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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.

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.

In their redesign, the Coaster Crew's fansites have a new Network Bar at the bottom of every page for easier navigation to the other fansites. The Network Bar uses the fansites' individual color schemes. An example of the network bar for one fansite is shown here.

UX Process in Action: Navigating a network of 10 sites and counting

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Ever since the new Coaster Crew website launched in September, I have been writing articles describing my design process and design decisions.  The series began with a post about how I learned about both the roller coaster enthusiasts and the “general public” segment of The Coaster Crew’s audience and determined how to best target the site toward the general public while still meeting enthusiasts’ needs.  Later posts outlined how several of the pages on the site came to be: the new homepage, the new In the Loop page, the events list, and a page inviting users to participate in the Coaster Crew Network Forums.  I also went over a new membership signup flow which is not currently on the live site due to technical limitations.

Today, I’ll discuss how the Coaster Crew Network ties together with a feature that you can see now on CoasterCrew.net.

The Coaster Crew currently owns and operates ten live websites.  Their official site has been live in various incarnations and web addresses since 2004.  They started operating fansites for amusement parks several years ago when the Kings Dominion Fan Site went under their ownership.  (Prior to this, several Kings Dominion fansites had come and gone over the years.  Usually, these sites had one or two owners and would be maintained well for several years before the owners no longer had time or no longer had interest in working on the sites.)

They later launched fansites for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Six Flags America.  Most recently, they have added fansites for Cedar Point, Kings Island, Canada’s Wonderland, Dollywood, and Valleyfair.  The Coaster Crew Network site originally just served as a gateway to their forums.  Earlier this year, I launched a complete, responsive redesign of that site with a focus on tying together all of their fansites and social media channels and providing a consistent look and feel with the other sites I have been redesigning for them.

Selling users on the idea of the fansites as being part of a network is important for the Coaster Crew.  The fansites have not always had a consistent way to navigate between them, and it can be hard to remember which fansites are in the network.  The staff suggested a network bar in the sites’ header or footer.  I decided that since tall footers with site maps are common in designs today, I could merge the network bar into a tall footer.

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I sketched five different ideas for the network bar at the beginning of the project.  The first was a simple listing of all of the fansites across one row.  The second divided the list of sites into four columns.  The third put the names of the parks with the fansites.  The fourth arranged the sites in columns by the park chains represented by each fansite.

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The layout that seemed to scale best arranged the parks by geographic region.  It seemed to be the best at handling new sites’ being added to the network bar.  If park chains sold a park, we would not need to update the network bar and users would not be wondering if we still had a fansite for that park.

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I tested each idea’s strength by creating wireframes for them.  The first three ideas seemed to work for a header or a footer, while the last two were definitely for footers.  In addition to scalability, the fifth idea also seemed the best for the design since a tall footer on each page would allow for some strong design ideas there.  I continued to work on that idea through the prototype and later stages.

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In Axure, I initially added bright colors for the network bar before I knew what the background pictures would be.  The copyright and footer links were initially very minimal at the bottom of the page.

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I took this background picture of El Toro with a point-and-shoot camera. It has remained the desktop background on my old desktop computer for several years. This picture seemed to go very well with the network bar, so it became the background.

I built the network bar locally using Zurb Foundation 4.3.  The fansite’s logos fill 100% of their container’s width with auto height.  The copyright and map statements were minimal.  User testers seemed to receive this layout well, but I thought more could be done with it.  It also didn’t have the ribbon yet.

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For performance reasons, the live site on mobile doesn’t keep the background in one place.  It shows the fansites two to a row instead of four to a row to size the logos ideally for the smaller screen.

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The footer now features a panel with the Coaster Crew’s mission statement.

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The network bar currently takes almost exactly one screenful for a tablet in landscape orientation.

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In portrait mode, most of the blue footer panel can also be seen.  Zurb Foundation 4.3 automatically hyphenates words on mobile devices to keep the parks’ names from becoming too wide for their columns.

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The desktop layout shows the blue footer panel mostly obscuring the roller coaster hill behind it.  It gives clear access to The Coaster Crew’s social media channels under the club’s logo in the footer.

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Lastly, here is a preview of how the network bar will look on the redesigned fansites.  I did this as an overlay, similar to the In the Loop background, because each fansite has a different color scheme and that will allow each fansite’s personality to translate into its network bar design.  This is a prototype and still subject to change as the sites move toward going live.

You can see the Coaster Crew network bar live on any page of the Coaster Crew site.  The next and last article in this series will discuss the About page: the best example in this project of my consistently pushing myself toward a better design.

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.

We redesigned a membership signup form for The Coaster Crew which used a more natural-language approach. This screenshot shows a step of the new membership signup process as shown on a beta site.

UX Process in Action: Designing a new signup flow for a roller coaster club

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The new Coaster Crew website launched in September. I’ve been writing articles about our target audience and how each page on the site came to be (Homepage, In the Loop, Events, and Forums).

Today, I’ll show you something that isn’t on the live site. I designed a new membership signup form, which was available in the prototypes that we tested with users.

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My original idea was to allow people to fill out their own membership badge.  This would have been displayed next to completed membership badges.

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Fresh off of conducting a round of surveys for this project using AYTM, I was used to pretty robust tools.  So my design for this form had a good deal of skip logic, custom buttons, and a full order review.  I tried adding input fields within labels as the third slide depicts, but our plugin did not support that.  To allow a quicker checkout process (and probably boost conversions), I made it possible for users to bypass the Coaster Crew merch and charity donation steps.

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I added some space for the badge background and some copy in the wireframe.  The low-fidelity prototype already had a full set of input fields and logic for navigating between the pages of the form.

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For internationalization reasons, I used “First/Given Name” and “Last Name / Surname” language.

In this form design, I really wanted to highlight natural language. Interacting with one of these sites should not feel like interacting with a computer. I recently saw an insurance website whose search form is just “I drive a (car’s year, make, and model), and I live in (ZIP code).” That language makes a website feel human. Websites’ forms are often terse, and interacting with them feels like interacting directly with a machine.

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It is likely that we would have needed a premium e-commerce form to handle the skip logic and purchasing logic here, even though the choices are quite simple for users.

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This screen would have detected whether users had selected an option in the beginning that would have not given them the best possible deal on their membership.  Another way to do this would have been to ask for the user’s and their guests’ information and recommended a membership type based on what they had entered.  This may have required disclosing the price to be a later step and felt like bait and switch to people who had seen a low membership price advertised on the pages that gave them links into this checkout process.

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This order review slide cannot be developed with the plugins available to us at this time.  This is how it was intended to work.

There were actually 12 steps in this signup process, including all guest information pages.  I have omitted the rest from this post for brevity, but for the near future I will make the wireframe and prototype available online.  Submitting that form does not actually submit any data, so feel free to try it out.

A few screenshots of the prototype are available below.

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The overall page used some copy which did more to highlight the benefits of membership in our club.

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The Family memberships step allows for a quick checkout but also has options for extras.  Most of our test users actually did buy extra merch and donate to the ALS Association.  (The form they tested was not actually submitting anything.  I had them do what they would have done normally.)

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If users opted to go to this screen, they could add Coaster Crew merchandise to their membership order. Some users in early rounds of testing had not remembered that some merchandise was included with their platinum memberships, so I added that copy here.

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The charity slide had a quick writeup explaining that the ALS Association raises money for research related to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  I recently launched a site for a non-profit, and I know that people want to know more about the charities they are giving to without being asked to give out of guilt.

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The payment page would have included the order total, calculated from previous slides’ data.  Users really needed to know this, and Coaster Crew staff required it, but we couldn’t find a free plugin that would meet our needs.

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This confirmation page assumed that Coaster Crew staff needed to process PayPal payments manually, but the staff wanted that to be an automatic process.  That is the technical reason why we needed to be able to calculate the payment amount.

The prototype’s form had 12 pages, like the wireframe’s.  The prototype will still be available online for the near future.

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Our beta site, which is still online as of this writing, had the signup form implemented with the closest plugin we could find to what we needed.  Here is how it looked in the desktop layout.  The benefits of each membership type were reprinted here so that this page could serve as a landing page.  Commonly, The Coaster Crew shares out the link to their membership page directly rather than sending out a link to their homepage or another page.

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Because our plugin did not have skip logic, I combined all of the guest signup information onto one longer page and made all fields optional so that users signing up for individual memberships could skip it with one click.

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This confirmation page shows up when users submit their membership information.

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Here is an example of how the form displayed on mobile.  I wrapped our form plugin instance within a Foundation framework (4.3) column class so that it would be responsive.

So due to technical limitations, the new membership signup form didn’t go live.  The live site shows the first page of the signup form but with a button at the bottom to take users into the old signup process on a separate server.

I had basic assumptions at the outset about WordPress plugins for forms. We assumed we could find a form plugin that was:

  1. Multi-page,
  2. Responsive to any device,
  3. Able to calculate prices based on what users enter in previous steps, and
  4. Free.

The closest we could get while I was working on this project was BreezingForms, which lets you build multi-page forms for free.  This plugin was in use on the beta site.  Since we were using this form for e-commerce, being able to carry prices forward was very important.  Our site’s new store runs on WooCommerce, but the free version of that doesn’t do the calculations that we need for memberships and event signups.

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.

Screenshot of a page explaining why users should join The Coaster Crew's forums. This screenshot for this responsive website shows how the site adapts on an iPad 2.

UX shows 8 reasons why you should join this roller coaster forum

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I have recently been explaining the design decisions for the new Coaster Crew website, which launched in September.  During this series, I have demonstrated how I came to understand our target audience and have illustrated my design process for the homepage (this site went from a multi-page layout to a one-page layout and back!), the new In the Loop homepage, and the Coaster Crew events list.

Today, I’ll look at a page which received some very interesting feedback from users: the Forums page.

As a freelance user experience (UX) designer, I wear a lot of hats for my one-person business.  Part of this means I maintain accounts on a lot of websites: social media sites, sites for freelancers, software vendors, and many more.  Before I started using a password manager, I was forgetting a lot of passwords.  When I evaluate a website or app, one of my first gripes tends to be this: they assume I will create an account without telling me why I should.  The worst offenders make me sign in before I even see what their site is!

Yet, this is almost exactly what I was doing with an early design for the Coaster Crew forums page.  I was giving a quick description of what the forums were and leaving them hanging.  When they tested one of my old one-page layouts, some users told me that this section “doesn’t look important, so I skipped over it.”

That’s one of the big reasons why every park, every ride company, every coaster club, and every other amusement-related organization with a website needs to have their target users test their site.

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Here is my initial wireframe for the Forums section.  Part of a one-page layout, users would have seen this after the Events section.  The content seemed to stand out well enough at this stage of development.  But as other sections of the page evolved throughout my design process, this section got lost.  And that was a problem because The Coaster Crew is trying to increase their forum activity.

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The original prototype gave the Forums section a similar white-on-orange color scheme to the Podcast section.  This provided good consistency through the one-page layout.  I was planning to add a background picture but had not yet decided which ride it should be.

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I decided on Dominator at Kings Dominion for the background picture. Several years ago, the KDFansite forum merged with the Coaster Crew Network forums, where it became a board within the larger network’s forums. It’s still the most active part of the forums. The most active topic was the Intimidator 305 announcement, but I decided to use an I305 picture as the background for the mission statement. More users would see that in the one-page layout because that was almost prime real estate in that layout.

The background picture in this mockup was just a placeholder. I had taken it on the way out of Kings Dominion several years before I bought a professional camera, and it was an old Facebook upload. It did the job for a prototype even though I needed to make the picture bigger, but I wouldn’t use a background picture like this in a live site. Our first round of user testers saw the prototype with this background image.

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By now, I had a much better picture of Dominator thanks to Nikki at KDFansite.  I darkened the picture slightly to make the section’s text easier to read.  I also decided to put the calls to action on their own row instead of in front of the picture.  Users did their second round of testing on this beta site.

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Here’s the forums section at this stage in mobile width.

One of my questions for user testers in the first two rounds was, “Do we present good enough reasons to join the forums?” One positive thing they mentioned was actually the Register call to action. They didn’t want to see spam on the boards. But users also didn’t find the Forums section that eye-catching in this layout. By this stage, I had added icons in several other sections of the site. They found those sections drew their attention more.

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Going to the next round of user testing to the third was a big leap. I added a panel for readability and icons to draw users’ eyes.

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Some users in the last round of testing remarked that I had drawn attention to the wrong features of the forums.  The number of members and number of posts sounded more intimidating and tedious than helpful when it was placed in the top row.  I ended up moving those down and putting the visit tips and trip reports at the top on the live site.

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The site looks very similar on a tablet.

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Here is the row of calls to action on a tablet.

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At mobile width, the page draws users’ attention toward viewing the forums before registering.  This width is the best for this flow of events.  Users now expect to be given concrete value before they register for a site.

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When I was directed to split the site back into a multi-page layout, this created a new challenge because each section needed to be represented well on the homepage.  I opted for a shorter section of copy and just a few of the forums’ features to make it onto the homepage.

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In the live site, the social media section appears right below the forums section to enhance the feeling of being part of a community of coaster fans.  Further up the page, users are given a list of events for real-life meetups.  The forums and social media sections encourage discussions at any time of the year, regardless of whether or not parks are open.  Actually, in my experience as a Coaster Crew forum moderator, forums get quite a lot of activity in the offseason too because members take the offseason to speculate on what will happen at the parks in the following season.

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In the mobile width, I hide the icons on the homepage and try to just communicate the right things with the text. I didn’t want to go too far off of the desktop width for this because the mobile site and desktop site are the same site. The design both adapts to users’ devices and responds to their window size.

Thanks for reading about Coaster Crew’s new forums page. You can see it live here. The next article will detail a new signup flow I designed for the Coaster Crew site, which could not be delivered yet due to technical limitations. I’ll close the series with posts about the new Coaster Crew Network bar and the About page.

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.

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.

Live screenshot from the Coaster Crew's homepage

UX Process in Action: From a Multi-Page Site to a One Page Site and Back Again

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I recently launched the Coaster Crew site and explained how I came to understand its target audience.  Today, I will discuss the design of its homepage.

The site began as a multi-page site with separate pages for In the Loop, About, Events, and many more.  These screenshots will walk through my plan to turn this into a one-page site – and how I was able to change it back into a multi-page site, keeping many features of the one-page design.

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The new Coaster Crew homepage differs significantly from any of their previous designs.  In the first sketches, I originally envisioned the new CoasterCrew.net as a single-page site. About, Podcast (In the Loop), Events, Forums, and the store would have been sections within this one page.

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I conducted card sorting studies, where participants helped me determine the navigation menus for CoasterCrew.net and the fansites.  This also told me what I should include in each section of the one-page site.  The navigation menus’ links went to different parts of that one page.

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Then I created a wireframe.  This had the layout and content of the site.  This first screenshot is the whole page zoomed out.  It’s hard to read the page at this distance, so here are some of the sections.  I will include more pictures of this in future articles about the individual pages.

The header of the site is largely the same as what you see on the site now.  The current site’s header just uses a full-width background image and has only one button.  I changed this later in the prototype.

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Here is the first prototype with no images yet.  In the theme we decided on using later, the logo is on top of the background image and the background image is full-width.

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This shows one of the segues between sections on the one long page.

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This prototype had the logo and background image.  The top section in this screenshot looks a lot more like the homepage’s header today.  In development, I toyed around with putting the logo on the left and in the middle.  Ultimately, I decided to leave it in the middle.

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Our first round of usability testing was on the aforementioned prototype.   I took the testers’ feedback into account on this first development version of the page.  This is a local version of the page rather than the actual WordPress site, so it only shows the page’s body.  I developed this using the 1180px grid.  Later, I switched to Foundation 4.3 because that framework was able to do more.

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This shows the About to Podcast segue and a technical problem with WordPress that took me weeks to resolve.  Its auto-paragraph feature (wpautop, for those who know WordPress) was needed by our staff so that they wouldn’t have to know code to write content.  In the layout I was developing, this feature added a lot of unnecessary spacing in the layout.

Here’s how I fixed extra wpautop spacing in our theme (The One Pager by WooThemes).  This goes in the custom.css file.  #network-bar is one of my custom styles for this client’s site.

/* Removes empty paragraphs. */ p:empty { display: none; /* hides all truly empty paragraphs. Paragraphs with spaces will still show! */ }

/* Remove whitespace between sections by displaying only non-empty paragraphs in the entry */ .home p { display: none; }

#header p, #network-bar p, .home .entry div p:not(:empty) /* all non-empty paragraphs in a post/page, header, or network bar */ { display: block; /* default for p */ }

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That development version was deployed to a beta site for the second round of usability testing. Based on that feedback, parts of the prototype went back to the drawing board. The biggest changes were to our Events and Forums sections. These had a lot of content added to them in order to help the users of our site. Stay tuned for future posts about these two sections.

By now, several sections of the site had become quite long. Linking to different sections of the single-page site was not as straightforward either. So our staff requested that I convert the site back to a multi-page layout. This involved substantial rework in the homepage design, including new sketches and a lot of tinkering with the design in the browser with Firebug.

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Moving back to a multi-page design takes more than copy and paste because, as a designer, I have to keep in mind the paths that users will take through the site. I have to make sure people will still visit all of the pages by making sure that the homepage gave a fair amount of space with them. I ultimately decided to shorten the sections of the one-page layout, link to the full pages, and add one more section for The Coaster Crew’s social media feeds. This screenshot shows the segue from the shortened Events section to the shortened Podcast section. On desktops, the sections feature fixed-position backgrounds.

I then did a third round of usability testing, incorporated nearly all of the feedback, and sent off the project for final launch prep. The site finished going live in early September.

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This is how the top of the live homepage looks at desktop, tablet, and mobile widths. Any of these layouts can display on your computer depending on how wide your browser window is.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series. It will explain how my process enables Coaster Crew podcast listeners to stay In the Loop on the new site.

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.

Spreadsheet describing the five personas being considered for The Coaster Crew's redesigns.

The 5 kinds of people who would visit a coaster club’s website – and what I learned about them

Last week, I started a new series of articles about The Coaster Crew’s new site. So that I can expand my design portfolio, The Coaster Crew has graciously allowed me to redesign all of their sites. The new Coaster Crew site, which recently went live, follows the new Coaster Crew Network Portal site.

Many people who aren’t familiar with my exact field would read all of this and think, “He redesigns websites. He is trying to build a design portfolio. He must be a web designer.”

Not quite.

I am a user experience designer.

User experience (UX) includes a lot more than just web design. In effect, in a UX project like this one, I am dealing with affecting how you feel about the Coaster Crew and how you feel about the fansites. UX designers use established methods. This is to make sure that their sites are meeting the needs of their users. These needs include being able to find what you are looking for easily, having a pleasant experience browsing the sites, and wanting to come back to this community of people who love the same parks that you do.

As a field of work, UX involves a lot. UX designers come into the UX field from graphic design, human factors engineering, computer science, marketing, and many other fields. My background is in computer science. I was a software developer before becoming a full-time freelancer in UX.

UX also has a lot of sub-fields within it. Most commonly, people would divide UX into information architecture, interaction design, human-computer interaction, and visual design. In other words, as a UX designer I deal with how websites and pages are arranged (IA), how you interact with the site (IxD and HCI), and how it looks (visual design). Many people also say that industrial design (for example, design of iPhones and iPads), sound design, copywriting, sound and video production, and architecture of buildings play a role in user experience too.

Today, I will describe how I used some common interaction design practices, surveys and personas, to help the Coaster Crew sites reach out to a broader audience.

The Coaster Crew sites have long done a great job reaching out to coaster fanatics: people who ride coasters anytime they can, who know a dive loop from an Immelmann and a B&M from an Intamin. However, not very many park visitors are this crazy about coasters. Most people who go to parks love coasters and/or the other great experiences that amusement parks provide. But they don’t often know the makes, the models, the engineering behind all these great rides, or the terms that coaster enthusiasts use a lot. Reaching out to the general public more would give Coaster Crew a much larger base of park fans to join the club, invite to their events, and contribute to their sites.

So I began this redesign project a different way. Instead of jumping right in to writing code or sketching new designs, I began by trying to understand the people that we are trying to attract to the site. My premise, which seems to have held up so far, is that coaster enthusiasts would still be served well even if the sites were designed for the general public as top priority.

I took surveys and began to understand the average park visitor, not from just my general observations at parks (which helped), but from real data – from them. Here are a few of the questions I asked in the survey:

  1. How often do you visit amusement parks?
  2. If you were to visit an amusement park’s fansite, what would you want to find out while you’re there?
  3. What frustrates you the most at parks, fansites, and forums?
  4. What do you think of the current fansites?

Based on the whole survey, I came up with personas. Personas stand in for users throughout the rest of the design process. They are based on what designers find out in surveys, interviews, and contextual inquiries (watching people use their computers, tablets, and phones in the real world). But they’re not an average. No one has exactly 2.1 kids or visits parks exactly 3.5 times a year.

So our personas included these people:

  1. A coaster enthusiast who visits a lot of parks and rides coasters quite frequently
  2. A young coaster enthusiast who is quickly learning a lot about coasters but doesn’t have as much budget or opportunity for visiting parks out of town
  3. A young adult general public visitor who loves coasters but only visits parks once or twice a year
  4. A general public mother of two young children who doesn’t ride coasters but is interested in learning about fun things she and her kids can do together.
  5. A mid-level manager at a theme park (we did not include them in our surveys)

I designed the fansites with Karen (4th column) as the primary persona since she is more interested in family activities at parks. She wouldn’t be served well by a fansite that only talks about roller coasters. Javier (3rd column) is the primary persona for the Coaster Crew site since he is more interested in coasters and Coaster Crew keeps coasters front and center in their activities.Here are a few highlights of what we found in our surveys:

  1. Long lines were the top frustration for both enthusiasts and the general public, but a much bigger problem for the general public. I think this is because coaster enthusiasts tend to visit parks more often at off-peak times. The next-biggest frustrations for general public guests were costs and crowds. Coaster enthusiasts were more frustrated by a lack of appealing food options and ride closures.
  2. The general public’s biggest frustration with fansites was that it was too hard to find what they were looking for on the site. Coaster enthusiasts overwhelmingly reported that a lack of recent updates is their biggest frustration. More general public respondents than coaster enthusiasts reported that they were frustrated with fansites’ professionalism and look and feel.
  3. On fansite forums, coaster enthusiasts’ biggest frustration was that discussions go off topic. The general public’s biggest frustrations were 1) “I can’t post as a guest” and 2) “Rude/annoying people”.
  4. Both enthusiasts and general public visit fansites mainly to learn more about a park’s rides. Among other goals, coaster enthusiasts were most interested in special events, food at the park, and construction updates. General public were most interested in construction updates, special events, and visit tips.
  5. None of the general public respondents I polled have ever been a member of a coaster club, and only 1 of more than 60 had heard of Coaster Crew before the survey. Just over a third of the enthusiasts I polled had been in a coaster club, and over half had heard of Coaster Crew.
  6. Coaster enthusiasts liked the existing design more. They gave it higher marks in visual appeal, layout, and findability (the ability to find information they are looking for easily).

Since many people reported that they hate long lines, the new Coaster Crew site reports in plain view that our group usually has at least one ride to ourselves during our Exclusive Ride Time (ERT) sessions.  Many people who tested the new Coaster Crew site noticed this and had very positive feedback.

The mobile site brings Exclusive Ride Time and behind the scenes tours even more to the forefront.

Right after the list of event perks, we give an invitation to our next event and a list of more future events.  Many events list ERT as one of their perks, so this combination goes very well.

In later articles, I’ll explain how several of the pages in the new CoasterCrew.net design came to be. I’ll begin with the homepage design, which is a radical departure from their previous site.

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.

Live screenshot from the Coaster Crew's homepage

In 15 Pictures: The new Coaster Crew site goes live

The new site for The Coaster Crew has now gone live. Seven months in the making, this is my second site for Coaster Crew, after their new Coaster Crew Network Portal was launched in June. Like the Portal, the new Coaster Crew site uses a responsive design. This means that it is designed to look good on desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

The Coaster Crew is a roller coaster club with over 1000 members in the US and Canada. I’ve attended several of their events in the past and really enjoyed interacting with other roller coaster enthusiasts, riding coasters in Exclusive Ride Time, and going on behind the scenes tours! I hope my schedule will allow me to attend their events again soon.

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One of the most interesting challenges of this site was helping Coaster Crew expand their audience of coaster enthusiasts to reach more of the general public. General public guests who enjoy riding roller coasters often don’t know about coaster clubs and tend to visit parks less often than enthusiasts do. However, there is not as much disparity between enthusiasts and GP in terms of which rides they tend to like, save for “hidden gem” rides at lesser-known parks that tend to receive much of their attention among only enthusiasts and small parks’ regional audiences.

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to work on redesigns for the Coaster Crew fansites. The fansites have a more direct benefit for the general public, who should find several new sections for the fansites helpful.

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I began this project by researching the current and prospective users of the Coaster Crew sites.  This is a common strategy for people in my profession, user experience design.  I’ve written a whole article on how I did the user research for these sites.  It will be the next article to go live in this series.

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Next, I sketched out every page of the new site.  Many ideas in this original sketch for the In the Loop section were included in what is now the live site.

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After that, I created wireframes for each page.  This was an early idea for what is now the header on the homepage.

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Then, I created the prototype for the site in three iterations.  This is the second round of the prototype for the In the Loop page, as depicted in Axure.

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After a second round of user testing on a beta site, I created a final prototype.  This Forums section is from that prototype.

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A third round of user testing on the beta site gave me some great feedback, like moving a section showing people what to expect at a Coaster Crew event to the top of the Events section.

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The BGWFansite and KDFansite staff and I donated some pretty striking pictures of coasters to use on the site.  The mission statement appears over a picture of Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion.

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An infographic and call to action for membership highlight the new About section on CoasterCrew.net.  A future article will show more about the design process for this infographic.  I took the background picture at Hersheypark this season.

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This is the first Coaster Crew site designed to be easy to use on mobile phones.  This page allows users to listen to In the Loop on their phones.

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I mixed different font weights throughout the new Coaster Crew site design.  This is the event list at mobile width.

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The new homepage features teasers of each section of the site.  User testers loved how the background for each section stayed in one place as they scrolled it into view.

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A new network bar unites the entire Coaster Crew network.  (It does have a title, Coaster Crew Network, which is not in this screenshot so that I could show the full footer.)

This has been a great project to do. Explore the live site at http://coastercrew.net, and stay tuned for more articles describing how each page was built! The next one will describe how I learned more about the types of people in our current and target audiences.

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.