What You Need to Know, Learn and Do to Get into the Theme Park Design Industry

01: The First Steps to Become a Theme Park Designer

Do you dream of becoming a theme park designer?

Creating rides that are famous the world over?

What type of skills and experience do successful theme park designers possess and how did they end up in the industry?

What are the first steps towards that dream job?

Theme park designers come from all walks of life, with different career backgrounds and life experiences. They possess a wide range of skills that stand them apart from the rest. If you think about how many disciplines it would take to build just one ride and then consider the amount of varying rides there are, that’s a lot of different talents that are needed!

The golden rule when trying to break into the theme park design industry is to find an area of the industry that you would love to work in and become skilled and experienced in that area. Then, continue to build your skill set and experience from there.

A good first step to working in the theme park industry is getting to know the people behind the most successful rides and also and the companies that produce them. Join the professional industry organisations like the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, (IAAPA) and the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and go to their meetings and conferences. Networking takes a lot of dedication, perseverance and time but this is the ideal way to meet the  right people.


02: Read These Books on Theme Park Design to Boost Your Knowledge

The aim of a ride in a theme park, is simple. To take people on an adventure they won’t forget.

Rides allow people to experience journeys far away from their everyday lives that are full of thrills, fears, excitement and magic. The job of the theme park designer is to amaze and entertain their audience.

Designers use a variety of techniques to achieve these effects and this often includes experiential, environmental, breakthrough film techniques and next generation technology. Theme parks want an attraction that visitors will want to come back to again and again.

There are a number of excellent books that are dedicated to Theme Park Design and Themed Entertainment Design:

03: Taking These Theme Park Design Courses Will Level up Your Skills


There are several courses specifically dedicated to the teaching of theme park design, experience design and themed entertainment design. You’ll learn the fundamental disciplines needed for theme park design and many of these courses have direct connections with organisations and professionals within the theme park industry to help you gain experience and exposure.

For most traditional college/university degree courses consider engineering degrees such as mechanical engineering, electrical and structural engineering.

Engineers are certainly in demand and you will be able to apply the principles of engineering into the theme park design and build process. There are often options for you to specialise in elements of theme park design at a later stage of the course.


Theme Park Design Specialisms in the UK

Online Theme Park Design Courses

Theme Park Design Courses in the USA

  • Experience Design at CalArts School of Theater, California, USA https://theater.calarts.edu/experience-design
    The course involves immersive and experience design, the creation of story-based entertainment projects for theme parks, exhibitions, museums, theatrical presentations and other environments.

  • Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia, USA http://www.scad.edu/academics/programs/themed-entertainment-design
    Students study conceptualisation, design, building, management and delivery of themed entertainment enterprises and organisations.

  • Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Design : Masters of Entertainment Technology (MET), Pennsylvania, USA
    The curriculum includes learning the fundamentals of the entertainment technology, improvisational acting, visual storytelling and building virtual worlds.

04: Other Qualifications and Skills That Will Help You as a Theme Park Designer

What skills and qualifications do you need to get into the theme park design industry?

Working in the themed entertainment industry as a theme park ride designer is a highly desirable and rewarding career path.  To stand out from the crowd you need to have endless amounts of enthusiasm and a desire to be the best that you can be in your chosen field.

The industry is constantly growing both in size and competitiveness with an increasing number of theme parks, scream parks, aquariums, adventure farm parks, soft play areas and themed visitor attractions popping up all over the place. This means there are plenty of opportunities out there for aspiring designers! Many of these businesses want to produce the best, most innovative new rides and attractions in order to keep visitors coming back for more.

The skills and creativity of large teams of people are needed to develop new and innovative themed attractions. Creating a ride that blends the newest technology with thrilling experiences and memorable adventures will stand out from the rest. Developing immersive environments and high impact emotional visuals is becoming more important and will keep people coming through the doors.


What Qualities Do Theme Park Designers Possess?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Being very technical and inquisitive in nature. Wanting to understand how things work.

  2. Possessing a creative mind and a vivid imagination to picture environments, themes, colours and sound.

  3. Having an interest and an understanding of physics, science and maths. This helps ideas become a reality.

  4. A love of themed attractions and rides and understanding their many features and how they work.

What Skills, Jobs and Backgrounds Are Recommended for Theme Park Design?

People who design theme park attractions have a broad range of skills and talents. There are well over 100 different job roles which contribute to the design and build of a theme park or a themed attraction. Here are some common jobs descriptions and skills:


People with science, maths and physics degrees such as mechanical, structural, electrical and computer science engineers. They work on the mechanics of an attraction enabling it to work flawlessly.

  • Mechanical Engineer
    Design innovative ways of solving engineering challenges for rides. From propulsion systems to sizing components for a specific motion profile, to testing and proving out a design with mock ups, and all the way through validation and installation.

  • Structural Engineer
    Design the layout of rides and design the structures that support the rides.

  • Electrical Engineer
    Design the control systems of rides, such as roller coasters, so that they operate smoothly.

  • Audio Visual Engineer
    Design the systems that play, amplify, and process audio and visual aspect of each attraction.

Architects and Planners

Providing essential work on the planning and design of attractions and supervise the construction, solving layout problems and ensuring compliance with building and operational regulations. They also manage construction methods and building costs.

Film, Video and AV specialists

Video and film production specialists often use next generation technology to help produce immersive environments for attractions or enhance thrilling rides, catapulting guests into filmed action scenes as they journey through the ride. Film, video and AV specialists are also needed to create advertising commercials before and after the release of attractions.

Illustrators and Concept Artist

Artists and illustrators are fundamental to the design of an attraction and design the initial theme and concept of the attraction through to the final look.

Interior Designers and Set Designers

Help develop the design and the look of the theme park attraction to ensure it is engaging, exciting and entertaining. This involves designing layout and interiors of the space, choosing lighting, colour themes and props to capture the correct mood of the attraction.

Creative Writers

Each new themed attraction is developed around a story and therefore creative writers are a key ingredient of the design process. The ability to develop a creative narrative to engage people is essential.

Other trades and professions needed to design and build rides include:

  • Builders: All tradesmen such as carpenters/Joiners, painters and decorators

  • Landscapers

  • Lighting designers

  • Producers

  • Graphic designers

  • Sculptors

As well as having education becoming a theme park designer requires extensive networking with established professionals in the field, a knowledge and love of theme parks, and a willingness to start at the bottom.


Internships at a Theme Park Design Company

Landing an internship at a top theme park design company is an invaluable experience for someone looking to break into the industry. Many internships are for students during their college or university courses. However, some internships are open to graduates and others alike.

The work of an intern will vary depending on the specialism of the theme park design company but may involve an entry-level position within a theme park design company.

Some professional internships placements:

Below is further resources on theme park design internships:

Summer Programs

Another way to gain first hand experience at a theme park and to get to know people within the industry is by joining a summer program or youth program.

There are a number of summer programmes that you can apply for today:

  • Internships and European Summer Program (ESP) at Europa Park  
    Europa park offer apprenticeships and internships in various disciplines. The summer program offers valuable experience and opportunities to network with people within the industry, but it is only open to applicants at certain times of the year.

  • Disney College Program
    Five to seven month program, students will gain valuable, on-the-job experience and skills working in the parks and resorts, participate in college coursework, take part in development classes and meet and network with people in the industry.

  • New York Film Academy - USA
    Students develop new skills, make lasting friendships, develop their portfolios, and gain intensive study into their chosen specialism.


John Wardley, Theme park designer, talks about designing Nemesis. https://youtu.be/TU8p2V15Yw0 [embed into content]

05: The Theme Park Industry Bodies You Should Know About

The themed entertainment industry has a number of governing bodies whose job it is to improve safety, marketing, profitability, efficiency and help to maintain the highest possible professional standards across it’s membership.

Members include professionals from amusement parks, theme parks and attractions, family entertainment centers, museums and many more areas of the themed entertainment industry. Connecting with these organisations and their members through forums, social media channels and by attending industry trade shows is a great way to start networking and to understand the inner workings of the themed entertainment industry.

    The largest governing body of the themed entertainment and attractions industry.

  • TEA
    International non-profit association, they hold lots of awards and often ask for speakers for web casts.


06: Bookmark These Theme Park Industry Websites

Improve your knowledge of the themed entertainment industry by following and reading the latest industry news and recent developments. You’ll discover information about new ride concepts, details of new theme parks, opinions and views from leading industry professionals and more. Who knows, you may even read about potential job opportunities or gain valuable career advice.

  • Blooloop
    A large online news source for the theme parks and visitor attractions industry.

  • Park World
    A monthly printed magazine and online news source about the themed entertainment industry featuring new park profiles, industry news, comments and opinions, interviews with industry professionals and new ride/product information.

  • InPark Magazine
    Magazine is distributed five times per year available in both print and digital versions. Features the latest news from the themed entertainment industry.


Industry Bloggers and Forums


International Attractions Expo 2017, Coasters 101  https://youtu.be/5HA6elYlSUA [embed into content]

  • The Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain - UK
    Learn all you can about the industry by joining this club of theme park enthusiasts.

  • The European Coaster Club
    Promotes the enjoyment of riding roller coasters along with useful information about the theme park industry. There is also a forum where you can connect with like minded people and industry professionals.


08: Top Tips From Experts and Theme Park Design Enthusiasts

People currently working within the industry provide invaluable tips to help anyone looking to break into the field of theme park design. In this section, we have gathered advice from industry professionals; how they ended up working in the industry, what innovations and design problems they have overcome and what their day to day job looks likes. Learn from the experts and fast track your career in theme park design.


What tips would to offer to someone looking to learn theme park/visitor attraction design?

“Visit the world's best attractions and watch how visitor's react; learn a relevant trade, e.g. architecture, or UX, or game design; practice on events.”
Ed Daly, MD at Seeper

“There are few themed environment design majors out there so my first bit of advice is for you to become your own unofficial student of theme parks. Go to the parks and reverse engineer how the designers, architects and engineers went about creating these storytelling environments and shows. Get a foundation in art, design, architecture or engineering and plead with your professors to allow you to focus on themed environment design as part of your major. Not all will understand your interest or the specifics of the industry but it will give you a leg up and help focus your efforts.”
Don Carson, Senior Art Director at The Hettema group

“Attend the expos and of course theme parks!”
Georgia Butler, Office Manager at Seeper

“Go to lots of theme parks and think about what does and doesn't work. Try to find the magic, the things that you can't figure out, then reverse engineer them.”
Evan Grant, Founder Creative and Innovation Director at Seeper


How did you get into the theme park/attraction design industry?

“Through loving theme parks, art and technology.”
Evan Grant, Founder Creative and Innovation Director at Seeper

“I didn't know this job even existed when I graduated from college as an Illustration Major. A love of Disneyland and Theater design organically led me to this work.”
Don Carson, Senior Art Director at The Hettema group

“Via video game design / production.”
Ed Daly, MD at Seeper


Bob Gurr talks about his career, Disney Imagineer https://youtu.be/q_6OAEmnMUA [embed into content]

09: The Day to Day of an Attraction Designer

What does a good day in your job look like? What type of work are you performing? Why is it exciting and fun?

“Designing rides is a serious business which requires much restraint, dedication and self-discipline. It IS fun and exciting work, but most of your time is spent doing calculations, preparing budgets, solving problems and attending planning meetings.”
John Wardley, Theme Park Consultant

“A good day is when we're creating stunning looking world's first content, inventions and more.”
Evan Grant, Founder Creative and Innovation Director at Seeper

“As the art director of a project the best days are when my team, representing a wide range of disciplines, is all working for the same vision. The excitement comes as we solve hard problems all for the purpose of transporting, immersing, and entertaining visitors to our park, land, or attraction.”
Don Carson, Senior Art Director at The Hettema group

“Varied problem solving across commercial, project management, people, technical, creative fields. The variety can be fun, innovation can be exciting.”  
Ed Daly, MD at Seeper



Don Carson talking at UX Week, Designing for Theme Parks https://youtu.be/udIJHqwo2Ns

10: Quotes and Back Stories From Theme Park Industry Professionals

Is there a particular design problem you recently overcame? Please tell us that story.

“I got involved in an interactive experience to promote Pixar movie, Coco, problem was what the users could do that was in keeping with movie, solution was to control the characters that would mirror user movement triggering gags based on movie's theme of character skeletons, e.g. heads spinning round, arms falling off.”
Ed Daly, MD at Seeper

“Theme park environments are so completely unlike building a dentist office or shopping mall that it has to constantly deal with codes and equivalents that come from these more rectilinear disciplines. Building a mountain with grass growing on top of it that also contains a boat ride and all the air conditioning to survive a Florida summer is anything but straightforward. I would say it is impossible even. What other jobs are this hard (and worth doing) that offer such great rewards at the end of them?”  
Don Carson, Senior Art Director at The Hettema group


Is there a recent innovation you've been involved with? Please tell us that story.

“Every project is reinventing something or other. Between advancements in animatronic figures to new ways of building structures, innovations are a daily occurrence. Right now I think a lot is being done in transforming environments through the use of Projection Mapping. I believe the next "WOW" attractions will be those that take a theatrical approach to storytelling but use mapping in new and innovative ways.”
Don Carson, Senior Art Director at The Hettema group

“We created the world's first "holographic" ride, using Microsoft's HoloLens within a space ship simulator. My role was securing the funding and partnering with others to build it.”
Ed Daly, MD at Seeper


11: Thank You for Reading

We hope you have enjoyed reading our guide ‘Learn Theme Park Design: The Definitive Guide [2018]’ and found the content both useful and informative. So that we can continue to improve the resource, please let us know if there is anything that we have missed or if you want to recommend any resources that you think should be included, let us know.