What designers should know about creating memorable experiences

November 22, 2019

We all have memories — some great, some not so great, and some we will always cherish.  But, did you know that many of your memories were created by others for you?  Think of attending a museum, going to an interpretive facility, taking a picture with your family year after year at the same spot — all of these memories were facilitated by others for your enjoyment..

The art of creating memorable experiences and therefore memories is not new at all.  Designers have been creating experiences since the beginning of time. What’s new is our understanding of the neuroscience behind how and when memories are created and activated.  This new knowledge should have a profound affect upon the architectural planning and design process. So what do we know:

Multiple senses improve memory.

Memories that connect to multiple senses have been proven to be ones most easily recalled. While humans have 5 senses, the senses that are most closely tied to memory creation are smell, taste, and touch. Smell is one of the strongest triggers of a memory. Consider home baked cookies at model homes, scents of flowers in a hotel lobby, or the smell of rosemary at a park or recreation area. The sense of smell can trigger memories almost instantaneously.

Consider including the sense of smell to a space to trigger a positive and relevant memory.

Memories are prioritized. 

The subconscious mind prioritizes memories a variety of ways. Memories that are connected to strong emotional events are given a high priority. While a person may have the memory, the emotion of that memory can sometimes cloud or change its perception.

For instance, when recalling tragic events such as the 9-11 attack, many people recall the event itself and most times where they were when they experienced the event, but many do not recall the details. While this memory has been prioritized, it is difficult to actually recall all of the specifics of the event. We may be able to remember which tower was hit first but not recall if the third plane hit the Pentagon before, after or at the same time as the first two. That is because there is a highly emotional connection the actual event, but the brain does not need to prioritize the sequence or the details of the event to recall the event itself.

Memories that are associated with gaining something are recalled accurately with the actual details most connected with the reward recalled the most accurately. According to a study conducted by Columbia University (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181120125916.htm), the memory most closely connected with the reward was not only most easily recalled, but could be recalled in significant detail even over time.

Consider adding emotion or reward to the experience to enhance its memory.

Simple messages can be easily recalled when combined with repetition.

Think about President Obama’s simple message of change, manifested into his “hope” poster. Many years after that election, most of us can recall this message and even recall the poster itself.  It was simple, to the point, and connected to an emotion that things would get better. While the message was simple enough to remember, it is the message combined with repetition that facilitates recall. 

Consider using simple messages repeated often throughout an experience to enhance their recall.  

The beginning, the peak, and end are important.

While the beginning, the peak, and the end of an experience are all important, they are for different reasons. The beginning of an experience sets the tone for how one receives the entire experience.  People tend to best remember the peak of an experience as well as the end. In many cases, designers combine the peak and end experiences to create a super experience, one that will be talked about immediately reinforcing the recall of the experience.

Consider starting and ending strong to create memorable experiences.

Experiences that are designed to create memories are the experiences that lead to return visits, positive reviews, and overall financial health of organizations. It is important that we design these experiences to achieve the outcomes that our clients want and not let them happen by chance. Our clients and their patrons deserve our best.



Craig S. Galati is a Principal and Shareholder of LGA. His strength lies in helping his team create memorable experiences through design. Through his passion for workshop facilitation and public outreach, Craig has provided invaluable clarity and direction to multiple public and private organizations. Craig is an accomplished speaker and has worked with many organizations on leadership and strategy.