The Crayola Experience reopened on May 24th after an 18-month remodelling programme.
Set in Easton, Pennsylvania, this popular family attraction, created around one of the world’s best known childhood brands, has been brought up to date with interactive attractions and immersive theming. Crayola engaged JRA (Jack Rouse Associates) to provide overall planning, design development and project management for the 60, 000 square feet of exhibits, interactives and activities.
Blooloop asked Vicky Lozano, Crayola’s Vice President of Corporate Strategy, and Mike Meyer, JRA’s Senior Project Director, about the challenges of bringing an iconic brand to life.
Staying True to the Blue
Crayola is reckoned to enjoy name recognition in 99% of U.S. consumer households. From Binney & Smith’s first crayons in 1903 to the launch of the iconic yellow and green carton in 1958, generations of aspiring young artists have been inspired by Crayola’s magic of colour. A Yale University study is reported to have included the scent of crayons as one of the most identifiable smells for adults. So given the huge swathes of goodwill enjoyed by the brand, was the responsibility for the modernisation of the Experience a daunting task?
For Meyer and his team, Crayola held special significance: “To JRA’s design team of worldwide experiential attractions, Crayola is more than just another brand. Most of us grew up with Crayola products, and in many cases, it was the first medium we used to express ourselves. The memories and experiences of our childhood all return with the opening of a box of crayons and the one-of-a-kind smell that accompanies it. As a result, this project was very personal to our designers, artists, writers and producers, and when you have a group of people who hold such a sense of loyalty and excitement about a product, your only concern is to repay that very sizable debt.
“From the project’s demanding schedule (18 months from design to opening) to making a personalized experience for over 400, 000 visitors a year, the greatest challenge by far was to simultaneously engage children of all ages – including the parents and grandparents.
“For over 18 months, we worked hand-in-hand with Crayola management, designers, scientists and manufacturing teams to create a series of experiences that represent their brand and the values that embody it. In the last two months, it has been very rewarding to see everything come to life.”
A Focus on the Act of Creativity
The Crayola Experience has welcomed more than 4 million visitors since opening in 1996. However, Lozano sees the drive for the update being to reconnect the Experience with the latest Crayola products. “We believe that creativity is an essential skill for kids, one that can be taught but certainly needs to be experienced. For years, we watched here at the Crayola Experience how excited and engaged kids are with creative, hands-on exploration and the touching family moments these experience help create. We wanted the Crayola Experience to be a real manifestation of the brand, a magical place where families can really experience the magic of colour in ways that Crayola is uniquely able to deliver.
“To do that, we needed to rethink the Crayola Experience. So over the last 2 years, we've done just that – created an all new attraction that helps kids and families immerse themselves in all things Crayola. And certainly better reflects the range of creative experiences the brand now offers.”
And from a designer’s perspective, Meyer says that “the design challenge was to think beyond that of the product and focus on the act of creativity. Once the emphasis was shifted more to the idea of artistry, innovation, interaction and engagement of Crayola products, the design solutions fell into place.
“The Art Alive Gallery is great example of this. The original notion of a child walking into their own drawing, a world they helped to create, was our starting point. With the Crayola iPad drawing software and GestureTek’s reaction-based projection systems, we were able to create a world at the bottom of the ocean, in outer space, deep in the heart of a jungle and in a magical land in the sky. Every child entering the Crayola Experience can create a drawing, watch it populate the walls of the Art Alive gallery, and interact with the world they helped to create.”
This focus on creativity has led to a fundamental redesign with attention to every detail.
Lozano says, “Our redesign was a complete rethink. When guests visit the new attraction, they will recognize the building but what it looks and feels like to be here is now completely different. Honestly, I don't think words do it justice… the experience is very different. We are very proud of what we have created, and are ready and excited to share this place with families.”
Meyer agrees, “From the broad issues of repurposing a building originally created to serve several different organizations to the very simple concept of how to identify the lobby’s coat check area, we scrutinized every detail. For the children who love Crayola, a simple sign with the words “coat check” would never suffice. After a round of brainstorming sessions the end result was a grouping of crayon characters hanging their labels up – no words were needed.”
Crayola is Medium Agnostic
Crayola and JRA have devised some interesting activities to capture the imaginations of i-generation kids. In addition to the more traditional play and creative activities, the Crayola Experience has embraced new technologies with interactive attractions including Art Alive!, Be A Star (where you star in your own colouring page) and Game Stomp. An app to enhance the experience is in the pipeline.
“Fundamentally, Crayola is medium agnostic, ” says Lozano. “We want kids to experience creativity regardless of the medium. So the new attraction reflects that philosophy – everything we have here is very hands-on and interactive. And several of the attractions are highly, or in some cases entirely, digital.”
There are also plenty of opportunities to take home artistic keepsakes, including naming and wrapping your own crayon and making your own customised multi-colour marker, providing a unique out of home experience
Granny Apple Smith ICEE Slushees
Crayola have sought to engage their customers with colour in recent years. For instance, with a census on favourite colours, blue won, and competitions to name new colours followed. Colour theming continues into the attraction’s café, with rainbow cupcakes and ICEE slushees themed for colours like Granny Apple Smith. Cafe Crayola is also home to Big Blue, the World's Largest crayon, weighing in at 1, 500 lbs.
The Crayola Store is themed and stocked with the largest selection of Crayola products in the world; the Pick Your Pack Wall in the Crayola Store is stocked with around half million crayons. Visitors are offered unique souvenirs and the opportunity to turn artwork into t-shirts and jigsaws.
A Sacred Brand
With expectations to increase visitor numbers to over 400, 000 a year, Crayola have high hopes for the newly refurbished attraction.
Lozano concludes, “The Crayola brand and what it stands for is sacred, so everything from original vision, to a more detailed concept, to the actual attractions took an enormous amount of attention and care. We've challenged ourselves and all of our partner companies all along the way. This place is about experiencing creativity and immersing our guests in the Crayola brand, and we had to live up to an incredibly high standard. We are proud to say that we created something very special, we just can't wait to share it with families.”