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My Not So Secret Love For Disney

Our beloved product manager, Craig, has some love to share. Over the years, he's become enthralled by the spectacular service design employed at the mega-corporation that is the Walt Disney Company. Here are his thoughts and experience on the matter.

The man himself, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida

It’s no secret around the office that I’m in love with Disney. Yeah, I really love Disney; so much so I’d buy all their stock if I could. Anyway, whenever I tell people I love Disney so much, I get all kinds of weird looks. You can tell by their slightly delayed reaction they’re sceptical: “How old is this guy? Late twenties, early thirties? And he’s still into the whole fairy tale type of stuff? Why?”. It’s not like that all the time though, sometimes it’s even a great pickup line. But yeah, did I mention I love Disney?

Don’t get it twisted though, it’s not about the movies for me. Honestly, I’ve only ever seen like a handful of classics; thanks to the Disney Vault, I might add.  I reckon most people are aware that Disney entails a lot more than just a bunch of heartfelt kids’ movies. As a company, Disney is flexing on just about everyone as of late. After dropping a couple billion dollars on the Star Wars franchise acquisition a few years back, they’ve now bought the entirety of the Fox network, too. If you’re curious as to what’s actually owned by Disney these days, take a look over here. Spoiler alert: you’ll be surprised.

What I love the most about Disney though, is that they’re innovators at heart. Most people don’t know this, but Walt and his brother had some insanely progressive ideas, especially from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Sadly not all of them came to fruition, but more on that later. Beyond that, from a service design perspective, the Disney theme parks are something to behold as well.

Walt Disney, presenting his plans for the Disney Florida Project.

Let’s talk about the man himself for a minute; Walt Disney. He had entrepreneurship coursing through his veins. He wanted to do stuff, move things forward and make the next thing happen. From what I’ve seen, he had an almost insatiable drive to just keep on keepin’ on. Take this for an example: Mickey Mouse wasn’t the first cartoon character Walt had created. Mickey had a predecessor, called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But Walt got bamboozled badly after cutting a deal with Universal; the studio took all the rights to the character and Walt got thrown out. But he persevered, which led to the creation of the ever so iconic character, Mickey Mouse.  Another trait that really characterized Walt as an entrepreneur, is that he was fearless. He knew in order to get better, you had to take risks. Back in the 30’s, the the Snow White film had a 2 million dollar price tag. If that film were to tank at the box office, Walt would have been bankrupt, simple as that. Thankfully it didn’t, he made 7 million in return, a pretty impressive feat back in those days.

Above all else, however, Walt was an innovator; a visionary. Steamboat Willie, an animated short film by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, was the first cartoon ever to have music synchronized with the picture. He also invented a new camera setup called the multiplane camera, which gave Disney movies that special touch and it really redefined animation as a whole.

Concept drawing of infrastructure designs at EPCOT.

One of his biggest achievements or innovations though, is without a doubt the Florida project. In complete secrecy, he bought giant plot of land in Florida. To give you an idea, it’s about the size of San Francisco, or twice the size of Manhattan Island. “Why would anyone do such a thing?”, you might wonder. Basically, Walt wanted to build the city of tomorrow. EPCOT, he called it, which is short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. What’s most incredible, is that his vision back then in the late 60’s, would still hold its ground today. Check out this video if you’re curious to see his what he had in store for EPCOT. While you don’t have to watch the whole thing, I highly recommend that you do. Picture this, it’s 1966 and this man thought of building a monorail, and put city center under a giant dome to protect it from the climate… Just think what he could have dreamt up with current-day technology.

Which seamlessly brings me to the thing I love most about Disney: the theme parks. Sadly, Walt passed away before his plans for EPCOT could become a reality. And no one else at Disney had the balls to really make it happen. Instead, the Florida project became what’s now known as The Walt Disney World Resort, with a downscaled version of EPCOT built right next to it.

The meticulously designed service design philosophy at Disney.

What drew me the most to the theme parks, though, was Disney’s absolute mastery of service design. I’m a product manager, so service design is pretty much what I do. And let me tell you, the level of service you get when taking a trip to one of the theme parks is just incredible. Here’s a little more about my personal experience at one of the resorts.

Overview of the "My Disney Experience" application.

The experience already kicks off weeks or months before you actually get there, when you’re still at home figuring out which trip to take, and when. There’s a plethora of options available on the Disney website. Once I’d booked my stay at my hotel of choice, Disney had me covered. Soon after, I received a personal postcard with my name on it. How cool is that? Beyond that you also get a personal account on the My Disney Experience platform. In short, it facilitates the planning of your trip; you can set up your own schedule, make reservations at several restaurants, and book up to 3 FastPasses. 2 months in advance, I knew exactly at what time I was going to ride Space Mountain, when I was going to get absolutely soaked at Splash Mountain and when I’ll be saying hi my to my favorite ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. I don’t think I was every this relaxed when leaving for a trip.

The "magical" wristband has a myriad of uses throughout the entire resort.

Once the plane had touched down in Florida, all I literally had to do was follow the arrows at the airport that led me to the Disney Magical Express, a big ol’ bus that takes you straight to the resort; at this point I didn’t even have to worry about my luggage anymore, either. Once checked in at the hotel, you get a cute little pin-back button and a ‘magical’ wristband. It sounds really gimmicky when you put it like that, but the point is they all tie in with your experience at the park, offering an even greater level of engagement and service. The button might unlock some extra benefits depending on the occasion: a free FastPass when it’s your birthday, free drinks if you’re getting married, the list goes on. From a service design-perspective, a lot of little things make can make a big difference down the road.

The next day, I woke up and checked the app to see what the resort had in store for me today. It’s pretty obvious Disney’s put all their money on convenience, and personalized services; the wristband unlocks access to your room as well as the parks themselves, and triggers certain events like a poster that gets projected somewhere with your name on it, or someone greets you by your first name. If you’ve ever seen Minority Report, you’ll know what I’m talking about. All your FastPasses are stored on the wristband as well. Photographers in an around the parks might snap a couple pictures of you if you wish, and the photos get sent directly to your wristband as well. Whenever I got hungry, I’d just check the app to see which restaurants are still open.

I could go on forever, but you get the point by now. Disney really went above and beyond to weed out all the stress and hassle a trip like this might come with, and kept me involved and engaged throughout the entire experience. If anything, Disney really managed to grasp the end goal of service design as a concept: delivering a convenient, engaging experience, from start to finish. Which is why they’re such a incredible inspiration for me, as a product manager.

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