Want Better UX? Think Like Disney.

“Whenever I go on a ride, I’m always thinking of what’s wrong with the thing and how it can be improved.”
– Walt Disney

It’s a pretty safe bet that ‘ol Walt never used the terms Usability or UX. But that’s exactly what he’s talking about here. In fact, Disney used what cognitive scientists call “perspective switching” to not only audit his creations, but to create new ideas and innovations.

One of the most impressive aspects of Walt Disney’s genius was his ability to explore something from different perceptions. As one of his close associates pointed out:

“…there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist,
and the spoiler.You never knew which one was coming into your meeting.”

Whenever he was analyzing what he’d created – be it characters, films, or rides in the park, Disney would assume three characters (which we would call personas) and take their point of view as he thought about improvements and possibilities. As you create and critique your own daily work, consider what you’re creating or building from the perspective of Walt’s three core positions:

  1. The Dreamer. Assuming the sky was the limit, Disney would ask himself and his staff to imagine every possibility. What would people want to do, if anything was possible? He started big and didn’t allow constraints or limitations into these conversations.
  2. The Realist. This was a more rational point of view, a critical examination of the practical details. What worked, what didn’t, and what was possible and feasible in terms of fixing or improving these things?
  3. The Spoiler. From this position Disney would critique the constraints, the pros and cons of the situation. What would happen if the person did something other than what was intended? What does failure look like, and what do we do when that happens?

Walt Disney was probably the first UX advocate; he used this strategy to produce incredible results across multiple vehicles of interaction. His approach remains the core guiding principles of everything the company that bears his name does today.

You can (and should) use this technique in your own UX work – to sharpen your design skills and be a successful user advocate. User advocacy means being able to see past the trees and consider the whole forest, and that’s what Disney did exceedingly well. Here are some ways to apply Walt’s principles to your work:

  1. Let people drive. Give them a sense of control at all times.
  2. Focus them. Keep their attention focused on the experience at hand by eliminating unnecessary distractions.
  3. Stick to their tasks. Support their goals, expectations and actions.
  4. Protect them from errors. Offer an obvious safety net and lots of hand-holding.
  5. Give them consistency. Keep wayfinding, visual elements and ways to act consistent.
  6. Keep it simple. Design and architect for user expectation. Remove, reduce, combine.
  7. Speak their language. Use terms your audience understands. Be ruthless about eliminating jargon.
  8. Help them when they’re lost. Make sure global and local navigation support and reinforce each other.

Walt Disney illustrated a clear path to designing and building things that people find useful, valuable and meaningful. He was an ordinary man who simply created practical methods to make his dreams reality.

Put another way: If he could do it, you can too.

Designers & Developers: ask me your most burning UI/UX questions.

Nearly every day I get messages from from designers and developers. You ask to pick my brain, for some best practice advice or insight on my own methods. And what I hear most often is that you feel unprepared and overwhelmed; that you have more questions than answers.

More often than not, I just don’t have time to answer everyone. And that bothers me. I owe a successful career to the fact that throughout my life, some very kind people took time out of their very busy lives to share what they knew with me.

In that spirit, I’d like to give back to all of you: you ask and I will answer in a weekly blog post. Ask me your most burning questions – from process to strategy to design to contracts to client politics.

Click here to pick my brain!