Bringing the magic of Disney to healthcare – a Q&A with a former Walt Disney Imagineer

Imagine walking into a hospital and feeling like you’ve stepped into a different world – one where the stress and anxiety of medical treatment melt away in the face of enchanting surroundings. This might sound like the stuff of fairy tales, but it’s actually an aspiration shared by many healthcare providers looking to create more immersive and comforting environments for their patients.

Former Walt Disney Imagineer, Mark Hickman, knows a thing or two about creating immersive experiences. During his time at Disney, he was responsible for bringing some of the most beloved attractions to life, including Space Mountain and Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. Now, Hickman is applying his expertise to the world of healthcare, helping to design spaces that promote healing and well-being.

In a recent Q&A, Hickman shared his insights on the intersection of design, storytelling, and healthcare, and how his background in creating immersive experiences at Disney can be applied to the world of healthcare.

Q: What inspired you to transition from working in the entertainment industry to creating immersive experiences for healthcare settings?

A: My passion has always been in creating experiences that evoke emotions and leave a lasting impact on the audience. When I was approached to work on healthcare projects, I saw an opportunity to use my skills to help people in a different way. Hospitals can be sterile and intimidating environments, and I wanted to bring some of the same magic and wonder that I helped create at Disney to these spaces.

Q: How do you approach designing immersive experiences for healthcare settings?

A: At Disney, we would start with a story – whether it was a narrative for a theme park ride or a character for a show. In healthcare, the story is built around the patient’s journey. What are they going through? What emotions are they experiencing? We then use design elements, such as architecture, lighting, and interactive features, to create an environment that supports that story and enhances the patient’s experience.

Q: What are some of the challenges in creating immersive experiences for healthcare settings?

A: Healthcare facilities have very specific requirements and regulations that we must adhere to. Balancing those constraints with the desire to create a truly immersive and comforting environment can be a challenge. But I believe that with creativity and innovation, we can overcome these obstacles and still deliver an environment that brings joy and healing to patients and their families.

Q: Can you share an example of a successful immersive healthcare project you’ve worked on?

A: One of the projects I’m most proud of is a pediatric cancer center that we designed. We incorporated elements of nature and storytelling into the space to create a serene and uplifting atmosphere for the young patients. We also included interactive features, such as a wall that changes colors and patterns, to provide a distraction and stimulate the children’s minds during their treatment. The feedback from patients, families, and healthcare staff has been overwhelmingly positive, and I see it as a testament to the power of immersive design in healthcare settings.

It’s clear that Hickman’s experience as a Walt Disney Imagineer has provided him with a unique perspective on how to create immersive and healing environments for healthcare settings. By bringing elements of storytelling, interactivity, and emotional resonance to these spaces, he and other designers are helping to make hospitals more welcoming and supportive for patients and their families. As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, it’s exciting to see the potential for more magic and wonder in the places where we seek healing and care.