#UX best practices, Disney style: Lessons from Mickey’s “10 Commandments”

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Internet Summit technology conference in Raleigh, North Carolina about Walt Disney and how his processes and ideas could be applied in user experience design. In pulling together the presentation deck for that speech I discovered “Mickey’s 10 Commandments”, a list of best practices that Imagineering President Marty Sklar created for his original team, based on Walt’s advice and direction.

Like the methods Walt applied when he built Disneyland, these “10 Commandments” could also be of use to people in the UX discipline, so here they are… with some additional thoughts from yours truly.

1. Know your audience – “Don’t bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.” This is absolutely necessary in UX design, as without a deep understanding of your users you can’t create a solution that solves their problems or adds value to their lives.

2. Wear your guest’s shoes – “Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.” Such an approach increases the empathy that your design team has for your users, making the designs you create more appropriate and helpful.

3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – “Use good storytelling techniques, tell good stories not lectures, lay out your exhibit with a clear logic.” Storytelling is a vitally important skill in UX, not just in explaining how you ended up with the final design solution to stakeholders, but also in your designs themselves if you are trying to explain an offering to new customers.

4. Create a ‘weenie’ – “Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey.” Very good advice, and when designing a “stepped” process users have to follow a ‘weenie’ will result in lower abandon rates and increased customer satisfaction.

5. Communicate with visual literacy – “Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication – color, shape, form, texture.” We are currently having a big debate in the UX design community about skeumorphism (the use of real world visual metaphors in a user experience) and this commandment aligns with the argument advocating such an approach. Skeumorphism done well helps people learn new experiences because of the visual cues that remind them of real-world metaphors reflected in the design. Of course, skeumorphism done badly is… well, pretty awful and unhelpful.

6. Avoid overload – “Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects, don’t force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.” Cognitive overload is one of the major issues that can occur when a UI is “overdesigned” with too many options. This commandment is great advice to avoid that type of situation.

7. Tell one story at a time – “If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories, people can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.” This is Information Architecture 101, and it is direction like this that convinces me that Walt was the world’s first use experience designer.

8. Avoid contradiction – “Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. Public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen.” Walt thought about “branding” before most people even knew what the term meant. Amazing.

9. For every ounce of treatment , provide a ton of fun – “How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.”

10. Keep it up – “Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.” Less applicable to UX design, but an absolute golden rule when it comes to process and service design. Always do your best, follow your process and deliver quality.

In closing, if your design team doesn’t already have any best practices or design principles defined, you should consider adopting some or all of the above as your own. You could do a lot worse…

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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