My name is Jack Moffett
. I am an Interaction Designer with over ten years of experience. According to Herb Simon
, that makes me an expert, so I must have something worth sharing. I have started this venture as an exercise to spur critical thinking about my chosen profession. I hope that others may find it thought provoking as well.
DesignAday will present a brief thought about Design every weekday.
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.
I was in the Disney theme parks for eight days over my vacation, and Undercover Tourist helped me make the most of them. The iPhone app provides the following information for all four parks:
- Park hours, including Extra Magic Hours
- Name and description of each ride organized by park area
- Color-coded wait times for every ride, or other status, such as that the ride is closed
- Whether or not a ride has Fast Pass
- Star ratings for each ride
- Suggested age for rider and minimum height
- Distance the ride is from your current location (measured in yards)
- Parade and show times
- Names and descriptions of every restaurant, including type of cuisine, whether it’s fast food or table service, general price range, star rating, whether it is covered by the Disney Dining Plan, if it has character dining, menus, and more.
My wife and I used the app constantly, and it significantly improved our experience in the parks. It was a bit buggy, crashing often, but it was informative and accurate. The one type of information it was missing was the status of Fast Pass for rides. It doesn’t tell you for what time they are currently giving out tickets, or that all tickets are already gone. I saw ads for a Disney phone app that included this information, but it’s apparently only available through Verizon, so I couldn’t try it. Disney is missing an opportunity there. I also tried Undercover Tourist’s app for Universal, which was also helpful, but I found it to be less accurate and less informative than the one for Disney World.
The app has both a free, ad-supported version, and a full, for-pay version, but given that I only needed it for a week, the free version sufficed. It was a really handy tool to have. I recommend it.
There were two shows we saw at Disney World that especially impressed me, both using the same technology. Turtle Talk with Crush featured the righteous sea turtle from Finding Nemo. He was part of a projected, 3-D animation, but it was live. Crush interacted with the audience, answering questions and reacting in real time. It was a seamless experience—people interacting with a cartoon character as if it were real.
Similarly, the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor featured Mike Wizowski, Roz, and a number of other monsters performing stand-up routines to get us to laugh and fill a canister with power for the monster world. Remote-controlled cameras were able to pick out members of the audience to show on-screen as the actors behind the animated puppets integrated us into their schtick, just as a live, human stand-up comic would. I was lucky enough to be the butt of several jokes, referred to as “That Guy” throughout the show, and my experience continued through the rest of the day as I was presented with a sticker to wear, labeling me as “That Guy”. Cast members throughout the park would notice the sticker and point me out, much to the delight of my daughters.
It’s good to know that Disney is continuing to chip away at the barrier separating make-believe from reality… with highly entertaining results.
I’ve been rather disdainful of the current 3-D movie fad. I found in Orlando that it is saturating the amusement parks as well. I remember watching Captain EO back when my parents took me to Disney World for the first time, and I thought it was cool—that was the first 3-D movie I had seen. All of the 3-D movies in theme parks are full of gimmickry. “Hey, look at me, I’m in 3-D!” They take it even further, adding air blasts, water sprays, motorized lighting, even mechanisms within your seat that poke you or make it feel like roaches are crawling under your butt. I’m their for an experience, and they deliver on that, but I’m typically not impressed with the 3-D image. We ended up in the second or third row for It’s Tough to be a Bug, and everything that was supposed to look like it was floating in front of my face was a blurry mess of doubled images.
However, I did see one thing that gave me hope. The new Star Tours ride is spectacular! The quality of the 3-D image was so good, I forgot it was a 3-D image for awhile. If they can do that for feature films, I’ll eat my words.
The Disney parks are employing simple game mechanics to provide additional entertainment for the kiddies. At Animal Kingdom, each region of the park had a Kids Discovery Center, a station at which kids could participate in some type of educational activity. Upon completion of the activity, they would receive a stamp on their card. When all of the stamps have been collected, a cast member has the child recite an oath, promising to take care of nature, and presents them with a little book.
Epcot had two such activities. Every country in World Showcase had a station manned by an exchange student with tables, chairs, crayons, and markers. Each child is given a Duffy figure on a stick. The exchange students write the child’s name on the back in the language of the country and give them a stamp. My daughters were compelled to seek out the station in every country, and even with all of the fantastic attractions all around them, they wanted to sit down at each station to color in part of Duffy. My youngest was celebrating her birthday, and so additionally collected birthday greetings in each language.
The other activity was based on the cartoon Kim Possible. Kids were issued fake cell phones that would ring at different times during the day, relaying instructions on what they should do next to complete their mission. My girls didn’t participate in this one, so I don’t know all the details, but I heard phones going off all over the park with the distinctive Kim Possible ring tone.
I found it interesting that Disney was trying to add entertainment value in this fashion on top of everything else. Even more interesting was how compelling the activities were to my kids. I have a feeling they are going to love the likes of Foursquare when they are old enough to have their own phones.
I always carry my camera with me when I’m on a trip, especially family vacations, and may carry more than one. This was always a bother when visiting amusement parks. Sometimes they don’t allow “loose” items on the ride, with good reason. Water rides have the potential of dousing your carry-ons. I was in the habit of putting my wallet in a Ziploc bag to keep it dry. On my recent visit to Disney World, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the designers of the attractions are now planning for the need to stow personal items during a ride. Most cars had pockets or bins in which to place small items. Some, like Mission: Space, had cabinets that could fit a backpack. Sometimes the storage was under your seat, as on the ride Soarin’. I was a little concerned when we were in line for the Kali River Rapids—raft rides tend to soak you—but was relieved to find that the rafts had large, covered compartments in the middle that kept everything dry.
Not all rides can have built-in storage. There were a few that required placing all loose items (cameras, phones, spare change, etc.) in a locker. This worked fine in two instances at Disney World where they had a small number of lockers at the ride entrance. You place items inside, wear the key on your wrist, and then retrieve the items when the ride is over. In both instances, ride attendants helped with this process, and in both cases, you disembarked at the same place you got on. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is one of the coolest rides I’ve ever been on, but due to it’s movement, you can’t carry things on the ride. There was a large locker room in the dungeons under the castle. Each bank of lockers had a terminal that would scan your fingerprint. The space was a dark, crowded madhouse with people trying to store items and retrieve items at the same time. No one was directing guests who had to figure out how to use the terminals. When my wife went to retrieve our belongings, it didn’t recognize her fingerprint, and she had to seek assistance.
That was only one negative experience among dozens of rides across five parks. The fact that designers are considering the holistic experience from a guests perspective made my vacation much more enjoyable.
When discussing Experience Design, the ultimate example cited is Disney World. Whether or not you believe that an experience can be designed, I expect most of us would agree that Disney World is the most spectacular attempt to do so. From the design of the environments, traffic flow, and landmarks, to the “actors”, entertainment, and dining, everything is very much designed with a particular type of experience in mind.
That’s where I’m going to be for the next two weeks, so there is going to be a bit of a break on DesignAday. Tomorrow’s Photo Friday post will be the last one until I return.
My fellow CMU alumnus Whitney Hess has stirred up a lot of Twitter traffic over the weekend with her post You’re not a user experience designer if… I think she has taken too hard a stance on many of her ten points.
You don’t talk to users.
I freely admit that there have been projects for which I have not talked to users. I have performed other types of research and spoken with domain experts. In fact, there was one customer in particular that would not allow me to meet with actual users. They provided me with all of the information I requested. No, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Yes, I would have preferred direct contact with users. That did not, however, keep me from doing good work and delivering a solid product.
You can’t identify your target audience.
Whitney claims that a product can’t be designed for everyone. I don’t buy that. There are thousands of products that we use on a daily basis that are intended to be used by anyone and everyone. A mobile phone is a general-use product. A can opener is a general use product. That’s not to say that you couldn’t design a can opener for a specific user group. Oxo is famous for designing kitchen utensils for arthritis sufferers that turned out to be good for everyone. That goes to show that there are benefits to designing products for specific users. That doesn’t, however, mean that there has to be a set of specific personas developed for a product to be successful. Apple’s products are proof of that.
You make design decisions based on your personal preferences.
The example she gives is a rather ridiculous one. Checkboxes and radio buttons have distinctly different functions, so personal preference doesn’t enter into the equation. Personal preference very often influences my decisions, however. As a trained designer, my personal preferences are based on years of experience and inspiration. You might say designers are better at designing because their personal preferences are more refined than the average person. Again, this doesn’t mean that I only base decisions on personal preference, but aesthetic decisions especially are heavily influenced by my own preference, and they should be.
I’ve only addressed a few claims that immediately jumped out at me when I read through Whitney’s post. For a very thorough and well-reasoned response, I highly recommend Uday Gajendar’s Being a designer.
“The Shattering” occurred yesterday. Since it’s launch in November of 2004, World of Warcraft has received two major expansions, and now it is time for the third: Cataclysm. The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King each expand the world by adding new locations: a new planet and a new continent, respectively. Blizzard has taken a different approach in Cataclysm by reforming the original world through a cataclysmic disaster. A monstrous dragon has broken free from his imprisonment deep underground and has forever changed the geography of the two original continents. Entire regions have been flooded, burned, etc. This is all very exciting for players, and counting myself one, I find the result to be quite interesting.
Certainly, the World of Warcraft is digital—it isn’t real—and yet it has so much depth (relative to games historically) that it is relatable in a very real way. I have vivid memories of the time that I have spent in the game, and because it is multi-player, they are shared experiences. Now that The Shattering has occurred, there are locations and events that can never be experienced again. Just as I can reminisce with friends and family members about vacations and events in my life, I can have those “remember when” conversations with the guys I play WoW with.
For example, one region was dominated by a huge lake held back by a massive dam. My friends and I spent a significant amount of time questing in the region, fishing in the lake, and so forth. The dam was somewhat of a monument in the game—one of the things that was cool for new players to see for the first time. One of my friends saw the dam for the first time while we were playing together and, peering over the edge, asked if we could go down to the region below the dam. I told him that we could once our characters were at a higher level and warned him not to fall off. Then, seconds later, I accidentally nudged my character right over the side. It has become an inside joke that comes up now and then. It’s part of our shared life experience. During The Shattering, the damn was demolished. The lake has drained and is now more of a marsh. Our shared experience is now a memory only. Nobody will be able to see the dam again accept in pictures.
Blizzard has introduced history—not just backstory, but true history—to a game world in a very effective, emotional way. I think that is a significant accomplishment in game design.
Okay, that’s not at all accurate. But there are some basic lessons to be learned. Yesterday, I explained that fear is the result of a bad experience, unless you desire to be scared, in which case a simulation of a bad experience is in order. I described several qualities of a haunted house that make for a good bad experience:
- Lack of visibility
- Tight quarters
If these qualities result in a bad experience, we can infer what may be qualities of a good experience.
- Orientation - Show people where they are, where they have been, and where they can go. Good organization and clear navigation will breed familiarity and confidence—positive feelings to promote.
- Meet Expectations - Some surprises are good surprises, but generally speaking, it is better for a user to see what they expect to see and to have software work the way they expect it to work. Follow standards and be consistent.
- Visibility - Make information visible. Organize a sensible architecture. Use color, contrast, spacing, and typographic hierarchy to improve readability and clarity.
- Spacious layout - Whether content or UI, elements need room to breathe. Don’t be afraid to add white space to your layout.
- Friendliness - Treat your users well. Write sensible, apologetic error messages. Give your application a likable personality. If you play nice, you’ll be invited back.