Doing it the Disney way

Mabel Sieh

A summer course teaches students that designs should all fit together

Mabel Sieh |

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Chan King-yiu spends lots of time at Hong Kong Disneyland. "I love all their movies and the designs in the theme park. Everything is so pretty," says the 18-year-old who studies at GT (Ellen Yeung) College.

In July, she even met Kelly Willis, who is in charge of all the grand designs in the theme park. That was thanks to the Hong Kong Design Centre's three-month summer programme Discover Design 2011, where she was one of 176 selected secondary students from Hong Kong and the mainland.

"The programme shows students how designs can create value for business and how to apply that to everyday life," says Dr Edmund Lee Tak-yue, HKDC's executive director.

After learning from local and overseas experts, students designed their own products. They also took a tour of the park with Willis, who works for Walt Disney Imagineering.

"At Disney, everything we present is like a show; it's a fantasy taking the audience out of their ordinary lives," says Willis, who has been with the company for eight years. He oversees everything from the inception of a creative idea for a new feature in the park to its development.

"A good design is based on good storytelling skills, which invite others to feel or experience something first-hand," Willis explains. "The most successful design is one that is visual without relying on words. Visual communication is the most appealing and enjoyable experience."

Chan says she found the tour highly rewarding. "Kelly taught us important principles, such as 'Tell one story at a time,'" she says. "I used to put a lot of things in my painting. But now I know too much means distraction."

She added: "He told us how in the park, even smells are carefully associated with a story, like the smell of popcorn will only appear at a certain area. That's really cool."

Another participant - Yau Ching-wa, a 17-year-old student from HKSYCIA Wong Tai Shan Memorial College - adds: "I like his idea of experiencing things like a customer. You have to walk in the park, and see and feel things for yourself. You also have to pay attention to details, [including] rubbish bin designs. I used to focus only on the product, but now I know that everything matters."

Willis also stressed to students that a good design should be tailored to suit a local culture. Wong Tsz-yan has taken that to heart.

"Hong Kong people love to take photographs," says the 17-year-old student from CCC Ming Kei College. "So the park has incorporated special photo-taking locations in its design."

The three students won Best Diary awards after documenting their three-month journeys in their scrapbooks.

"At first I was afraid. I didn't think I was creative enough," Chan says. "Through the programme, I've opened my mind and explored my creativity."

To Willis, that's the point: "I hope [the course] will inspire students to continue to dream, to visualise and to create."