Always be Plussing: User Experience Design Lessons From Walt Disney

By BrainStation February 8, 2019

In the 1990s, psychologist and designer Don Norman gave user experience (UX) design a name — but it was long before that when Walt Disney assembled a design team (dubbed Imagineers) to create magical experiences for amusement park guests.

In the late 1960s, Walt Disney was in the early stages of designing Walt Disney World in Florida and described his vision for the park as “an experimental prototype that is always in the state of becoming, a place where the latest technology can be used to improve the lives of people.”

More than fifty years later, Disney’s words can be used to describe the evolving field of UX design: the process of creating digital products and experiences that are relevant, and meaningful to the user by considering the what, why, and how.

Here are some of the best practices Disney’s team of Imagineers follows when designing new parks and products, and how you can apply those practices to UX design today.


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Always be “Plussing”

Disney parks are known for delivering positive customer experiences, and that’s no small feat when you’re hosting as many as 150 million guests a year. To create the best possible experience for guests, Disney pushed his staff to go above and beyond expectations.  

He called this “plussing,” which was the idea of constantly improving details to improve the overall experience.

For example, when Disney Imagineers can’t find the technology they need, they invent it. Disney’s Imagineering department holds more than 100 patents in special effects, ride systems, interactive technology, live entertainment, fiber optics, and advanced audio systems.

Apply the “plussing it” attitude to UX design by taking a “yes, and…” instead of a “no, but…” approach and asking yourself questions like: How could I make this better? What could I do if there were no restrictions? How can I take this solution to the next level?

Sketch Out a Storyboard

Most UX researchers or designers have experience sketching out a persona or a wireframe on paper or in a program like Sketch. Storyboarding, created by Walt Disney studios during the early 1930s, takes sketching to the next level by combining personas and wireframes.

Storyboards are memorable, engaging and can help us empathize with a persona, and that can be a powerful tool when communicating insights, new ideas, or data to a client or design team. Plus, they’re another cheap way to catch design mistakes early on.    

Develop a storyboard by picking a persona or character, dropping that character into a scene and then adding a few plot details that might affect the way the character interacts with the product — you might uncover new insights that will improve the user experience.

Use Data to Create Magic

Long before data analysis became a must for businesses, Disney looked at traffic patterns and sales data to tinker with things like the number of ice cream stands and queue designs, making him one of the first people to make data-driven business decisions.

Today, Disney uses a colorful, data-collecting wristband called a MagicBand that can unlock your hotel room, buy food or merchandise with a tap, and map out the best route based on which rides you want to visit, and how busy the park is. The MagicBand even helps customers skip the worst part about visiting an amusement park: waiting in lines.

Most importantly, according to Disney, collecting customer data doesn’t take any effort from park-goers it works “just like magic.”

Personalization is at the heart of UX design and Disney’s MagicBand is an example of how data-based personalization can lead to a magical experience for the customer by creating a unique user experience catered to every single user.

UX Designers can follow Disney’s lead by thinking about ways to integrate artificial intelligence and automated data-based decision making into the design process.


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Design Memorable Moments

Disney is known for making unexpected memorable moments.

Staff is empowered to go above and beyond to solve problems in a memorable way (Disney even offers a service training institute for hire), and typically tedious experiences like parking the car or standing in line for a ride are transformed into memorable moments by design.

For example, some line-ups at Disney offer hands-on activities kids can do while waiting. Disney also recently launched a new app with activities customers can do while traveling to a Disney park or waiting in line for a ride (for example, test your skills through virtual training missions while waiting to ride Space Mountain).

UX Designers and Researchers can follow Disney’s lead by paying attention to those not-so-exciting moments (like entering your name, or waiting for an order to arrive) and asking: What could transform this experience from menial to memorable?

Interested in learning more about UX? Check out what skills a UX Designer needs and find more out more about BrainStation’s UX Design courses.