What is the Color of “Golden Oak”?

The other day I found this while out on property at Walt Disney World:

These are color boards used to demonstrate different stone, roofing, and paint palettes for the new Golden Oak neighborhoods being constructed. There are about seven in all.

There is a unique approach Disney takes when it comes to color and to making sure that the buildings they design look appealing and stand the test of time. It stems from an experience that Imagineer John Hench had as a teenager when he painted an entire thirty-foot-long workshop green. As he shared: “The color actually appears to change as I painted, becoming ever more vivid. After this experience, I have long had the habit of painting large (four-by-four-foot) color samples on wallboard and taking them out in the field to test building paints before having them applied in the park.” Since then, John has focused on the art of color and its application to the many projects Disney has done. In fact, one of the stories shared is that even in his last years he was standing at different intervals during the day checking the color scheme that went into most recent exterior of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. From early in the morning, though the heat of the day, until late into the sunset–and even into the light of the night, he wanted to see how the warm tones chosen for the hotel would show in whatever available light.
Those who have been behind-the-scenes at Walt Disney World knows what this looks like. For many years the back side of Mexico at Epcot looked more like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin than it did like something South of the Border. That’s because in preparing this hotel, they were anxious about the color scheme, particularly as it related to the use of palm leaves painted on the hotel. Wanting to be sure they had it right, they painted a portion of the back stage in Mexico. Eventually, as Test Track started sending riders out along the back portion of the track, the general area was cleaned up, including painting the wall back to the original beige brown, which it had known since opening in 1984.
Such practices have extended even further. When Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort was first being built, there was concern about the “look and feel” of these smaller rooms, which were very different in size to the Magic Kingdom Hotel accommodations that had been built previously. So a mock up was made of the room, right down to linen on the beds and towels hanging in the bathroom. The test was so successful in its practical approach to testing out the room experience, that as new hotels were built through the nineties, mockups of those rooms were built as well. In time you would find backstage at Caribbean Beach a Port Orleans room standing next to a Coronado Springs room which stood next to a Boardwalk room accompanied by an All-Star room. It is even said that Michael Eisner and/or other executives would spend a night in these facilities to test them out.
What’s the message? How far are you willing to invest in making certain that what you design is really right for your customers? When others are making palette decisions and looking at color boards in a boardroom, Disney is out there testing them in the field. It’s a lesson for everyone. For instance, when Steve Jobs wanted to create the first Apple store, he turned to Ron Johnson, who advised Steve that he needed to find a warehouse and create several stores, before getting it just right. And of course, given the sales in any given Apple store, as well as simply the foot traffic they enjoy compared to anyone else in a mall, they have it right. You simply have to try it out.
How do you walk in the shoes of your customer? How do you make sure that what you build, create, provide is really right?

Leave a Comment