Updates concerning our company and/or this website. We are a user experience design company based in the mid-Atlantic United States.

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.

Logo for Thrill & Create, a digital interaction design consulting company

Thrill & Create rebrand: taking amusement’s thrills to users’ devices

For Immediate Release

Thrill & Create is a user experience design consulting company focusing on digital products for the amusement industry.

Gambrills, MD (September 3, 2014)—Thrill & Create LLC, a user experience design consultancy specializing in designing digital products such as websites and user interfaces for the amusement industry, today announced its new brand identity. The company unveiled its new name, website, and design process.

Established in 2012 as Dalandan Concepts LLC (pronounced “dah-LAHN-DAHN”), Thrill & Create is the first user-centered design company focusing on digital products for primarily the amusement industry. Companies in the amusement industry which have worked with local, national, or global web design firms before now have a new option: a user experience design firm which only works in their industry, is passionate about their industry, and truly seeks to understand their business and their customers.

“Amusement parks, and theme parks in particular, have been masters of guest experience for many years.” said David Parmelee, Owner & User Experience Designer. “In the physical world, every aspect of their interaction with guests is designed. Users are now expecting this more and more in digital products. The Thrill & Create rebrand and the rollout of our formalized user-centered design process position us to help amusement parks and other amusement companies with user-centered design for their digital products.”

Using user-centered design, Thrill & Create produces designs which focus primarily on helping users accomplish their goals using a park or company’s website, microsite, app, or other user interface. The new design process begins with systematic user research and in-depth evaluations of a company’s existing product designs. After presenting a summary of review findings to clients, it proceeds through multiple iterations of ideation, sketches, wireframes, and prototypes before a product is translated into code and launched. Many rounds of testing with users and detailed post-launch analysis helps ensure a successful product launch. The process emphasizes, “It’s not done until it’s usable and it brings value to your business.”

“Rigorous user research and frequent user participation throughout our design process gives our clients a sturdier foundation for their users to market them via word of mouth.” said Parmelee. “Our use of quick iterations—Agile UX—comes from the software industry and applies naturally to design. It permits us to eliminate or mitigate users’ pain points early in the design process. That would ultimately allow our clients to keep customers engaged digitally with their brand, save support costs, and save expensive and substantial development rework.”

Thrill & Create also provides usability and user experience evaluations as separate services to amusement-industry companies seeking feedback on their existing digital products. Offered at several price points, these evaluations combine technical analysis of a digital product’s usability with feedback from real users.

Additionally, Thrill & Create reimagined their main website and moved it to http://AmusementUX.com. The new website features streamlined porfolio samples which walk readers through their design process on several projects. It also describes the company’s service offerings and aforementioned new user-centered design process in greater detail. Incorporating feedback from hundreds of users, the Thrill & Create website is the most recent result of the company’s user-centered design process.

The new brand identity will be implemented and rolled out across numerous touchpoints, ranging from social media to business cards.

For more information about Thrill & Create LLC, please visit http://AmusementUX.com. Or contact info@amusementUX.com for a free consultation.

About Thrill & Create LLC

Founded in 2012 as Dalandan Concepts LLC, Thrill & Create LLC offers user experience design solutions for digital products, such as websites and apps, to the amusement industry. Thrill & Create’s service offerings range from new designs and redesigns to usability and accessibility evaluations. Years of previous experience in software testing and development influence Thrill & Create’s design process. You can learn more about Thrill & Create by visiting http://AmusementUX.com.

Logo for Thrill & Create, a digital interaction design consulting company

Some big announcements

I have several big announcements to make.

Let’s begin with the company’s story.

Dalandan Concepts (pronounced “dah-LAHN-DAHN”) has been around since April 2012, and it has been Dalandan Concepts LLC since June 2012. It began as a company which drew upon my passion (usability and user experience) and background (software testing and development). Initially, it was marketed as though it were two companies under one roof: user experience design and software quality assurance. The company began bidding on projects, mostly user experience design work for small businesses in a wide range of industries.

In my past workplaces, I was known as someone who spends most of his vacation days at amusement parks. During the amusement industry’s largest trade show in November 2012, I happened to be in Orlando. While I was there to work and did not get to attend, I kept up with several major industry blogs as they covered the event. I flew back from Orlando wanting to have been there.

That trip sharpened my focus for the business’s service offerings. Shortly thereafter, I stopped offering software quality assurance services in order to concentrate on user experience. I was going to be the founder of the first user experience design consultancy for the amusement industry. This truly represented doing what I love for the industry that engages me the most.

(Later, I would find out that other user experience design companies, which work with physical environments, do work with the industry. To my knowledge, my company is still the only one which does user-centered design for digital products for the amusement industry.)

Within weeks, I had several prospects in the industry. I started our first amusement project in 2013, soon after the first of the year. Throughout 2013 and the early part of 2014, I worked on design projects for the amusement industry and a local nonprofit.

After I finished that work, I turned my effort toward replacing DalandanConcepts.com with a new site for the company: a responsive site using WordPress, like many of our other recent projects, so that I could update it easily with new articles and new portfolio entries.

However, analytics data showed us that few people were finding DalandanConcepts.com. Those who found the site often found it because they wanted recipes for dalandan, a tropical fruit in Southeast Asia which had inspired the company’s name. The site was providing very few inbound leads for design projects.

I had read an e-book about “pretotyping” (note the spelling). The main premise of pretotyping is, “Make sure you’re building the right it before you build it right.” Dalandan Concepts, as a company name and as a web address, was clearly the wrong it. I began designing and developing the company’s new site under the name Amusement UX – just a placeholder name which says what the company does and for whom.

So by now, you would know my first announcement.

This company has a new name: Thrill & Create LLC.

Thrill & Create is the winner of hundreds of name ideas that came from a variety of sources: friends, clients, and hundreds of poll participants. I polled hundreds of people regarding their first impressions, word associations, image associations, and competitor/product associations with each of my favorite names among the suggestions. I also tested how well people could recall the names and how easy or hard it was to spell the names properly.

(For a baseline, I included Dalandan Concepts in one of the surveys. Everyone spelled it wrong. If you did too, don’t feel bad! 🙂 )

These polls and surveys took place in several rounds throughout the Amusement UX design and development process.

So, why Thrill & Create?

“thrill (verb): to suddenly excite someone, or to give someone great pleasure; to (figuratively) electrify; to experience such a sensation”

(from Wiktionary)

“Thrill” shows that we focus on the amusement industry. The amusement industry is in the business of providing a great guest experience to a very wide range of people. The attractions and the atmosphere of each park, zoo, or aquarium are designed to thrill the guests. But each guest is different. For some people, a good thrill means an adrenaline rush riding the most extreme rides in the park. Others prefer more relaxed rides, shows, or just taking pictures while others in their party have fun on thrill rides.

“create (verb):

  1. to put into existence.
  2. to design; invest with a new form, shape, etc.
  3. to be creative, imaginative”

(from Wiktionary)

“Create” makes it clear that we focus on design. Designers become known for what they create.

Someone suggested to me the name Thrill Creative. “Creative”, as it turns out, gives a connotation in company names that we don’t want. “Creative” de-emphasizes the fact that design is a trade. So I call myself a designer, not a creative.

Several of our other suggestions also had the word creative. I was wondering what I could do with the idea of creating without positioning myself as a “creative”. Ultimately, I chose a company name based on verbs: action words; forward-thinking. Thrill & Create. That went into the last two rounds of surveys and did the best of each remaining name.

My next announcement:

The company has a new website, AmusementUX.com.

You can now find Thrill & Create at AmusementUX.com. ThrillAndCreate.com will redirect there in the future. I chose Amusement UX because this company does digital user experience (UX) design for the amusement industry.

That was simple. What’s the next announcement?

The company now has a more formalized design process.

Our first UX design projects went according to a partially waterfall process: usability evaluation, requirements, design, development, launch.

But clients and users were rightfully pushing back on some of the design ideas presented to them. We realized that trying to do everything in one iteration and then move on to the next step was not going to work for every client.

To work smarter, I decided to implement a new process inspired by agile development on projects in which the process is up to me. The new process builds in multiple iterations of design and development. The number of iterations varies from project to project. And the process is more user-centered than ever before.

So, how is this process going to be carried out?

The company now has a new strategy for growth.

I started my business over two years ago with no background in running my own business, and I had a lot to learn. Since then, I have taken courses taught by established consultancy owners, read numerous blogs, read books, and listened to many business podcasts.

But as Dalandan Concepts, I consistently found much of the development and deployment work – and, in some projects, all of it – falling on me. I was wearing so many hats: business owner, designer, developer, and deployment engineer. I wanted to spend more time designing, and I had ideas that users loved which had to stay on the drawing board because I did not have a full-time developer on my projects.

So as Thrill & Create, I am seeking to grow the company while limiting my roles to Owner & User Experience Designer. Not by hiring employees, but by building dream teams on a per-project basis. This is also called the Hollywood Model. “This project needs a developer? A deployment engineer? An illustrator? An animator? A virtual assistant? Great, let’s find people who can do these jobs best and hire them as subcontractors.”

I want that to be my mindset: when clients do not have a team in place, I can build one, so that we can provide the best products we can for our clients. And concentrating on what we are best at will help us to deliver these products smarter and faster.

Thank you, and may we continue to spread the joy of amusement.

—David Parmelee

Owner & User Experience Designer, Thrill & Create LLC.

Work with Thrill & Create

If you would be interested in having us work with you and your users on a new design, redesign, a website, a microsite, an app – or if you want me to have users test your site or take an in-depth look at how well your site is doing at usability and user experience – please feel free to contact me (David Parmelee) at info@amusementUX.com.

Join a Thrill & Create project team

If you’re passionate about amusement and creating great user experiences and you would be interested in joining one of my project teams, I’d love to hear from you and find out whether you may be a good fit. Please email me at info@amusementUX.com.

We redesigned the homepage for In the Loop, the longest-running podcast for the amusement industry, now in its tenth season. This screenshot shows what this page looks like live.

You are In The Loop – with my UX design process for The Coaster Crew

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Designing the new In the Loop homepage, at http://coastercrew.net/podcast/, gave me a great opportunity to try out and refine my user experience (UX) design process.

Coaster Crew’s old In the Loop page provided a podcast player and a place to chat when the show was live. Beyond that, it was pretty bare-bones. It didn’t really have a design per se. And for an audience of coaster enthusiasts, many would say that was enough.

However, as a designer, I am interested not only in the great features of a site but also the presentation. The site appeals to a different audience based on how it is designed. I decided to give this page the same design process as I gave all of the other sections of the site that I worked on (the only exception being the store, which is from a third-party vendor).

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Here is my original list of ideas and idea selections for the new In the Loop page.  Most of these ideas made it into the final design.

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I sketched two primary design concepts based on the ideas that I selected.  This first one was selected by the staff and refined through several rounds of usability testing.  The basic structure of the page is still intact today.

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This was a more aggressive design concept which was not selected.  It would have lent a more retro feel to this section of the site.  The first idea allowed for better consistency with the rest of the site.

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The sketches translated directly to the wireframe.  After testing the beta site on other devices, I would decide to make two changes to this layout.  I moved the Listen Live player below the summary of the show and converted the Our Guests and Archives sections from two narrow columns to one wider row with the guests listed first.

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When I colored in the prototype, the “cutout” look of the Meet the Hosts section became much more apparent.  So did the problems reading the black text on the orange background.  That would become even harder to read after the background image was added.

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Then I added images to the prototype.  The hosts’ images would become circular during the development phase with CSS.  The ride in the background image is Dragon Fire at Canada’s Wonderland.  Joshua from CWFansite took this picture, which I edited so that it would fit with the orange background.  Fellow enthusiasts may point out to me that the train is in a corkscrew, not in a vertical loop.  That’s true, but the user testers didn’t have a problem with this.

The background for the About page actually does have a train in a vertical loop.  That image uses Great Bear at Hersheypark.  The Dragon Fire picture gave a stronger silhouette which I felt better communicated the nature of the show.

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Here is the podcast section at mobile width after the second round of development and second round of usability testing.

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The In the Loop page was the hardest page in the site for our user testers to read.  I added some translucent backgrounds behind the sections with text in this prototype.

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By this time, I was also switching the site back to a multi-page layout.  I sketched some more ideas for the new homepage design and made a new wireframe of it to collect my ideas before moving forward with development again.

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Here are the Events and Podcast sections on the live CoasterCrew.net homepage.  The merch section is below this.

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Here is the Podcast section on the live CoasterCrew.net homepage at mobile width.  The site adapts to any device and window size.

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Tablets were the main reason why I changed the Guests and Archives sections to be part of the same column.

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The layout at desktop uses a wide layout grid and a fixed-position background to let the train in the loop stand out more.  I widened the Foundation framework’s maximum width to about 1600 pixels for this design.  In this screenshot, the browser window is maximized on a 1080p (1920×1080) display.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing how the new In the Loop site came to life.  The next article is already ready to launch soon, and it will show you how the Events page got built.  That page went through a lot of layout changes to get to where it is today.

I am a user experience designer specializing in the amusement industry. I work for amusement parks, ride companies, coaster clubs, and any other company or organization affiliated with amusement. If you would like to hire me, please contact me through my website or tweet at @AmusementUX. You can also like my company’s Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.