistic approach to experience design where you consider all of your stakeholders. But it’s not enough just to identify them. You need to engage with them to understand their needs, so you can design an experience that fulfills those needs.

My favorite question to ask when I am trying to learn what motivates people is “why?” It catches people by surprise because they often don’t consider their reasons for doing things. It forces people to pause and think more deeply. Asking “why” also shows you care about them. People want to be they are heard.

Five Whys

It’s essential to understand the “why” of all your stakeholders. But it’s not enough just to ask once. The first “why” is often superficial. There’s an exercise used in human-centered design called The Five Why’s that helps get to the innate needs and motivations of people.

Go Deeper

By asking “why” 5-times when you design entertainment experiences, you go deeper and uncover the real problem or need. My partner Kylie Savage wrote a blog post about the Five Whys.  The Washington Monument was eroding from a cleaning solution used to remove bird poo. The obvious answer was to use something different to clean the poo.  But what was the root cause problem?

  1. Why were the birds there? To eat spiders nesting on the monument.
  2. Why were the spiders there? To catch moths attracted by lights at dusk.
  3. Why were the moths there? Because at night, the monument lit up with bright spotlights at dusk.
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Washington Monument

So they turned off the lights. But soon the Parks Service was inundated with complaints. They had not considered all the stakeholders. Why was the monument being lit in the first place? Because people wanted to take photos at sunset when it looked the most glorious! Turning off the spotlights at dusk undermined the entire purpose of lighting the monument for the users of the park. This is a prime example of a solution designed from the perspective of the internal stakeholders: the people in charge of maintaining the monument.  But it failed to consider the view of the external stakeholders.

“Why” Do People Go To Trade Shows?

Tim Ruse Zero Latency Bobblehead Award

For our virtual event experience design, we’ve been asking why trade shows exist, and what needs they fulfill for all the stakeholders.

Attendees go to trade shows to learn, connect, and purchase (or to hand out Bobblehead Awards!)  Those are the obvious reasons, but as we talk to more people, we find there’s lots of nuance within each one.

For example, some go to a trade show to purchase something because they expect exhibitors to offer deep discounts as show specials. Some go because they want to discover the latest innovations to stay ahead of their competition. Others go because they can reduce the risk of purchase by talking to other buyers and use crowdsourced knowledge.

Asking more “why’s” and going more in-depth on that last issue finds there’s a real fear of making the wrong purchase. In the FEC industry, the equipment can get expensive, more so when it uses emerging technology like virtual reality. A smaller FEC can blow their entire season’s budget on one purchase. The wrong move could prove disastrous.

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George Smith at F2FEC

FEC operators rely on their peers to help them vet purchases. Longtime operator George Smith (above courtesy of Tim Sealy via TAP), CEO of Family Entertainment Group, co-hosts the industry conference F2FEC, where he presents his collections data to hundreds of other operators. This session is one that attendees point to as a reason they attend.

Design the Experience to Satisfy the “Why”

Now we know we need to design as many opportunities for operators to converse with each other to contribute to the shared wisdom of the operator community. If we stopped at the first “why,” we wouldn’t understand the deeper reasons people are going, and we would be unlikely to design elements to support those reasons.

But we cannot just consider the needs of the attendees. There are other stakeholders.

Go deep AND go broad.  Talk to all your stakeholders and ask them the “Five Whys.” It will give you deep insights into their motivations, enabling you to design an entertainment experience that resonates with them.

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What deep need can you fulfill for them?

In the next blog post, we will talk about designing an experience from the perspective of how you want people to feel. In the meantime, if you need help with an innovation project, just drop me an email with “innovation” in the subject.