World of Coca-Cola Part 2 – Soda Shangri-La

Last week I don’t think I was efficient at expressing my thoughts about the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps I was too excited about opening day of the Major League Baseball season. I didn’t mean to come across as harsh because the place is really cool.

One of the major tenets behind Coca-Cola advertising is enjoyment. Phrases such as “Have a Coke and a smile” or “Enjoy Coca-Cola” encourage those who drink the soda to sit back, relax, and enjoy their product. That’s probably where it went wrong for me.  I try to look at interpretive sites of various types objectively and enjoy them for what they are, but I have now confirmed that I cannot enjoy anything. Being a fuddy duddy is really a drag.

As an interpretive designer, I am constantly searching for the next non-personal Shangri-La where images, type, resources, and interpretation all come together, hold hands, and sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and I feel self-actualization land on me like a truckload of Diet Coke. When what I should be doing is simply enjoying things for what they are, much like a soda.

When it comes down to it, interpretation should help build a connection between the visitor and the site. We can’t make assumptions; the visitor needs to be involved in the process, and opportunities for reinforcing the experience should be developed.

Some of the interpretive elements of the World of Coca-Cola seemed forced by making the assumption that visitors already think highly of the product. If you don’t have an affinity or some interest in Coke, it is difficult to think that an exhibit is going to give you warm fuzzies (that’s right, I’ve used the words fuddy duddy and warm fuzzizes in the same post) about a multi-million dollar corporation.

Regardless of how snazzy the technology is, how well selected the typeface is, or how well crafted the theme is we can’t make assumptions about our visitors. This is important for more traditional interpretive sites (museums, parks, and nature centers) to remember. We can’t assume that our visitors already find value in what we have to offer, what our mission is, and what our stories are.

In my opinion this exhibit (described last week) made the assumption mentioned above.

This was not the case for the entire site. One exhibit titled “A Coca-Cola Story” allowed visitors to be involved in the process. In my assessment of how visitors were using all of the exhibits, many visitors seemed to be spending much more time at this exhibit than any other.

Have you ever looked at someone and asked yourself “Do I look that old?” or “Is my gut that big?” or “What is wrong with Paul?” If so, then you can connect with this exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to provide a story of special moments in their lives that involved Coke or how Coke has impacted their lives in various ways.

I think many of the visitors are drawn to see how their experiences (with Coke) compare to others. Many of the stories were funny while others were heart wrenching and inspiring. Where the stories of inspiration (mentioned above) were polished like a commercial, these stories were “The Real Thing.”

Of course after reading them, you want to leave your own.

My son decided to send his in digitally. I’m sure the code-breakers at Coke are still working on his story.

Three opportunities for reinforcement of the message were provided at the end of the experience. The first is appropriately titled Taste It!

You can’t visit this site without developing a serious hankerin’ for a drink of Coke. This where the minds behind the development of the museum took an opportunity to the next level, very successfully. You would expect a free sample but the opportunity to try 60 different Coke products from around the world? Now we’re talking.

As with all of the displays there, the dispensers were striking and used color-changing lights that added a unique atmosphere. This was the opportunity to for you to experience Coke in a new way. The picture above is before.

This is after.

The gift shop provided reinforcement to underlying themes and messages. Products such as these chairs made out of recycled Coke products support their green efforts.

The final reinforcement is that you get to take one of the Cokes bottled there on site, off the assembly line, to keep and remind you of your visit or to be given to your son in small doses to to help bring him down slowly from a sodadose. Next week I have more from Georgia packed with discussion about the letter G. I know you can’t wait.

The World of Coca-Cola (An Opening Day Post Not About Baseball)

Today is opening day of the Major League Baseball season. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Despite a desire to spend the next 500 to 750 words going on and on about how great the New York Yankees are going to be this year (with one starting pitcher), how the National League should be contracted (forcing the starting pitchers of the Philadelphia Phillies to be absorbed by the Yankees), and how delicious hot dogs are, it is the predictable and unpredictable natures of the game that I really love and why I can’t wait to watch the games.

Instead of writing about baseball, I have decided to show you pictures from my family’s recent spring break vacation trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Okay, maybe you should.

Nothing goes better with at a hot dog at a baseball stadium than an ice cold Coca-Cola. (I’m seriously not writing about baseball.) When visiting Atlanta, one of the must-see sights is the World of Coca-Cola. While visiting the museum, or interpretive site, or commercial, or I’m not sure really what it is, I found myself reminded of the feeling when visiting a new Major League stadium. I was also reminded of the power of interpretation. Needless to say, the facility itself was amazing, well designed, organized, beautiful, and worth seeing. Though in some ways it left me wanting more (much like a trip last summer to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.). I did fill that empty feeling with large amounts of Coca-Cola products at the end of the visit, which helped.

I think it is safe to say that architects, designers, planners, and the Coca-Cola Corporation applied Disney-type techniques into the concept. Staging areas were interesting and gave you something to do while you were waiting, which kept you from feeling like you were waiting.

Open areas in the main concourse gave you plenty of room to play a game of baseball (if so desired). In our case, there was room for my children to run and hide while I was taking pictures of exhibits. In Disney fashion, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear mascot was there for photo opportunities. (You will have to go to the IBD Facebook page to see those images.)

I did find that in many areas of the museum that Coca-Cola was working harder than the Phillies trying to find a closing pitcher to build a meaningful connection between visitors and the product. I found this exhibit well designed and produced, but reaching for meaning. The scale and quality was amazing. When it comes down to it, Coke is really a just a soda that we all love. I can relate to that. My daughter still wants to know why the turtle wouldn’t talk to her.

Here are some other highlights:

Reminder of the “green” features of the gold LEED-certified building were found in several places. (I hope this is the last urinal picture to be put on this blog.) The importance of water in the making of Coke is a secondary theme found through the museum.

I love planned photo opportunities that help set the stage for the experience. This one with Mr. Pemberton (the creator of Coca-Cola; no Paul it wasn’t Dr. Pepper) and my son is positioned well for posing with the museum in the background.

The most successful areas were interpretive in nature. The story behind the creation of the soda were fascinating. As you can imagine red was the color of choice.

I found this exhibit really interesting on how the famous Coca-Cola script became the logo over a century ago and is still used today.  The touch screen allow visitors the opportunity to try their hand at mimicking the script. My fingers only draw Helvetica, for some reason.

For some reason, I had a hard time connecting with this exhibit as well.

I have more to share with you from Atlanta and the Coca-Cola Experience, which I will get to next week.

When it comes down to it, you love Coke or you don’t. You love baseball or you don’t. Me forcing it into a post isn’t going to make you love it. The World of Coca-Cola is a tremendous place to visit and is at its best in the areas that just celebrate the power of something that people love and are passionate about, like baseball. Take a 7th inning stretch, I’ll have more next week.

Creativity: Part 2 (still not that creative)

As you can see from the title of this week’s post, I didn’t apply my creative side to come up with a jazzy title. I don’t know if that is because I’m a non-creative person or just lazy. I have been torn between the Australian Open (a nice alternative to baseball, T-minus 59 days until opening day), episodes of American Idol (bad singing makes great television) and Teen Mom (don’t knock it until you watch it). I did knock around the idea of calling it The Creative: Part Deux, The Creative: The Sequel or The Creative: Episode II – Attack of the Dorks (plural to include Paul, otherwise it seemed a little sad calling myself a dork).

Last week in the comments section of the Creative: Part 1 friend of IBD, Amy Ford (also known as Ranger Amy), blew my mind with large words like thermodynamics. That was the first time that word had been used on IBD and for the record no other fourteen-letter words have ever been used on IBD. The only word with that kind of letter count was the word parliamentarian in the post No Paper Airplanes. I have to agree with her comment that appealed to my left-brained creative side. I tend to work best in collaborative efforts with people who are right-brained creatives that bring the best out of my logical approach. I see myself better at transforming than creating.

When faced with transforming, problem solving or creating, I try to start by exercising the right side of my brain by brainstorming. Most of us have taken part in a brainstorming session at some point in our lives. This generating of ideas, good or bad, without any judgment can begin the processes of opening your right brain. Brainstorming leads to free thinking. If you are too busy thinking that one idea is too expensive, will never be approved, or is over the top, you miss the opportunity to create an idea that may work.

Brainstorming often works best in a location outside of your norm or comfort zone. If you work in an office all day, behind the same old desk, staring at the computer, it is hard to break your normal thought processes. Find a “happy place,” so to speak, where you cannot be distracted by your normal day-to-day operations, but a place where you can freely think and generate ideas. It does work. My happy place happens to be working in my office, behind the same old desk, staring at the computer. This doesn’t put my wife in her happy place.

The next thing you can do is daydream. Let your mind go places that are separate from reality. Despite what you have been told your entire life, daydreaming is good for your creative side and to exercise the right side of your brain. Some of the most creative in the history of the world were classic daydreamers, including famous film makers, composers, artists and mathematicians. One approach to creating ideas in daydreaming is by role playing. No costumes are needed. In your mind play the role of someone that may have an interesting approach to the problem you are trying to solve and think about how they would approach it. You can use well-known designers, artists, actors, directors or anyone you deem appropriate to problem solve. I often find myself daydreaming about what various Star Wars characters would do to solve problems.


The Darth Vader approach to problem solving is valid. I tend to get the best ideas while daydreaming when driving. Unless your happy place involves the police and a citation (which could be part of the role-playing approach), take caution before employing this approach. Find the best place for you to daydream. It will lead to ideas.

After you collect ideas, good and bad ones, then you can allow the left brain to come back into play by helping edit the ideas. Just don’t let this process sneak into the brainstorming session, it will ruin it. Kenneth H. Gordon, Jr. said “To be creative, relax and let your mind go to work, otherwise the result is either a copy of something you did before or reads like an army manual.” You must exercise the right side.

Becoming creative or using your creative muscles is a process. Research has proven through the years that regardless of the individual approach to creativity that a formula is evident in each approach that is a means to an end. Everyone’s creative approach begins with some form of research that leads to idea development which leads to choosing an appropriate idea then improving on that idea and finally seeing it through to completion. When you are going through this process don’t forget to allow time for diagnosing, strategizing, incubating and nurturing elements of the process.

Leaders and managers should foster creativity in interpretive efforts and allow those developing programs, tours, publications, websites and brochures to develop their own personal creative process. Every year at NAI‘s National Workshop you can see a creativity explosion. Ideas are generated, regardless of physical location, by the supportive interpretive community mindset found during the workshop. Managers should support attendance at these types of training events for their creative force and by simply allowing daydreaming at work. Leaders should also be aware not to crush the inexperienced creator. Just because you have been there and done that, doesn‘t mean that those under you wouldn’t gain from that experience themselves or have an approach that you didn’t attempt. Don’t forget what Anna Freud (the sixth and last child of Sigmund and Martha Freud and groundbreaking Psychologist in her own right) said, “Creative minds always have been known to survive any kind of bad training.”

Since I am currently in my happy place, I should return to reality. I really have no other place to go before my wife employs the Darth Vader approach to problem solving and chokes me with the Force from across the room.