Lessons from the Disney Parks — Part 2: Embracing Limitations

Thought Leadership

By Wells Stringham | September 24, 2021

After closures and limited guest attendance, Disneyland and Walt Disney World are back in motion. To celebrate, we were inspired to create this series to examine how the best practices at Disney Parks can also inform your digital products. You can hop over to part one or enjoy part two below.

How focus can help your product go the distance

At Apply Digital, we get to see how apps are conceived, crafted, and delivered to market — and we’re lucky enough to do so across a variety of situations. From start-ups with only a founder to companies looking to diversify beyond their one product to huge multinationals who need help pivoting an old product, we’ve done it all. And we see one common hiccup at any sized company is trying to stuff a vast list of features into their app.

In our approach to launching a minimum viable product (MVP), we stay focused on the core functionality of the product — and we ask these questions:

  • What does this person using the product expect?

  • How can we deliver and test that functionality with the most efficient use of time?

  • What parts can be deferred to a later phase (once the return on interest is proven enough to justify the investment)?

Sounds simple enough, right? But what if your client wants it all and wants it done yesterday? It often takes a shift in perception to successfully align on the path to a great experience, even when delivering a reduced set of features.

The many adventures of limitations

One of our favorite companies to analyze for examples of good customer experience — and one who knows all about building within limits and constraints — is Disney Parks.

Take Disney World’s Pandora’s Flight of Passage, for example. Set in the world of the record-breaking 2009 box office hit, Avatar, riders sit on the backs of ikrans — dragon-like creatures from the world of Pandora — and are swept through clouds, caves, and jungle treetops, then over rivers, cliffs, oceans, and waterfalls.

A child rides Pandora's Flight of Passage at Disney World

Photo by Disney: Pandora's Flight of Passage

As you sit on your creature, your mount moves and shakes with the flow of the visuals — and you can even feel their ‘breathing’ beneath you. The whole ride feels like you’re truly flying thousands of feet in just a few minutes. But did Disney go all out and build a humongous, indoor roller coaster that swoops riders through the air? Nope.

Instead, Disney embraced their limited spatial setup by utilizing existing flight simulator technology and stretching it horizontally to fit multiple people. This tech, combined with an immersive story, amazing 3D visuals, surround sound, and some strategically placed fans, makes the riders forget they’re a group of people in a big room sitting together on a platform that only moves about four feet.

And it’s not just the innovative tech that makes it work. The narrative of Pandora’s Flight of Passage is designed to hide the shortcomings of the space. While it may feel like you’re diving downward at breakneck speed, suddenly pulling up to avoid an obstacle, before beginning the descent again, the machine is pulling up in order to let the motors reset to full height — but you’d never know that was the case because of how believable the experience is from start to finish.

Two Disney ride programmers sit in the Flight of Passage ride seats

Photo by John Kestler: Flight of Passage during development

The wonderful thing about working within constraints

The amazing Disney Parks aside, you can find companies embracing limitations with their apps, too. PLLAY, an esports mobile app changing the casual betting game, uses the AI-driven Computer Vision technology as a way to determine a winner right away so players don’t have to wait weeks to claim their victory. Computer Vision gives PLLAY the ability to ‘watch’ users’ gameplay in action, decode gameplay into usable data, and make split-second determinations about the rightful winner of each match.

But sometimes players dispute the results the AI delivers. What then? Well, at that point, we’ve hit the limits of AI and a support person comes into play. They’ll assess the dispute, review the gameplay from beginning to end, and determine the winner the way only a human can — for now, anyway.

Mission: Polished, not perfect

Avoid making the mistake of comparing your fledgling MVP app to a mature product on the market. Doing this can make a final, well-rounded product feel out of reach.

If you’re building a movie streaming app today, your product won’t possibly compete on a feature-by-feature comparison to a streaming veteran like Netflix. Find your unique advantage — the specific problem you’re solving that your competitors avoid — and zero in on that.

From a user experience standpoint, launching a polished app with a smaller set of core features that will be expanded upon over time will bring you long-term success, while launching a bug-ridden beast with a poor user experience loses you credibility and customers.

If you enjoyed this article, check out Part 1 of the series, where we discussed how mundane moments are prime opportunities to hook your users — and how to create a truly memorable product.

For help getting your app off the ground or recovering from a fumble, contact us at hello@applydigital.com.

Co-Written by Judy Renouf and Jaime Chang