5 reading ideas from design, e-commerce, and amusement | August 2015

Thrill & Create Newsletter

August 2015

The second half of August is traditionally a fun season for me as the owner of a design business in the amusement industry. While I have been working hard this year to bring value to my clients and potential clients, there is more flexibility in this time of year. This is when I get to make time to visit and support my local amusement parks on weekdays, when their attendance tends to be lighter and I can get a lot of rides in on my favorite rides.

The end of the summer is a great time to be at the park. As I write this, a project with a new client is about to become official. That’s worth celebrating with some rides!

So you might see some days in our consultation schedule go dark between now and Labor Day. When I take a day off during the week, I typically can make at least some time available on a Saturday for discussing new projects.

Now, on to the reading list.

5 great new reads in UX and amusement

1. The Principles of UX Choreography

Rebecca Ussai, Medium

Rebecca Ussai initially wanted to design title sequences for movies. Several moves later, she now works as a senior user experience (UX) designer with RGA. And she’s doing great work there by applying principles of motion design to create fluid, delightful, and intuitive experiences.

The 5 principles of UX choreography that Rebecca describes here come from Walt Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation. She writes, “UX Choreography is a combination of the how with the when and why — the proper techniques of applying motion and captivating an audience combined with the more integral moments in user experience where you can start engaging your user in a two-way dialogue.”

Learn about feedforward and 4 other principles

2. Dollywood announces Lightning Rod

Dolly Parton Entertainment

As a roller coaster enthusiast, I follow amusement-related blogs all year round. That’s even more true in August, which is the peak of announcement season!

Several years ago, Dollywood announced that they were investing $300 million in improvements to their park over the next several years. As I watched their live announcement last week, they commented that $300 million is going fast. And with the DreamMore Resort and next year’s addition, they have been making tremendous improvements. Roller coaster enthusiasts have discussed the possibility of launched wooden roller coasters for years. Thanks to Rocky Mountain Construction, Dollywood will get to debut the world’s first launched wooden roller coaster next March. It will also have several overbanked turns and a quadruple-down drop.

Learn more about Lightning Rod from Dolly

3. New concepts from the Goddard Group: Polar Ocean World

The Goddard Group on Facebook

UX practitioners have frequently used well-themed theme parks as inspiration to teach themselves and others about great design. So it makes sense that several experience design companies would have an impressive track record in the amusement industry. Having created numerous large-scale attractions for several major park chains and designed many resorts, Goddard Group is one of the biggest names in entertainment design.

On August 3, Goddard Group announced the lands they had designed for Polar Ocean World, a new park scheduled to open in Shanghai.

I’ll be watching for further developments on Polar Ocean World. I can’t wait to learn more about how this new park will delight its guests beginning in 2018.

Page through some impressive screenshots

4. All Technology Is Assistive

Sara Hendren, Medium

When web professionals first learn about accessibility, it is often presented as something “they” need. “They”, meaning people with disabilities: people affected by blindness, color-blindness, autism, motor impairments, or any of a wide range of other conditions.

It leads to a misunderstanding. Users without disabilities and users with them get treated as two different groups of people: “us” versus “them”. And while there are enough of “them” to justify investing in assistive technology (20%), plus many government regulations which now at least start to level the playing field, too many digital product designers focus too much on “us”. This article turns “us” and “them” on its head. Did you know that any device you’re using to read this email is a piece of assistive technology? Your computer, tablet, smartphone, and eyeglasses all augment your normal sensory experiences to help you achieve your goals. This article provides some very interesting, less talked-about examples of industrial design which are helping people who have hearing loss, quadriplegia, and other conditions. It is a fantastic read.

Learn about technology for everyone

5. Provocation Can Lead to Emotional Design

John Caldwell, UX Magazine

John Caldwell decided years ago to start a new adventure in LA. He now works as a content strategist for TurboTax. He thinks that, in order to get a digital product’s design to really provoke users’ emotions, design teams need to do uncomfortable things and bring in people from quite different backgrounds.

In the past several years in particular, TurboTax has made completing tax forms feel a lot less like work. John reveals that one of the reasons why was that their team saw a parallel in video games. BioShock is based on tasks and chores, but many gamers enjoy it. So TurboTax’s team had a narrative video game writer provoke their design teams. What resulted was that the design team imagined taxpayers in a story of wanting to save money to take their families to Disney World. This article is an interesting read on how to use provocation well in a design project.

Shake up your digital strategy  

Should we meet at IAAPA?

The IAAPA Attractions Expo is possibly the most resourceful event for amusement industry professionals to attend. But it can be pretty overwhelming to attend without a plan. Last year, I benefited by starting to think about it months in advance. At one booth where I planned to stop by, I met someone who became my client a few months later.

So my planning for this year’s show is already underway. If you would be interested in meeting in person at the show to talk about a design project for your website, app, or other digital product, reply and let me know. Have a digital product that you plan to demo at the show? Have me take a look at it before the show. I’ll let you know some ways that you can increase sales and keep your audience engaged with your digital products.

Ideas for your attraction’s digital marketing | Thrill & Create Newsletter, July 2015

Thrill & Create Newsletter

July 2015

Hello there.

I’m David Parmelee, and I design digital products – mostly for the amusement and attractions industry – through my company, Thrill & Create. Amusement parks, water parks, zoos, aquariums, museums, tourism departments, amusement and attractions blogs, and anyone who works with them are all fair game for this.

For the past several years, I’ve been studying the amusement and attractions industry in great breadth and depth. I’m interested in sharing that knowledge with you as we work together to make the world a more fun place.

On this mailing list, I will be sharing great reads from the amusement industry and the field of user experience, written by myself and others. There are two main goals for doing this:

  1. Create value for you – whether you choose to work with my company on a more formal basis or not.
  2. Solve your pain – so that you can spend more of your time doing what you love at your attraction and reaping the rewards of that.

I may also include special offers for Thrill & Create services and company news.

Reading list

1. Ad Placement for Mobile

Aurora Bedford, Nielsen Norman Group

I often encounter amusement-related sites – such as industry blogs – that are monetized with advertisements. After all, website owners need to be able to pay their bills – or, at least, not run their sites at a loss. Sometimes, these sites don’t go mobile yet because they are not sure how to still generate ad revenue on smaller screens.

Aurora Bedford, a user experience specialist for Nielsen Norman Group, gives practical advice on how to effectively place ads on your mobile or responsive website without driving away users.

Learn more about effective mobile monetization

2. Polin’s Super Combo Waterslide Scoops Most Valuable Product Award


More and more attractions are achieving new levels of thrills by combining several existing ideas. Several prominent roller coasters that have opened in the past several years feature elaborately-themed dark ride elements. Water slides are now beginning to feature combinations of funnel elements, bowls, zero-gravity walls, and more.

Polin’s Super Combo slide at AquaFantasy in Turkey takes “thrilling for delight” to a whole different level. Super Combo’s initial drop into a slide with hundreds of rings of light leads into a bowl. The adventure continues with an uphill water coaster section and a sphere, which gives a different ride path on every ride. Finally, riders drop out of the sphere into another dark section with many rings of light, then into a splash pool.

Take a virtual ride

3. 5 Elements of Omni-Channel User Experiences

UX Magazine

A frequent goal in marketing is to get your product or service in front of its audience through as many means as possible: offers at your facility, signs pointing people to your facility, email lists like this one, websites, mobile apps, text message alerts – whatever it takes. People are more likely to buy from you through repeated exposure.

So, it makes sense that people who hear your message from multiple sources would expect a consistent message and a consistent experience with your brand across those channels. There is a lot more to this than just web design. Your audience expects consistent tones of voice, similar features, no instructions to switch devices to complete a task, offerings tailored to what they are currently doing, and the ability to start an activity on one device and continue it on another.

A tall task? Perhaps. But user experience designers specialize in making sense of it for you and your audience.

Learn more about omni-channel

4. Why Plain Language is Vital for Website Usability

Whitney Quesenbery

In my field, a common saying is that a website should read like a billboard. People should be able to look at it for just a couple of seconds and know right away what the site is offering them. Yet some sites I encounter rely on field-specific jargon and take a while to get their point across.

In this article for Net Magazine, A Web for Everyone author Whitney Quesenbery explains that using plain language is not the same thing as dumbing your message down. Web accessibility knowledge shows us that different groups of people who might use your site have different needs. And Whitney takes this message beyond just talking about your copy. She shows how you can design the layout of your company’s website to get your message across to potential customers faster.

Learn why you should keep it simple

5. Embellishments

Seth Godin

When is just building and opening an attraction not enough? Seth Godin, one of the premier communicators in marketing, provides a great 2-minute read on why we embellish – and even, by extension, why many of the most memorable attractions are themed.

It is interesting to consider what Seth has to say here in light of attractions and themed entertainment.

Get inspired  

How can we help?

Many of you have seen my business card at IAAPA or my website since then, and several of you have remarked to me that you like how it is structured around “How can we help?”. And the purpose of this newsletter is to provide value to you and your business and solve the pain that you encounter along the way.

So let me know – what are some challenges you’re currently facing in your business? It doesn’t even have to be related to your website, app, software product, or digital marketing. I want to continue understanding the big picture in order to keep giving you value.

A new interview, two new guest articles, and two new services

Thrill & Create was featured in guest posts for Theme Park University and Optimal Workshop. We are now offering usability improvements and homepage audits.

A new client (and interview): Theme Park University

At the IAAPA Attractions Expo in November, we were fortunate to meet the editor-in-chief of one of our favorite blogs in the themed entertainment industry: Josh Young of Theme Park University.

Over the past several years, Josh has interviewed many insiders in the amusement industry and provided great insight into Disney and Universal parks, haunted attractions, immersive theater, escape rooms, and other attractions. Josh became one of our clients earlier this year. And in April, our work for him went live!

We worked with Josh to make the Theme Park University website easier to use, using two techniques that are foundational to user research: first impression studies to provide valuable feedback from users as to why they might leave his site without reading his content and a card sorting exercise where his readers told us where they might expect to find many of the site’s most popular articles. There is more about that project in our portfolio and on Behance.

Josh interviewed me soon after the changes went live. Among other topics, we discussed the following:

    • Now that most amusement parks and attractions have reliable websites and active social media channels, what’s next in digital marketing?
    • How can smaller and mid-sized attractions get the results of a UX team without hiring an entire UX team?
    • Why shouldn’t an attraction just buy a website or app template?
    • What are the trade-offs between an attraction working with a local designer versus with a designer who specializes in their industry?
    • Do interactive rides have to be shooting dark rides?
    • How can amusement parks and attractions have apps that get used regularly – if they need an app?
    • What are the motivations behind a program like Disney’s MyMagic+, from a user perspective?
    • Could we see programs like MyMagic+ in other national or global destination parks in the future? How about at regional parks?

Read the full interview here!

Guest columns for Optimal Workshop

We also have two new guest articles for Optimal Workshop, a UX design tools company based in New Zealand, who makes the OptimalSort tool that we have now used for several of our clients.

The first guest article discusses World Information Architecture Day, or World IA Day. This global UX conference happened in 38 cities around the world in February 2015. Attending it remotely due to local weather conditions, I watched sessions from 6 cities live and wrote this post about what I learned.

The second guest article discusses the current state of user-centered design in the amusement industry. Here are some of the questions that it answers:

    • Which companies are working on improving guest experience in amusement park, attraction, and exhibit design?
    • How are amusement parks and attractions currently designing their websites and apps?
    • What are some of the wins that user-centered design is giving clients in the amusement industry?
    • Which factors in the amusement business have implications on the in-park guest experience and the digital user experience?
    • How can attractions improve their online user experience?
    • How can UX designers who work as a “team of one” be more effective in providing the most value they can to their clients and users?

You can find that full article here.

New services

In response to the Theme Park University project, we are now offering two new services: usability improvements and homepage / landing page audits.

Usability improvements

Before, we were only offering new designs, redesigns, and evaluations (or audits) of existing websites, apps, and software.

But many organizations in the amusement industry are relatively small companies. Or, they just don’t see a reason to hire two separate teams for telling them what to fix in their product and then actually fixing it.

We are now going to give you the option to have us do usability improvements ourselves.

Because each usability improvements project differs according to the changes that we recommend, we are now offering free, custom quotes for these. This also means that we now have a more user-friendly form for requesting a quote instead of presenting you with a full table of prices. You can find that form here.

Homepage / landing page audits

Lastly, we are also now offering homepage audits. This is somewhere between a usability test that you can get from a company like UserTesting.com, TryMyUI, or Userlytics, and a larger-scale usability evaluation from us.

What’s different between one of our new homepage audits and a usability test from a tester?

    • We have formal training in usability and user experience and experience in front-end web and full-stack software development. Usability testing websites now generally advertise themselves as low-cost services where the testers are not usability experts.
    • We know what our field’s biggest names (like Jakob Nielsen, Steve Krug, and Alan Cooper) would recommend. We are very well-read in literature pertaining to usability, user experience, design, business, marketing, and other topics – and continually improving in each. Everything we tweet about on @ThrillAndCreate and @DavidParmeleeUX is something we have read in detail.
    • You get your choice of formats for the evaluation: video screencast, Skype chat, or phone call.
    • If the format allows, the evaluation can be a two-way conversation that helps determine your digital strategy. You can ask us for clarifications in the middle of the video. You’re not limited to a video that you can only watch.
    • You get more of our time: 1 hour versus 15-20 minutes.
    • You can get us to look at your competitors’ homepages too and find out what we think your competitors are doing well, versus what we think they can improve.
    • If you’re in the amusement or attractions industry, the person evaluating your site has already analyzed thousands of websites in the industry in detail and has deep familiarity of what these sites have to offer. (We’re willing to work on almost any digital product, even in other industries.)

Prices for homepage audits currently start at U.S. $100 per product. Larger-scale usability evaluations start at U.S. $525 per product, and usability improvement projects are custom-quoted. Up-to-date pricing is always available on our Pricing page.

Interested? Leave a comment, send us an email at info@amusementUX.com, or inquire here!

Introducing our Pricing page (discount on usability evaluations for January!)

In response to several inquiries at the IAAPA Attractions Expo and in more recent conversations, we have introduced our new Pricing page, which lists our pricing for user experience design projects, usability evaluations, and accessibility evaluations.  Its information is current for the month of January 2015, and we will keep it up to date.

We recently ran some remote, unmoderated usability tests on our new Pricing page.  One of the advantages of this kind of testing is that it leaves us designers out of it, so testers don’t feel like they’re offending us if the feedback is negative.

We did identify a couple of small changes to make.  But, by and large, the testers loved it!  Here are some of their comments:

“I like the different colors… the greenish bluish and the orange… The website looks nice, very clean, [and] simple.”
—A user from the UK.

“I think it’s very, very professional. … I like it a lot.   The colors are amazing. … When I scroll down through the page, I don’t get bored, because each section has its unique design. 

“What stood out to me: its simplicity, its user-friendliness (I found it very user-friendly), its colors (very clear), very simple to understand. I would love to use it, actually.  It’s not boring at all, creative, vivid, has vivid colors.  There was nothing that I didn’t like about this website.  Overall, I see it as an excellent website, very good.  I liked the experience a lot, and I would definitely use it if I needed a designer.
—A user from the US.

UX design project pricing

We currently price our user experience design projects either per hour or per iteration.  Since we work primarily from the Washington, D.C., area, our hourly rates are in line with those of other user experience designers in that area.  Our current hourly rate for design services and other work related to these projects is U.S. $75 per hour. Iteration length and pricing is determined during a project’s exploratory phase, but iterations for us generally run several weeks.

Usability evaluations and accessibility evaluations

We sell our usability evaluations for websites, apps, and software, and accessibility evaluations for websites as fixed-price products. Currently, there are ten preset offerings, ranging from U.S. $477 (for a basic usability evaluation of your site only) to U.S. $5187. Add-ons for determining the ideal navigation for large websites and evaluations with other custom options are also available.

The prices for each evaluation are all-inclusive, based on our hourly rate, an hours estimate, and materials costs. In the higher-priced evaluations, we hire users like the users of your site to test the site for us and/or to help you understand more about your users from a personal and a technical point of view, in order to improve your digital marketing efforts.

Next on our site

We’re working diligently on order forms for each of our design and evaluation options.  While many items on those forms will be optional, filling them out will help our free project consultations to be even more profitable for your business.

We practice what we preach regarding testing with users.  We run tests of our website almost every month. Several days ago, we ran some tests of our new Pricing page, which were very well-received!  We’re in the midst of tuning up other areas of our website.

Sale on evaluations for January

Until January 31, our usability and accessibility evaluations are locked in at their current prices, based on the hourly rate we used for most of 2014.  On February 1, the prices will go up to reflect our current hourly rates.

To lock in the lower rates, contact us to order an evaluation by the end of January!

Header image with the text, 'Mobile app or mobile site?', on a multicolored background.

Mobile app or mobile site?

In my most recent post, I described some challenges that amusement parks and their suppliers would face in hiring a designer, developer, or company to build them an app. Namely, these:

  1. Smartphone users don’t all use the same kind of phone. Responsive design helps designers today be better at designing for different screen sizes, but the phones can use several different major operating systems.
  2. Developing for each operating system – iOS (Apple), Android, Windows Phone, etc. – requires developers to have different technical skills.  It is very hard for a developer to cultivate deep specializations in coding for more than one operating system.  One developer with a deep specialization in Apple devices and one with a deep specalization in Android will be more knowledgeable and more useful to you, in most cases, than one generalist developer who knows a little about both, but…
  3. If you hire both the iOS developer and the Android developer, it will cost you more money.
  4. If you hire the generalist who tries to do both, the app’s quality will likely suffer, and/or the developer will not be able to work as efficiently.
  5. If you have an app for iOS but not Android, or vice versa, users of the other operating systems won’t have an app that they can use.
  6. Even if you do spend the money on a larger development team or an app that will work on more devices, users aren’t guaranteed to use the app.

In other words, I understand that you can spend a lot of money to hire a big development team, have them deliver – on-time – an app that works great on almost any device, and still have wasted your money because the app is collecting dust in the App Store. I’ll be describing some of the reasons why apps don’t get used and some ways how each one can be avoided.

The first hurdle: Download

What if you had an app that worked for all smartphone users?

In order to get your prospective customers to use the app, you must first convince them to download it. Sites do this in a variety of ways:

Notifying existing customers

They may call or email existing customers about a new app in their device’s app store. If it’s their device, this strategy can work for customers that you already know about. But still, they need to be persuaded that they do in fact need the app before they just disregard the call or email. And people in your target market who could give you new business but who aren’t already your customers still won’t know about the app this way.

Creating a partial mobile site

They may present a mobile site that has some of the functionality of the desktop site and the app, but not all of it. The 80/20 rule works well in building out features in this strategy, assuming that time and budget constraints don’t allow building out the whole site. But it still leaves users wondering why the mobile site does not have everything.

Displaying an app pop-up

They may pop up a mobile-friendly message over a mobile or desktop site, telling users to download an app. Users don’t click or tap on anything that they think is an ad, and they will find repeated prompts annoying. Even 10 years ago, leading usability experts said that 95% of users react to pop-ups “very negatively or negatively”, which makes it users’ most hated online advertising technique. This still holds true today.

Displaying the desktop site on mobile devices

You may give users a desktop site which tells them about an app. But then users have to deal with a page layout with too much information on it for their screens. They probably need to pinch and zoom to find the button for downloading your app from the app store.

But do these work?

Recent Deloitte and Comscore studies have said that one-third of smartphone users in the UK and the US, respectively, no longer download any new apps in a typical month.  And 9 out of 10 app users don’t spend any money in apps.  Fewer than half of all smartphone buyers in 2013 were buying their first smartphone, and the “wow” factor of downloading new apps for a new device wears off in as little as four months.  Paid apps have an even harder time with this.

The second hurdle: First-time use

What if you did get them to download the app?

Most apps aren’t used at all

Your site still needs to persuade them to actually use it. If your app is downloaded (not even opened) at least once from the App Store, you will have done better than 60% of all other apps. 95% of all apps are used for less than a month and never opened again.

Don’t make them commit too soon

The design of the app itself must keep both existing customers and possible customers in your funnel. If your app begins with a screen that forces users to register for an account they don’t already have, you have already presented another hurdle in getting users to use it.

The problem with passwords on mobile

Passwords, in particular, are a problem with registration. Since smartphone users have to type on a smaller keyboard, they make a typo on every fifth character, on average. Suppose that a new user creates a password with 8 characters, a standard that most IT organizations consider secure enough. The chance that they get just one character right in confirming a password is therefore 4 in 5.

The chance that they get an entire 8-character password right is 4 in 5 to the eighth power, equal to 65536 in 390625: only about 1 in 6. And that’s only if they can remember the entire password for signing back in.

Digital products often don’t know the difference between a mistyped password and a forgotten password, so they just tell users that their password is wrong. An error message that merely says that the password is incorrect misleads users into thinking they forgot the password. At this point, most users will abandon.

Bring users up to speed, with the right amount of information

Similarly, even if your app doesn’t make users register, it still may leave them confused when they first open it. The app might not give users what they need. Or it might not make it possible to show them where to find it. Or the benefit of your app versus a competing (or built-in) app might not be clear. Or your app might give users a first screen that is really only for advanced users – or screens that treat them like they’ve never seen a computer before. It may need a tutorial and not have it – or have a tutorial that is irrelevant or too long for users to remember anything.

If users are confused about anything, their chance of abandoning keeps going up. As Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin wrote in About Face 3, users do not want to remain beginners very long, and our designs should cater to the vast majority of users in a product’s target audience: the perpetual intermediates.

The third hurdle: regular use

Your app probably won’t be in heavy rotation on a user’s phone unless it truly provides value that they can’t get anywhere else. According to recent research, 55% of smartphone users used less than 5 apps per day on their phone.

For example, many park map apps are in the clear here for guests that prefer using their phone to carrying around a paper map. But they won’t be accessed if guests leave their phones in a locker or in their car – or if your guests ignore your pleas and lose their phones on roller coaster with them.

For users who wouldn’t otherwise open your app again to routinely use the app, the app has to give them another benefit that they will definitely use. This could tie in to other touchpoints of your park’s service. For example, users of your app could have a rewards system that gives them their choice of several discounts on items in the park in exchange for using a check-in service to tell their friends that they are at the park, or sharing a photo of themselves at the park for the park to use on social media.

When to opt for a mobile app over a mobile site

When your users need integration with other features in their phones

Some features of a smartphone cannot be accessed by mobile websites.  For example, mobile websites cannot access a phone’s camera.  Support for website access to push notifications is increasing but still limited.  iOS 8 allows websites to have access to a user’s location, which Apple has been allowing since at least iOS 6.

Most apps at least allow users to access them while they are intentionally offline or unable to access Wi-Fi or mobile data.  Offline First, a new initiative which follows Mobile First design strategies, aims to design and develop apps which can be used offline.  In contrast, mobile websites are only accessible while users are connected to a wireless network or able to receive mobile data.

When many of your users would benefit from time-sensitive information

The 2014 IAAPA Attractions Expo, which I attended several weeks ago, set a record with over 30,500 amusement industry professionals in attendance.  The official IAAPA Expos app  allowed users to have quick access to a wealth of information about the trade show: exhibitor profiles with links to each exhibitor’s website, maps of the trade show floor, a list of all education sessions, press releases that came out during the event, and push notifications reminding them of upcoming events.  IAAPA has had mobile apps for their Attractions Expos every year since at least 2010.

While there were some changes I would have made to the app, I did find the app’s content quite relevant.  I used it every day on the floor to find new exhibitors to visit, and it cut down on the time that I spent searching.

There’s ROI in developing an app for a large event like this because attendees commit hundreds of dollars, minimum, to attend the Expo, and there were over 30,000 attendees.  Over 19,000 were registered as buyers, and anything that would help make buyers more productive with their time helps maximize the chances that everyone will get what they need from the show and that the exhibitors will find it worthwhile to return next year.

Furthermore, the IAAPA Expos app helps users be aware of IAAPA’s other trade shows.  With the same app, users can learn more about who was at the most recent Euro Attractions Show and Asian Attractions Expo.

When your app’s purpose matches why users use apps

According to a recent New York Daily News article, mobile users now spend 88% of their time on their devices in apps, compared to 12% of their time on mobile websites.  The article says that 60% of all media that users consume is now via mobile: 52% from apps and 8% from websites.

A recent Harvard Business Review article describes how average users use their time on their phones.  46% is devoted to relaxation or entertainment.  19% is for interacting with other people, while 12% is shopping and 11% is for managing finances, health, and productivity.  Preparing for upcoming activities, reading the news, and self-expression each account for less than 10% of mobile users’ time.

Web apps: a hybrid solution

Part of the problem for organizations which want apps is the overhead associated with app stores.  App stores have to approve apps before they will make them available for download, a process that can take weeks.  Apple maintains a lengthy list of reasons why apps may be rejected.  These include the following:

  • Apps that don’t work
  • Apps that “do not provide any lasting entertainment”
  • Apps that are only for marketing or advertising
  • Apps that use notifications to send advertising
  • Apps that require personal information from users (including their email address or birthday) in order to function
  • Apps that don’t comply with Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines

Web apps do not have to go through an approval process.  Also, Apple takes 30% of all revenue generated by an app.  A web app can keep all of its revenue, but it can’t be listed on the App Store.

Test, test, test

Therefore, taking the app route successfully requires testing with users at every possible point where they may drop out of the process: the landing page which tells them about the app (which needs to be mobile-friendly, or users won’t stay on it), the listing in the app store, the initial screens of the app, routine use, and any sort of checkout process within the app. And the app has to be designed and built with a solid understanding of users’ goals, the tasks that they want to perform in accomplishing those goals, and their frustrations.

Successful apps like Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and just about every successful mobile game that you can name have done well because they understood what users needed, delivered on it, and kept on testing with users.

If you don’t go the app route, your site will still need to do an effective job delivering on users’ actual needs. I still recommend frequent testing with your users in either case, but at least an effectively-designed mobile site will have several hurdles eliminated: getting people to download the app and convincing them to use it. Then you just have to deal with the engagement and conversion problems that desktop sites also need to tackle.

I agree with Econsultancy’s conclusion based on Deloitte and Comscore’s recent research: the percentage of web traffic coming from mobile devices is now far too big to ignore, and it is getting bigger.  So when developing a native app is needed, it becomes a “both-and”; you would need both a responsive website to cater to mobile traffic and a native app to draw upon capabilities of the phone.

Even if 88% of smartphone time is currently spent in apps, the website provides a very important “shop window” (Econsultancy article’s term) for helping prospective customers to perceive your brand.  But for most businesses catering to other businesses in the amusement industry, a responsive website by itself will do the job.

Let’s talk about mobile strategy

Part of design thinking involves making sure that a digital product you are considering creating is the right solution for your business.  In a brief, free consultation or a more extended discovery phase, I can help you determine whether a responsive website, a web app, or a native mobile app would be an effective solution for your business.

Use this contact form or send me an email to start discussing some ideas.  You should also follow @DavidParmeleeUX and @ThrillAndCreate on Twitter for more useful articles about how to improve your product’s user experience.

Blog header image which says, "Why go mobile?", in front of a colorful background.

Why go mobile?

In November, I met many new contacts in the amusement industry in Orlando at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, an annual trade show which is the biggest such event in the amusement business. Some of my contacts there had had their websites redesigned to be responsive or mobile-friendly. Others had not yet but had plans for this to happen, and others were unsure about whether or not they needed to do this – or were convinced that they should not.

I’ll begin by describing general reasons for any site to go mobile. I’ll conclude with reasons why sites with a relatively small number of prospective customers should go mobile too.

More users are accessing the web from mobile devices than ever before.


Even a year ago, many countries had more mobile phones currently in use than they had people. The distinguishing feature of smartphones over earlier feature phones is that they have operating systems.

But, as of May 2013, 63% of adults who owned any cell phone used it to go online, and 34% of those users went online using mostly their phones. This percentage is substantially higher in upper income brackets, such as those of park executives. (In fact, I saw several park executives doing business on their smartphones at the recent IAAPA Attractions Expo.) Now toward the end of 2014, these percentages have only increased.

Users spend most of their smartphone time using apps, which are designed for their phone.

Several months ago, Nielsen research estimated that adults who use Android phones or iPhones spend 65% more time using apps on their phone than they did two years prior. An app’s design will typically be tailored for the device displaying it, such as an iPad or iPhone. I have occasionally seen iPhone apps display on my iPad as though they were on a giant iPhone instead, but these were commonly development builds rather than proper releases.

The only times I’ve ever seen an app give me a screen that was not optimized at least for a mobile device were when the app opened a webpage in my phone’s browser and it wasn’t a mobile-friendly webpage. Users find the experience of being taken from a mobile app to a mobile site jarring enough, but being taken to a desktop site on a mobile device is an even more jarring experience that forces users to pinch and zoom to learn anything meaningful from a webpage.

The smaller mobile screens cause users to have more trouble understanding what they are reading. Jakob Nielsen reported that many mobile users were more “visibly angry” when confronted with a page full of content that they could not understand than desktop users were. They were less interested in reading whole news stories and just wanted to grasp a story’s main points and move on.

Mobile is taking on a more significant role in the workplace.

In a piece for TechCrunch, Roger Lee observed, “Some 95 percent of knowledge workers own smartphones, and they reach for them first to do all kinds of tasks – from email and document sharing/management to meeting planning and videoconferencing.”

The reach of mobile is rapidly extending into industries which did not think they would have it. The increased mobility of workers across industries may contribute to this. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median number of years workers have been with their companies in 2014 is 4.6 years. Workers ages 55 to 64 had been with their companies an average of more than three times longer than had workers ages 25 to 34.

Switching industries is also quite likely, at least for workers with technical backgrounds. Many job postings and hiring processes in software development stress having skills in particular programming languages and frameworks and consider domain knowledge or experience in a particular industry to be a “plus” or “nice to have”.

My career attests to this. It began in retail while I was in college. After graduating, I worked on a large financial application. After this, I switched to the satellite industry and then to the call center industry. The reason for switching industries so often was that this was where jobs were available in my area. At the time, I didn’t want to relocate. When given the chance to start my own company, I considered what I most wanted to do for a living and for whom. This led me to the amusement industry a little over 2 years ago.

So don’t be surprised if our industry’s composition drastically changes. The amusement industry contains dream jobs for many people. Those who enter an industry mid-career bring their experience, processes, and expectations from one or more previous industries.

Parks’ sites are increasingly going mobile.

At the IAAPA Attractions Expo, I spent four full days on the trade show floor, networking with people all over the industry. I was able to meet several of my clients and other recent contacts. And I realized that the busiest booths at the show often belonged to ride companies. Trade shows are their most major setting for landing new deals. Often, these deals happen with parks or park chains.

More and more amusement parks have seen the business case for making their site mobile-friendly. In response, they have redesigned their sites to be responsive or have created new, separate mobile sites. As trends in the internet catch on, users’ expectations change accordingly. Companies expect their business partners and prospective customers and vendors to adapt to changing trends in technology. If you run a ride company that makes innovative rides and your site doesn’t look innovative, that is a poor reflection on your brand.

If your amusement park, ride company, or consultancy has not made their website mobile-friendly, why not?

Mobile forces you to focus your selling on the most important aspects of your product or service.

Responsive design problems are typically tackled in one of two ways.

Top-down, or desktop-first, design approaches date back to web design’s less complex, desktop-only days. A page that is designed top-down will be prototyped in a tool like Axure RP or Balsamiq, or comped in a tool such as Photoshop, to have its full desktop-only layout. Designers traditionally build desktop-only sites using a grid with either 12 or 18 columns on it. This allows a good deal of flexibility on a desktop screen, but mobile becomes an afterthought: often, content just keeps getting pushed down the page or hidden as less important.

Bottom-up, or mobile-first, design approaches involve first thinking about how a site should look on the smallest screens. This forces the designer and the client to think of the site as a billboard that users are reading along a highway – where they only have a couple seconds at most to understand a site’s message and make a decision. Consequently, most nonessential content is stripped out of a mobile site designed with a mobile-first approach. These page layouts tend to not be very busy at all, and in working their way up to larger screens, designers are able to use progressive enhancement techniques to increase the wow factor on devices that can handle it.

Desktop users benefit from responsive designs too.

Mobile-first design helps simplify a site and make the way through its sales funnel clearer. Progressive enhancement allows the mobile experience to be enhanced appropriately while maintaining the site’s “billboard” mindset. This results in sites whose purposes are easier to remember.

B2B sites that offer a wide range of products or services have to think about how to best present those for mobile users. User experience designers may use card sorting studies so that users can help organize the products in a way that makes the most sense to them, simplifying their journey through the site. These studies influence the whole structure of a website or web page, so they benefit mobile users and desktop users alike.

A mobile site eliminates several hurdles present in developing native apps for mobile devices.

The first is on the business side: the cost to develop and maintain an app that works for all smartphone users. The vast majority of smartphone owners use either an iPhone or an Android phone, although a smaller percentage use Windows phones and other kinds of devices. Each of these types of phone uses its own operating system, requires different skills to develop apps for it, and would therefore require developers (or, depending on the size of your app, development teams) with different skills in order to develop and maintain it.

Development teams that lack the budget and resources to develop an app for every type of phone counteract this by focusing all of their efforts on one platform – most commonly iOS, the operating system used by iPhones and iPads. But this leaves users of other platforms wondering if an app will ever be available for them. If they don’t have an app they can use, they are forced to interact with your brand digitally using only a desktop site. This is at best an inconvenience – switching devices to complete their tasks – and at worst, lost sales for you from an entire range of users.

If you had an app that worked for all smartphone users, you still would not be guaranteed a return on your investment. You would have to design your existing site and your App Store listing in a way that convinces users to download it. From there, you would need the app’s onboarding process to ensure that users will use the app that they have downloaded. And you would need the app itself to be useful enough to users to get them to use it on an ongoing basis.

Each of these is a big hurdle for any app in the App Store. If you’re committed to having an app designed – or if you’re still not sure about what benefits you will get from a mobile app versus a mobile site – the next post is for you.

Why go mobile if your potential customer base is small?

IAAPA is known as a trade show which puts smaller businesses in the amusement industry on a relatively equal footing with its bigger names. While smaller companies may not have the largest booth in the most prime location, they are still respected organizations that make a positive difference in the industry year after year. Some smaller organizations even sponsor the trade show.

Still, hiring a UX designer is not cheap, and in an ideal world, a UX designer would not work alone and be fully responsible for both designing and building a website. The assigning of design and development tasks to at least two separate people makes a project more expensive. Even if they individually make less money from a project because less of their time is involved (assuming a time-based or fixed-price pricing method), they do require time to work with one another on the project. For example, the designer will need to meet with the developer to make sure a proposed change in a design is technically feasible. Therefore, while the cost to a client is not the same as hiring two contractors for the life of the project, it is still more than the cost to hire only one.

However, there are still reasons to go mobile even if your customer base is small.

B2B projects typically involve more money.

Many ride companies produce relatively few projects per year. Companies who work on the most expensive ride projects often get a great deal of business from trade shows and have a waiting list. So what would be in a redesign for them? They may be able to use a UX design project that focuses on mobile as a way to learn more about their prospective customers just as much as a way to provide their prospects with another way to engage. And in utilizing mobile touchpoints, the value adds up. If you want to land more projects and use your site to this end, the ROI is substantial.

It provides an opportunity for scaling your business.

Similarly, more work allows a company to hire more employees and contractors. It allows the company to become bigger. For example, some companies in the amusement industry recently mentioned at IAAPA’s education sessions that they use mentorship to develop the next generation of leaders in the attractions industry. Some ride companies have formal programs for allowing young ride enthusiasts to pursue their dream jobs designing rides. If a company has more work, these programs can be helped.

It reinforces that you provide good customer service.

This September, Salesforce reported that how the customer feels they are being treated influences 70% of buying decisions. Customer service is well-regarded as important in retail and in the amusement industry, and it plays a pivotal part in how people perceive brands.

Digitally, investing in usability is a form of investing in customer service. Organizations want to maximize their ROI from their digital products. To this end, they design their sites to optimize conversions, email their lists about new products, and often employ live chat teams to answer customers’ questions about products. Companies that were previously not known for good customer service have had to invest in making their sites more usable because not doing that costs them sales.

Similarly, giving users a site that works on their devices is a form of courtesy. Users come to their site with the mindset of, “I want to learn more about this company and perhaps buy from them.” Giving them a desktop-only website that is a huge inconvenience to navigate and read, or telling them outright that you won’t serve them on the device they are using, gets rid of their goodwill and often causes people to leave your site – possibly for your competitor’s.

It shows that you want the sale, by meeting prospective customers where they are.

Imagine that you are in a mall with several large department stores. Both stores have products that you are interested in and advertise that they won’t be undersold. They are giving you the same items at the same price, and you are the same distance away from both.

However, one store is known for how its customer service gives adequate attention to every customer. If a customer is indecisive, experts are on hand – but not annoying – to help them choose and buy the item that is best for them. They honor customers’ requests if they don’t want to be bothered while they are shopping, but they converse with the customers who want that and are helpful to anyone who has a question. Their staff sets their sales floor before the store opens each day, and throughout the day, they make sure that the floor is neat and that all merchandise is easy to find. They use good customer service to remove barriers

The second store has employees that are just punching the clock. Their sales floor is ill-prepared; sizes aren’t in order, and the right item in the right size could be in any of several different areas of a department. Its employees are indifferent, spending most of their day talking with one another or texting their friends. Customers are expected to fend for themselves. If they look in one stack of clothes for a pair of pants in their size and their size is not in the pile, they pick a different style or leave the store thinking that the store doesn’t have their size: a lost sale.

A website that is mobile-friendly and designed with a user-centered approach says, “I care enough about you to present myself carefully and meet your needs. If you’re not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask. I won’t make you fit your questions into my format in order to get a helpful response.”

A website that is not mobile-friendly or not designed with a user-centered approach says, “I really prefer users who use this other kind of device. If you have a question, pinch and zoom and maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for. But I’m not promising that I have it, and I don’t know where anything is. Good luck!”

What’s next

Later this week, I’ll explore reasons why you should consider a mobile site versus a native app.

Work with us

I would love to discuss new design or evaluation projects – especially if I saw you at IAAPA, but even if I didn’t.  You can use this contact form or email me at info@amusementUX.com.

User testing challenges: Ways to test microsites without the secret getting out

New attractions are widely anticipated throughout the amusement industry. They frequently come with changes to a park, zoo, or aquarium’s website. This could range from a mere mention of the new attraction to an entire website (microsite) created just for building anticipation for that new attraction.

How do we do usability testing in this situation? Do we have to wait until the microsite is live before we can test it?

No. There are several possible approaches.

3 ways for amusement parks to test microsites in progress with users

1) Non-disclosure agreements

One possible approach which requires less design work to be done is a non-disclosure agreement. Test participants are asked to read and sign the agreement before they can take the test. The agreement keeps them from doing the following:

  • discussing the fact that they tested your site with anyone else
  • discussing anything they learned in the test (e.g. about the new attraction) with anyone else

User testers normally also have to either sign a consent form when they do a study, or agree to a third party platform’s terms of use if the tests are conducted through a third party. The consent forms say how their test data will be used, what the session will consist of, and that they can cancel the test at any time.

2) Use alternate copy

Test sites can use alternate copy that obscures the real identity of a park, an attraction, and its related companies. This can be lorem ipsum placeholder text or text that refers to a generic attraction at a generic park. Alternatively, a test site could use copy and images related to a previous new attraction at the same park. User testers are always told to assume a certain test scenario when a test starts.

3) Make another site in parallel, and do the user tests on that until public launch

Some parks create viral marketing campaigns which lead the public to believe that they will add one type of ride, only to announce another. Similarly, if alternate copy is not enough, we can take a combination of these measures:

  • Add a non-disclosure agreement.
  • Password-protect the test site.
  • Hide the test site from search engines.
  • Create a second test site with the same design style but different copy, images, and (if applicable) videos.
  • Do the user tests on the second test site until the real attraction is announced and the real microsite launches.

Have us test your site with users

Want us to look at your website, test your site with users, or do a redesign? You can now schedule a free project consultation with us via our YouCanBook.me site, or contact us via our site to get more information. (An initial consultation is free. We sell our evaluation services separately.)

Getting user testing ROI in the amusement industry

Last week, we mentioned that hundreds of users provided feedback into our recent rebrand. They gave us input on company name ideas, tested first impressions of our site, sent us back to the drawing board many times, and walked through common scenarios to tell them what was and wasn’t meeting their needs. And our site became all the better for it.

An important metric in analyzing web traffic is bounce rate: how many users enter a website and leave it rather than going on to different pages within the same site.

Guess what our company’s site’s bounce rate is over the past 10 days – since several days after our site went public?

Zero percent. For hundreds of page views by people other than us. You can’t do any better than that! (Edit, 10/23/2014: While this was only for a 10-day span, the average bounce rate for a website is estimated at 45% to 50%. Ours still remains much lower than that.)

So we must be doing something right. And we’re ecstatic that our site is giving you something of value. In this post and our next one, we’ll be describing the benefits of user testing and ways to do user testing on a microsite without giving away your big announcement.

What user testing gives you

1) It tells you what users really think of your site – beyond the metrics.

Analytics will tell you how long people are staying on your site, what pages they are visiting, and if they are converting – among other things. But you may have created a good site or a site that people hate using, and they could look the same in analytics.

In a usability study, users think out loud to tell you what they really think. And participants are compensated, so they don’t rush through a well-written study like they do on free website surveys.

2) The feedback allows your site to improve your business’s key performance metrics.

Most people who would leave your site without buying anything will not tell you why. Users who walk through scenarios on your site are able to tell you what confuses them, frustrates them, or would cause them to leave your site.

If you hire us or an outside firm to address problems that users find, and then you address these items, future visitors to your site will be more likely to buy from you.

3) It helps your users to be less confused and lowers your support costs.

Sometimes, users have already made up their minds when they want to purchase from you. But something on your site confuses them and slows them down or stops them from purchasing. So they decide to contact your support team.

Fixing issues found in usability testing will allow your users to be less confused. That will get them through your sales funnel faster and keep them from needing to contact support. And that will allow your company to spend more of its budget on the products and services that make it great.

4) User testing gives you an advantage over your competition.

From what we have been able to determine, most companies in the amusement industry are not doing usability testing on their digital products with users outside their organization. Although some park chains gain much of their competitive advantage via user experience design in the physical world, most companies in the industry are not implementing UX design methods or user-centered design processes. Many amusement sites still cater to very feature-driven enthusiast market segments. Developing a site with great features is enough for many of them.

But the most successful websites today have invested substantial time and effort into creating the best user experience possible. Name any wildly successful online startup, and they have done this.

Users’ expectations are now changing to the point where they take startups’ strong investments in user experience for granted. Introducing usability testing on an existing site is a great way to start seeing the benefits of this way of thinking before investing in a user-centered redesign.

5) It lets you use development time and budget more effectively.

Imagine that you and your team have several months to redesign a website and you have not committed to usability testing. You hand your team a list of requirements, and they get to work. They design. They write code. They test the site on all sorts of devices, and finally they deploy. Launch turns out to not give you the results you were looking for in metrics like bounce rate and conversions. And it all turns out to be due to a flaw in the site’s design. You tell your team that the site needs to be changed.

Let’s assume that this change requires significant layout and interaction changes to a key page in your site. At this point, the developers on your team will most likely be pushing back. Weeks or person-months of effort will have gone to waste because the site was designed and built the wrong way.

This wasted effort could have been avoided with usability testing. A card sort study would have shown problems in the site’s navigation before any of the site was built. A test on a prototype of the purchasing path would have revealed reasons why people would abandon their cart before any code was written. Big problems can be solved in hours instead of weeks or months.

Usability testing, therefore, confirms or denies that you are on the right path with a design in progress. And if you’re on the wrong path, it is much easier to get on the right path if less effort was spent moving in the wrong direction.

If your users can’t see your work in progress yet

All of this is fine and good for most situations that parks or ride companies face during website design and development. But what about microsites for new attractions – where we don’t want the public to know about a new attraction until the big reveal? We’ll discuss that next. To find out about our new posts, subscribe to our newsletter (at the bottom of this page) or follow us on Twitter.

Have us test your site with users

Want us to look at your website, test your site with users, or do a redesign? You can now schedule a free project consultation with us via our YouCanBook.me site, or contact us via our site to get more information. (An initial consultation is free. We sell our evaluation services separately.)

Our company's mission is to design delightful digital experiences for purveyors of joy.

How the Thrill & Create site was built

Recently, I made several big announcements on this blog. One was that the company is now called Thrill & Create LLC, and another is that the company’s new website is now online at AmusementUX.com.

The previous site

The initial work for AmusementUX.com, internally abbreviated AUX, started almost two years ago. The company’s old website, at DalandanConcepts.com (pronounced “dah-LAHN-DAHN”), was the first new website I had designed or developed in about 9 years. (I had built several music-related websites, which are mercifully no longer online, over the 5 years before that – using a very old Mac version of Dreamweaver.) The Dalandan Concepts site was entirely hand-coded HTML and CSS using the now-deprecated 960 grid system. In other words, it was intended to only look good on desktop computers: not a good selling point since I was trying to sell usability consulting services using that site. Last year, I would take part of a weekend to make the site responsive so that it would be at least somewhat usable on mobile devices.

Preparing for Project: Amusement UX

I started planning the site’s replacement almost as soon as I launched it. While researching hundreds of amusement-industry professionals on LinkedIn, I generated a persona spreadsheet. This was relatively preliminary user research compared to what I do now, but this spreadsheet informed the design of the rest of the project.

I initially knew the site as “Dalandan V2” (version 2). I began by developing a desktop-first wireframe and later replaced that with a mobile-first wireframe. Fortunately, I was then busy with client work for a while. Many incoming phone calls during that year, in which people mispronounced “Dalandan” showed me that Dalandan was not a good word to use in the company’s name, whether I had nice pictures of dalandan (a type of fruit which I ate in Southeast Asia) to use for the website or not. Ultimately, what the site needed to sell was design services, not food.

So aside from making the existing site work on mobile devices, buying AmusementUX.com, and identifying a WordPress theme, I did not do any additional work on replacing the company’s site in 2013. I decided to shelve the project until mid-January 2014. Another big decision was to use a daily Scrum process (adapted for a Scrum team of one) in order to design and develop the new site.

Amusement UX: design and development in full swing

The project’s overall structure, including both design and development, consisted of some preparation work, 7 iterations, and 4 spikes.

Iteration 0

This was a brief iteration before work on the Thrill & Create site truly started. I installed a Coming Soon page and wrote some brief copy describing our business. Design work during this phase was fairly minimal.

Iteration 1

During this iteration, I performed my first round of ideation. Hundreds of ideas were then pared down to a much more manageable set that fit the site’s primary personas, and I did sketches and wireframes. My tool throughout the wireframe/prototype process was Axure RP 7. I also wrote preliminary copy for several pages. On a client project, I would have wanted to do a round of testing with users at this point.

At this stage, the homepage was much longer than it is now. Services, blog posts, and the About section were described on the homepage. An initial Process page, not yet reviewed with fellow designers, was already part of the site.

Iteration 2

Iteration 2 fleshed out more of the ideas for the site’s Services page, Process page, and the homepage. The homepage, at this stage, really aimed to establish the site as an authority regarding usability and user experience. It also did more to sell users on responsive design.

By the end of iteration 2, I had made medium-fidelity prototypes of most of the pages in the site. I had also run through Zurb’s Design Triggers list and incorporated many of those ideas. This iteration ended with a round of short usability tests to gauge users’ first impressions of the site.

Iteration 3

The first impression tests told me to revisit the layouts of the homepage and its hero area. I generated 4 hero area ideas and 8 homepage layout ideas and created wireframes and medium-fidelity prototypes of each one.

Spike 3.5

I then ran a survey wherein I paid many users to tell me what homepage layouts provided the strongest, most professional first impression. I chose pairs of ideas to compete against each other in this. Two out of four pairs did not have a clear winner, so I created layout ideas 9 and 10 as hybrids/replacements of these 4 other ideas.

Iteration 4

Iteration 4 incorporated feedback on the hero area surveys and a next round of homepage layout surveys. These resulted in some modifications to the hero area and the homepage. At this point, I ran a set of longer usability tests on the prototype and triaged their feedback. During this stage, I was also working on some business strategy options related to my usability evaluation service offerings.

Iteration 5

The longer usability tests gave me a wealth of valuable feedback. Among other changes, I continued to sketch new ideas for the homepage layout and created new variants of the hero areas. I also created new ideas for the Process and Services page, wrote their copy, and created two more comprehensive prototypes of the Why User Experience Design Instead of Web Design? article. During this stage, I was also making preliminary choices for the site’s typography.

Spike 5.5

Several users in this round of usability testing did not like the color palette which the site was using at that time. Since changing the entire color scheme of a site involves widespread changes and it is not (as of this writing) a simple process in Axure RP, I created a separate sprint spike to work on this. By then, the site was already well into its development process. The Axure RP prototype with the new color scheme gave me a reference for how the site was supposed to look after my code changes.

Iteration 6

Iteration 6 began in early May with adding content to the site, which was still hidden by the Coming Soon template. I started writing a custom CSS file, which eventually grew to well over 4000 lines of code. I spent most of this iteration working on the custom CSS and its associated work items. There was also a support issue with a vendor which took weeks to resolve. It pushed back the launch of the site due to the issue’s severity and the amount of development effort I had to expend to formulate an acceptable solution. Business owners wear many hats, indeed.

Spike 6.5

Spike 6.5, which didn’t meet a standard Scrum definition of a spike as well as I wanted it to, was mainly used for fixing bugs with the site which I had found on mobile devices and for starting trials of the fonts I was going to purchase, in advance of testing the site again with users.

In Spike 6.5, I created Axure prototypes of the homepage’s layout at more widths to show what a working version of the site would look like at those widths as I worked through the bug list.

Iteration 7

At the end of iteration 6.5, I conducted another round of long usability tests, including several tests with other UX designers. This, again, resulted in much valuable feedback.

At this stage I implemented an element collage to ensure a more consistent look and feel across the site. Element collages are now an artifact I produce much earlier in my design process.

I created five new hero area ideas in response to user feedback. The homepage, portfolio items, process page, and services page also received significant changes, for which I created sketches, wireframes, and prototypes.

In development, iteration 7  also involved making sweeping CSS changes because I changed the site’s font pairing in response to user feedback.

Spike 7.5

Spike 7.5 included more mobile bug fixes and many deployment tasks. This spike ended on August 21, 2014, when I soft-opened the site that you see today with a placeholder company name. After more branding surveys, I began the process to officially rename Dalandan Concepts to Thrill & Create.

Next on the agenda

Here on the Thrill & Create site, you may find information about who we are and what projects we are doing. Our Facebook and Twitter pages will have further, more frequent updates from the intersecting worlds of user experience design and amusement.

We would love to work on more user experience design projects and usability evaluations in the amusement space. Please contact us via our contact page or info@amusementux.com.

Daily Scrum for Freelancers

Daily Scrum for freelancers and other teams of one

Thrill & Create does user-centered digital product design for the amusement industry. In other words, we design websites, microsites, apps, and any other digital products with a view toward making these products easy to use and enjoyable for park guests, business partners, and any other prospective buyers in the amusement industry.

Although we work hard not only on design but also on running our business, we also endeavor to work as smart as we can. We regularly see how we can improve our process.

My background in work processes

As a former software engineer for large, mid-sized, and small companies, I was able to ship products successfully in each setting using widely varying processes.

The large company, a multinational corporation which had a team in the hundreds for our project, used a traditional waterfall process. The requirements team handed off their work to the logical design team, which handed theirs to the physical design team. The waterfall proceeded to the development teams and to the test teams before it was turned over to the customer. Meetings and signoffs abounded, and going back to a previous step was largely impossible. To speed up the schedule, the project team was split in half, with each half of the team working on a separate release. While with this company, I started becoming very interested in software development processes and read my first several books on agile.

The mid-sized company used a team in at least 3 states and a spiral development process. They, likewise, had separate people working on each step: requirements, design, development, quality assurance, and integration testing. But the teams staggered their work so that each group could stay one step ahead of the next group.

The small companies used geographically distributed teams and agile processes. I was generally responsible for working on individual features and bug fixes and carrying them through to completion through design, development, initial testing, and supporting quality assurance engineers or systems engineers as they tested my work. Our teams would have daily stand-up meetings and twice-weekly calls with team members in other locations. In each stand-up meeting, members would answer three questions:

  1. What did you work on yesterday? (or on the most recent work day)
  2. What are you working on today?
  3. Are you blocked, or stuck, on anything? (Are you waiting for anything to happen which is keeping you from being able to finish your tasks?)

The advantages of agile

First published in 2001, the Agile Manifesto lists 4 core tenets:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

While agile teams still value the items on the right, they value the items on the left more. Agile processes allow companies – particularly smaller companies – to respond quickly when their clients want something changed. They also tend to minimize, but not eliminate, paperwork.

1. You spend more time doing design, development, or testing.

I was surprised at how little time I spent writing code at software development companies that used a waterfall process. Other team members and I spent many weeks between development iterations writing comprehensive documentation and waiting for other groups in the project team to hand off their deliverables to us. In the agile shops, I wrote code nearly every day.

Designers in an agile project can spend more time designing. Developers can spend more time developing. And testers can spend more time testing. They all become better at their crafts faster. No more sitting around for weeks with nothing to do while you wait for another group to get their work done. There is generally a lot less waste in agile processes.

What that means for you: Agile gives us more time to master user experience design, so that each new site, app, or other digital product we ship is noticeably much better than the previous one. It allows us to become UX experts faster.

2. A product’s users are more likely to end up with a product that they want.

The Lean Startup movement emphasizes the notion of the minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP has only the features that allow a product to be launched. Typically, the MVP will be deployed to only some of your customers: those who are likely to be more forgiving and more willing to give helpful feedback on the product. With fewer features to work on, the project team can focus on making each feature exactly right.

MVP helps companies to understand what customers want more quickly and to focus on developing the right product ideas for serving them best. Later releases of the products can include more features and a wider release.

What that means for you: You’ll know very early in our design process what your users think of our designs. We start our testing with users far before the first release of a product. Many products can be tested with users starting with as little as a sketch. We will use test users who represent your target market well (verified with user research), so that we will take your digital products to market with greater certainty that they will want them.

3. You can ship (and make money from your product) sooner.

This is tied to the minimum viable product (MVP) strategy from the previous point. Because an MVP has fewer features, it does not require as much time to design or develop. This allows the product to be released and sold (or used to help sell other products) much sooner.

Scrum, a widely used agile method which I have also implemented at Thrill & Create, organizes work into a product backlog. The backlog is a list of requirements (features, bug fixes, user test comments, non-functional requirements) that the project team maintains. After the product owner identifies which items need to be in a shipped product, the team needs to work through items on the backlog in order to be able to ship the product. Story points help us to estimate how long everything will take.

What this means for you: If your website, app, or other digital product does not need to be launched in an all-at-once fashion, we can release it in stages. This helps provide you with a fast return on your investment before our team is even done with design and development.

4. Problems are easier to identify and fix early.

Design and development are not exact sciences. User research can help us anticipate what users will want. However, it doesn’t absolutely ensure a correct design. And many software development projects encounter problems that require extensive rework to fix properly.

Fortunately, the Agile Manifesto emphasizes working software and customer collaboration. At a development level, this means that as early in the process as possible, there is always a version of the product that they can ship to customers at a moment’s notice. That version keeps receiving updates as the developers continue to deliver work. At a design level, we test designs with users at many stages to identify problems with their usability and validate which design directions are correct. This allows us to avoid wasting budget developing solutions that do not work.

What that means for you: Your budget will be used more effectively because we won’t spend it going far down the wrong path in our designs.

5. It is easier to allow customers and users to change the product without having the product ship late.

One of the main reasons why agile processes were developed was that waterfall processes respond to change poorly. Waterfall projects often use slow, involved approval processes in order to have changes approved. Teams often have to work at an unsustainable pace in order to ship changes without slipping the project schedule – if that is even possible.

Agile – and in particular, Scrum’s story point system – makes responding to changes easier. Scrum iterations have a fixed duration and a fixed number of story points or hours available. With a fixed timeline, we can use these estimated task durations to determine what makes it into each sprint: new features, bug fixes, testing, and any other work items. Changes that happen often result in lower-priority tasks being removed from the sprint and either deferred to a later sprint or removed from the project. The ship date is only pushed back if the changes do not result in existing tasks being removed from the project.

What that means for you: While we are the designers, we collaborate with you consistently to make sure that you are getting what you and your users need. We are able to accommodate changes in a project in a way that does not jeopardize ship dates as long as our overall project scope remains the same.

How Thrill & Create implements Scrum

At Thrill & Create, we have had different ways of working with our project teams.

When I worked on the Coaster Crew projects, I had one primary and one secondary point of contact with the other Coaster Crew staff. My main point of contact was their webmaster, who also handles the back-end development for their sites. I sent him a weekly status email which detailed what I was working on and whether I was blocked on anything. On tasks that required more involvement from him, we would communicate more frequently via email or Facebook chat. I handled project management and usability test triage using an Excel spreadsheet, which was mainly for my reference.

My secondary point of contact with The Coaster Crew was their vice president of membership. The webmaster and I interfaced with him for more directional-level decisions and budget approvals. Beyond this, I was also able to ask questions or post comments for the rest of The Coaster Crew’s staff to answer.

When I worked on a redesign for a local nonprofit, I initially had a project team consisting of myself as UX designer/PM, a graphic designer, a developer, and an idea guy. We met weekly over dinner to discuss our project and move the project forward. This project was done in a more waterfall-like setting. Due to multiple factors beyond our control, I ended up completing the development myself using a daily to-do list for project management.

I decided to make the rebrand from Dalandan Concepts (pronounced “dah-LAHN-DAHN”) to Thrill & Create a purer application of Scrum processes.

But how do you do daily stand-up meetings as a team of one?

Partway into the project, I created a Daily Scrum spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Day of week and date
  • What I did yesterday
  • What I still need to do from yesterday (if anything)
  • What I’m doing today
  • What my main project for the day is
  • What iteration I am on in my main project
  • What my second and third projects are (if any)
  • Am I blocked on anything?

I’ve added an entry to this spreadsheet each day since then. Typically, I begin the day by checking my email and doing any other administrative tasks unrelated to my main project. After a break for breakfast, I fill out my Daily Scrum spreadsheet for the day and get into my main list of tasks.

Often, my tasks for the day in Daily Scrum come from my master to-do list. This makes the Daily Scrum process very easy.

Early iterations would be focused on preliminary design tasks, such as user research, persona generation, brainstorming, and sketching. After that, my iterations would usually take the following format:

  • Work on design for items in the iteration
  • Work on development for items in the iteration (Note: For multi-person teams, UX design authors have advised making the design team stay 1-2 sprints ahead of the development team)
  • Draft a list of tasks for user testers
  • Run a round of user testing
  • Write down feedback from each tester, including some metadata indicating which users were closer to our target persona
  • Triage feedback from each tester based on the item’s priority, severity, and level of effort. (Items that multiple users cited and items cited by users with characteristics closest to our target personas’ were given a higher priority.)
  • Determine what would go into the next iteration.

However, my role for the Thrill & Create site was bigger than design. I was also responsible for the site’s development. This made estimation more of a challenge. Several iterations had spikes, shorter timeboxed periods for researching concepts or creating a simple prototype. (Some spikes, such as the ones I did, do result in more features and bug fixes being delivered for the product.) This is why my Daily Scrum spreadsheet has some days listed as Iteration 3.5, 5.5, 6.5 and 7.5.

I also use task breakdowns fairly extensively in estimating the duration of a task. Task breakdowns enable more accurate estimates because they force thinking about the details of finishing a task. Agile methodologies encourage further breakdown of any task estimated to take longer than two days. Incidentally, my biggest lesson learned from the Coaster Crew launch was to not assume that migrating the site from a prototype to WordPress was a short task. Initially, I had estimated it to take 3 days, but the extensive development required for the migration added weeks of work to the project.

The way I do triaging is somewhat different from the story points method in classic Scrum. With the Thrill & Create site, I assigned the effort of work items on a more relative scale. My spreadsheet, then, had columns for priority, severity, effort, and priority times effort. That helped guide me through selecting work items to include in sprints.

The priority and severity scales I use are based on several I found in this Interaction Design Association (IxDA) forum thread. Thank you to Jim Drew for these scales:

  • Severity: Critical: a crash or data loss; users are blocked unless they restart the app or reload the webpage. UX issues rarely reach this level.
  • Severity: High: A major feature is broken and can’t be used fully, or a minor feature is either too broken to use at all or not present
  • Severity: Medium: A major feature can’t be used fully, a minor feature is blocked, or a feature is broken but has a workaround.
  • Severity: Low: The problem doesn’t affect (or only lightly affects) users’ ability to use a feature. An example of this would be poor message wording, or color contrast that meets WCAG AA but not WCAG AAA.

The priority scales I use are based on the following. I adjust them according to how many users are reporting a problem and how close those users are to our target persona:

  • Priority: Critical: This needs to be fixed in this iteration, or other items (priority high or medium) cannot be addressed until a fix for this one is complete.
  • Priority: High: We need to fix this item in this iteration, or at least before we ship the next release.
  • Priority: Medium: We would like to address this item in this iteration or release, but we might not get to it.
  • Priority: Low: We are likely to not do this work item; we only have it in the spreadsheet so that we can track the issue.

As a bonus, here is how I scaled the required effort for a task for the Thrill & Create site:

  • Effort: Extreme: Significant increase to the project scope. Feature is either impossible to build or would require significant development effort or substantial budget/travel to build. For example, one tester on the Thrill & Create site did not like the fonts in several portfolio items. To change this honestly, I would have had to essentially redesign the typography of sites I had already delivered to other clients.
  • Effort: Very High: Bugs that are probably fixable but have a great deal of uncertainty and/or require testing in many configurations. New features that require a great deal of thought and care and/or a full design process to implement properly. For example, comments concerning the overall mood of a site require a thorough review of many aspects of a site to identify the best solution for changing the site’s mood.
  • Effort: High: The work item requires extensive, well-thought-out changes to implement properly and may require new sketches, wireframes, and/or prototypes. For example, when we are asked to change a site’s color scheme, we research new color schemes and test them out in prototypes. High effort could also mean that a bug is affecting different kinds of devices in different ways. For example, the How Can We Help? buttons on the Thrill & Create homepage were displaying unusual behavior around some breakpoints and had to be tested extensively on multiple devices since they essentially required a partial rewrite of a grid system.
  • Effort: Medium: The fix seems simple, but dependencies make it so that we have to make sure it doesn’t break anything else in the site. For example, if the site’s grid system on one page needs more padding at tablet widths, we need to make sure that changing it will not cause undesirable effects on other pages.
  • Effort: Low: Bugs that I already know how to fix when I see them or features that only require a few lines of code to implement. For example, during the Thrill & Create site’s development, the text on the Send Message button was too small. This was relatively high priority but a very simple fix.

Tips for freelancers and teams of one who are considering implementing Daily Scrum

Maintain a Daily Scrum spreadsheet which says what your current projects are, what you did on the previous work day, what you are doing today, if there was anything from yesterday you didn’t get to do, and if there is anything blocking you from finishing today’s tasks.

  • Make it daily: Set a reminder every morning (on work days) to update your Daily Scrum spreadsheet
  • Consistency: Don’t worry if you miss a day. Just make sure you get back to it.
  • Billing: If you do not bill hourly or use value pricing, bill in iterations.
  • Schedule: Timebox the length of an iteration. In other words, if you say at the beginning that an iteration lasts for 3 weeks, keep the length of an iteration at 3 weeks. Don’t go over.
  • Clear communication: Especially if you are remote, always be clear with your clients on what you are working on and whether or not you are blocked on anything.
  • Collaborate: Make sure to collaborate with your clients, especially with your main point of contact. “Here’s your assignment, now go do it and give it back to me when you’re done” is not a way of thinking that Scrum encourages.
  • Minify?: The optimal size for a Scrum team is 5-9 people. If your team has 1-3 people, consider a process with less overhead by replacing some of the meetings with less formal sessions.
  • Remember what it’s for: Use it to stay accountable (to yourself and your client), productive (the point of any good work process), and happy (probably one of your reasons for being in business for yourself).