Experience Design Study: Pump It Up Birthday Party

At MJM, we are strong believers in studying experience design across diverse industries to better our own work. All industries — health care, sports, music, kids, restaurant, hotel, retail — can learn from looking at ideas outside their own competitive space. The MJM blog is one place you are invited to intersect with new ideas and experiences.


This weekend, my son and I participated in a birthday party for my son’s classmate, who is turning 5 years old. The party was hosted by Pump It Up, a full-service party company for kids, featuring two rooms of inflatable gym toys and a party room for eating/presents. Here are some of the highs and lows of the experience, along with a brief discussion of what we can learn from each element.

High: Theme It

Pump It Up is the perfect venue to host a party for 20 5-year-olds. The environment is safe, engaging, and effective in allowing the kids space for controlled chaos, a variety of diversions, and opportunities for alone and group play. After 35 minutes in one room, the kids are sent to the next room. This ensures that nobody gets bored. After about 70 minutes of playtime, the kids are gathered and sent in to the party room for pizza, cake, and presents. From start to finish, the theme is controlled fun, and nothing detracts from that experience.

What You Can Learn

What is your theme? Does everything that happens in your interactions with your customer build on that theme? What do you need to cut away? What should you add?

High: Handle the Tough Logistics

The most appealing part of a Pump It Up Birthday party for parents is the full-service logistical management before and during the party by the on-site staff. Before the party, you can order your pizza, fruit plates, cake, ice cream, and decorations, which are delivered to the site and set up for you. As kids arrive, staff members collect presents, cards, and parent safety waivers. Kids are show where to find the bathrooms. Staff shuttle shoes and coats between rooms as the kids move. Before eating, kids and parents are offered hand sanitizer. A group photo is staged and taken by the staff. The staff team corral the kids and serve them juice boxes, pizza, fruit, and cake in a surprisingly orderly fashion. Plates, forks, cups, napkins, tablecloths – all provided. During present opening, staff members select the next present to open, throw away the wrapping paper, record who the gift was from, and load the opened presents on a rolling cart for easy transport to a car after the party. Parents literally need to do nothing on the day of the party.

Look at that list again. Truly, Pump It Up’s experience is not “fun birthday party.” Their experience is “logistics management.” And they are very, very effective.

What You Can Learn

Look at your product or service. Where are the most difficult, frustrating logistical moments for your customers? What can you do to make those moments as simple as possible? How can you change your industry by solving a logistical annoyance for your customer?

High: The “Throne”

The opening of presents is obviously the highlight of the party for the birthday child. At Pump It Up, the birthday child gets to sit on a large, inflatable throne, while all the kids sit at their feet to watch. Having talked to numerous parents, the “birthday throne” is the major reason kids want to have their party at Pump It Up.

What You Can Learn

The Birthday Throne is the signature moment of a Pump It Up party. What is your signature moment? How do people remember their experience of your product or service? If you don’t have a signature moment, what do you need to do to create one?

Low: The Treasure Chest

The overall theme of a Pump It Up party is perfect for the target audience. For this party, the parents and staff layered a second theme on top – a “Pirate Party.” Throughout the party, the staff tried unsuccessfully to gather all the kids to use a treasure map to find a lost key. As a parent who was trying to follow the story, I was totally lost. After cake was served, the staff brought out a treasure chest and the hidden key. This could have been good, because kids love lost keys and treasure chests. The chest was opened, and the prize for the kids was… a cheap eye patch and a flimsy plastic coin. About 90% of the kids already had eye patches, and the plastic coins were not even believable enough for imaginative 5-year-olds. It was an unfortunate let-down to a well-developed theme.

What You Can Learn

If you build an experience and have a signature moment, a prize, or anything else that raises the expectations of the customer, you need to meet or exceed those expectations. You need to deliver. If you fail to deliver, you lose the impact of your experience. So… are you delivering on your promise?