What Disneyland taught me about web design

You might find it a bit strange that Disneyland could teach anything about web design.  Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, the family fun park that is all about show business, rides and entertainment and yet I learned a very valuable lesson on my last trip to the Disneyland park.

What Disneyland taught me about web design …

Let me tell you the story…

What Disneyland taught me about web design 1

I grew up in Southern California, we went to Disneyland many times over the years and it was always a fun time.  I feel like I know the park like the back of my hand and yet it never seems to grow old.   The music, the people, the happy environment… even though we stand in line for over an hour we somehow overlook that normally uncomfortable wait just to be inside the park and submerged in the “fun” of it.    This time as I was standing in line for the Indiana Jones ride I had an “A-Ha” moment.  I began wondering what it was about Disneyland that could make all things feel happy, even the elements that would normally be something that would be uncomfortable and unacceptable.

What Disneyland taught me about web design 2

I stood there, in line, closer to complete strangers than I normally let my kids stand to me in the grocery store line, listening to the birds chirping and gazing up into the giant bamboo shoots.  There were uneven stones that made up the walkway and what looked like broken artifacts and old camp lights scattered here and there.  Standing there waiting in line I felt like I was in the jungle waiting for an adventure.  It was exciting, just being there.  The “cast-members” running the ride were dressed in vintage adventure gear, something you might wear on a safari 50 years ago.  Everything was on point, from the first person that greeted you at the ride line to the walls that you walked past as you exited the ride.

Our websites need to do the same thing.

That’s when it dawned on me… This is exactly how I need to make my visitors feel when they land on my website!  We need to submerge our visitors into our message from the moment they land on our website and with every interaction we have with them.  Whether we sell dog toys or high-end construction we need to deliver that message in the most cohesive way possible.  Our entire aesthetic needs to speak to our audience, from the fonts we select to the consistency of the images we choose.  We need our visitors to land on our webpage and say to themselves… “This company understands me.  They are all about ______. ” If we send a confusing message we are likely to lose potential customers.  We need to be clear and committed to our message/product so that our customers confidently invest in our products and services.  When a potential customer lands on our site and everything about our site speaks to the purpose/ product then we lower the barriers and make our visitors feel like we understand what they need, it instills confidence in us and our message.

Even the food court in Adventureland sold snacks and drinks appropriately named to make the whole experience feel like you were backpacking in a jungle somewhere.  We too have to create an atmosphere to make our visitors feel like they have landed on the right website and you are the expert in your field.  By doing this we alleviate potential barriers and help our customers overlook what would normally be a roadblock because they trust us.  We are helping to build that “know, like and trust” factor when we are clear and consistent in our design and the entire environment speaks to a single message.

Here are some ways to keep your website design cohesive like Disneyland keeps itself the happiest place on earth:

  1.  Keep your images consistent.  If you use a vintage filter on your images, use it on all your images including those you post to social media.
  2.  Use a voice in your copy that is consistent and cohesive with your environment.  If you are speaking to 18 – 25-year-olds that use trendy slang, then write your copy in a way that would appeal to that demographic.  Once you determine how you should be writing to appeal to your demographic… be consistent!  Write all your emails, social media posts and blog posts with the same “voice”.
  3.  Keep a color palette that fits your aesthetic… if you are speaking in a bold, trendy manner use bold blocks of color.  This does not mean you have to be obnoxious, just be very intentional about your color selection.
  4.  Fonts make a huge impact as well.  If your target demographic is 60 – 75-year-olds a larger, easier to read font is better.  You want to select a font that works for your demographic while also encouraging your design direction.  If you are going for an old west theme you would want to pair a decorative, vintage typeface with something in the body that is easy to read for your target demographic.  Be intentional to offer subtle hints toward your design aesthetic while keeping your voice and practical elements comfortable for your target demographic.
  5.  Graphics.  You can do a lot to control the feeling you are portraying by using fanciful, hand drawn or ornate graphics based on the overall theme of your aesthetic.  The main thing I would suggest here is to not get too carried away.  A little can go a long way.  Just like the very little things in the long wait for the Indian Jones ride, it was the rope, uneven stones and the vegetation they selected that made me really feel like I was in a jungle.  It was not hugely obvious, in fact, I am guessing many didn’t even notice.  Hop over to the Haunted house and the trees, plants, and costumes were totally different.  The walkways were brick and plants were more like ferns, a totally different feeling that was subtle and probably not noticed by most of the crowd.  Our graphics can be similar… just a watermark or subtle little leaf can offer a hint toward your message without being a bold, in your face, out of place or overdone graphic.  Maybe you want to offer a friendly feeling so you incorporate some hand-drawn sketches just to break a more corporate identity.

So while most Disneyland fans are thinking about princesses and spaceships I am still pondering how I can use my recent visit to Disneyland to help me build better websites for my clients. I am dreaming of ways to incorporate a complete design “experience” that tells a story by walking my visitors down a path.  An adventure for my audience that doesn’t scream my message but holds their hand as they become familiar and comfortable in the experience.


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