UX in Real Life: Theme Parks

Friday, March 15, 2019 | By Liz Jones
Read time: 4-7 mins
Two people walking through Disney World

This is the third and final instalment in this three-part series by atomix UX strategist Liz Jones about the principles of user experience and how they affect us in the real world. Check out Part 1: NYC Subway or Part 2: Traffic Lights.


How do you make a theme park less enjoyable? Just add queues.

Disney World is home to 46 rides across four different parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom alone has an average of over 52,000 visitors per day – that’s at least 19 million visitors every year! With thousands of fans visiting every day, some good UX goes a long way in making dreams come true.

However, waiting in a long queue is a much less enjoyable part of this ‘dream’ experience.

Decision making in Disney World

One of the most popular rides at Epcot is Mission: SPACE. It is a thrill ride that simulates spaceflight, using a centrifugal motion simulator to replicate G-force during takeoff. It goes up to 2.5 Gs, when you can physically feel the pressure exerted on your body. The “crew” (riders) even have roles they are responsible for controlling during the mission.

Mission: SPACE gets around 1,600 people through its doors in a single hour. It is estimated that 32% of people on an average day would book a “FastPass+” ticket, which allows attendees to take much shorter lines when waiting for rides. However, the pass needs to be booked ahead of time, and you can only use this pass on three rides per day. Otherwise, the “Standby” queue is the normal and default queue.

Waiting times for theme park rides
The entrance to Mission: SPACE, Epcot. The Fastpass+ sign says 10:16 and the Standby sign says 20.

 

The red digital display above the entrance gives real time information to those considering this ride.

Unfortunately, only the right hand display (Standby) is labelled with “wait time”, deceiving many who applied consistent meaning to the matching left hand display. This was due to visual consistency, and lack of a corresponding label to define it as something different.

The Fastpass+ display is actually the current time. The information is different because if you choose to use a Fastpass+ or have booked prior, you have a one hour time slot within which you can enter the ride.

Each queue required different information, however this lacked clarity, causing confusion.

Consequence: I heard many people commenting that the Fastpass+ queue wait time was 10 minutes according to the sign, which was apparently quite long for FP+ and was half the signed wait time of the Standby queue (20 minutes). Because of this, these visitors opted to queue in the Standby lane and save their Fastpass+ for another ride.

BUT: Those who went into the Standby queue got very frustrated when they saw the people in the Fastpass+ queue only wait one minute, because everyone had opted out of it due to the unclear information.

This is similar to the kind of frustration a user might experience when buttons that look the same don’t behave the same way on your website.

We expect visually consistent things to behave similarly or mean the same thing.

The entrance to two rides at Epcot, Disney World
The entrance to Soarin’, Epcot. The Fastpass+ sign says 8:14, and Standby says 20.

 

Another ride, called Soarin’, also suffered the same problem with crowds of people misinterpreting the wait time vs real time on each sign.

At Spaceship Earth, the Fastpass+ entrance used an analog clock.

Spaceship: Earth
The entrance to Spaceship Earth, Epcot.

 

Due to the difference in execution by using the clock as a literal metaphor representing “current time”, this information is able to successfully disassociate itself from the Standby sign’s wait time.

Using an analog clock takes advantage of our familiarity with real-world objects mimicking the physical world to tap into people’s existing knowledge. In a graphical interface, this is called Skeuomorphism, which we see demonstrated in system icons such as a trash can (delete), a floppy disk (save) or a folder (file storage).

Slinky Dog Dash: Consistent and clear labelling

Slinky Dog Dash is a fast thrill ride with big drops, and it’s one of Disney World’s newest rides.

Slinky Dog Dash entrance at Hollywood Studios, Disney World
The entrance to Slinky Dog Dash, Hollywood Studios

 

At this entrance, both displays are labelled clearly, so the information in each digital display is clear.

Crowd control is important at Disney due to their amount of visitors, and these wait times are imperative to park-goers in choosing which rides to go on.

Information that is key to decision making should be clear.

This prevents users from making the wrong decisions and causing frustration.

 


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