The New Old


each nick tells a story

Several years ago, a good friend of mine was telling me about his insights on a recent trip to Disney. If you have ever been there, you might agree that Disney has perfected the art of “the experience”… for better or worse.

Even thought it was about 12 years ago, my friend’s comments re-surface occasionally. They had to do with “something missing”. In this case, the discussion was about the otherwise successful replication of European vignettes. What was missing was the subtle proof of use. The cobblestone wasn’t chinked by decades of horse hoofs. The stone store thresholds were not worn down from generations of leather soles passing over them. Woodwork was only sporting 2 layers of paint.

My wife and I honeymooned (13 years ago) at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was modeled after that structure. So when we visited Disney, we decided to stay there. I was extremely impressed with the effort that they put towards replicating the experience. I was haunted by discovering the bulbs in the “lanterns” on the front vestibule were programmed to randomly fade on and off as if to mimic a true oil and wick collaboration. Fog was manufactured to mimic the effect of Yellowstone’s hot springs in the lobby. And I can’t validate this, but I think the sound of crickets was piped in. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and given the realities of our world and the need to make good business decisions, I understand the cause and trade-offs of the outcome.



On a recent trip to San Francisco I encountered it again. One night we had dinner at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. Apparently, I am forever the romantic, because I feel for the authenticity of the place and it’s place in the city. It was a great experience. There was nothing about it that represented decisions made in a corporate office in another state. The fabric of sole ownership was apparent in the weave.


(Apple Store)

The next morning, we walked through downtown (down Market Street) to a convention center and it was there that I became aware of a contrast. As we passed by store fronts for all the national retail outfits the awareness of a difference came over me like an eclipse. I want to be clear here. I’m not saying either neighborhood is better than the other, just that there is a difference. A debate can be had about what makes a design a success, but one of the elements of that success is determining what’s appropriate for the application. A cobbler needs many tools.

So I am left with many questions:

How do we create new thing’s but insure we don’t abandon our heritage?

How do we guarantee a consistant experience, while maintaining local flare?

Do we live in a time when “built to last” even matters?

How do we make room for the expression of one’s character in a world of mass manufacturing?

header photo by JK: each nick tells a story


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