There has been plenty said about the pretense of designing an experience, and in many cases, I agree that trying to design an experience is an inappropriate goal, if not impossible. However, I maintain that there are instances, mostly for entertainment, in which we can and do design experiences, in that we create situations that cause the majority of participants to feel specific emotions that we intend them to feel, and we can thus evoke a desired reaction. A haunted house is one such example.
That is not to say that we can design it to such a degree that we get exactly the preferred response from every individual. And yes, the experience is very much influenced by each person’s previous experiences. However, we are able to presume some common past experiences that a large percentage of our participants will have and use those to our advantage. In many cases, manipulating people in this way would be considered unethical, but not so when done for entertainment value. Our participants are paying to be scared, and we try our darndest to give them what they paid for.
If our goal is to make children cry, teens scream, and adults laugh nervously while gripping their spouses for a sense of security, and we observe these behaviors on a regular basis, than I would say we successfully designed an experience for the majority of our audience.
Note: It is not our desire to make young children cry. Rather, we are trying to reach a fear level at which young children would cry, but we recommend that children of that age do not go through. Of course, there are still those parents who disregard our advice, so we get our crying data points.