5 things Universal Studios can teach us about user experience

I arrived at Universal Studios before rush hour and was greeted immediately by a simple offer. $15 for regular parking which has a farther walking distance from the park, or $20 for ‘preferred’ parking which allows you to park pretty much at the entrance. Being only a $5 dollar difference we chose to latter. What’s interesting about this pricing scheme is the relative difference in pricing. As a quick aside pretend you were buying a pen at a store for 6$ but find out that across the street that exact same pen costs $1, 99% of you would purchase the pen across the street. If we change the scenario to buying a tuxedo that costs $1006 but across the street only $1001 we are more likely to just pay the $1006. This is irrational thinking considering both amount to a savings of $5, but the way we judge those savings are based on the relative price. Another thing to consider with this pricing is the act of handing them a $20 bill is ‘complete’ theres no change, no further transactions, or thinking required. Once we got our preferred parking ticket we were told to follow Woody the Wood Pecker. Turns out they had several signs along the way that featured Woody pointing saying ‘This way for preferred parking’ with an arrow indicating to keep going. We started to get confused as we passed several Woody signs and parking lots.

Lesson #1 In order to reduce confusion with regards to location, have indicators of how much further until we reach our destination, 1 mile? 500 meters? This will immediately remove the feeling of being lost or users even having to think that they might be doing something wrong.

We even came across a light and almost thought we might be heading out of the park having missed a crucial turn, not a good feeling.

Since we already pre purchased our tickets we just had to go in to retrieve our passes. Immediately my eye was caught by this $24.95 all you can eat pass for the day. It was Universal Studios first attempt at upselling. Since we hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was about 10:30am it took some carefully considering. As even more incentive kids were only $15.95, and you had a selection of over 8 eateries to choose from. Looking back, this is a huge money maker for six flags since we only at once for about 8$ each and were full for the entire trip.

Lesson #2 When promoting extras sell the value along the way. Lines were forming outside of the office to pick up passes. There was plenty of opportunity to have nice pictures of food, testimonials from guests who used it, and sell the value of buying this all you can eat opportunity.

From that point the park welcomed you with the classic Universal Studios Hollywood neon fountain sign and led you along a path with the park gated to your left and food to the right so immediately you can start spending more money and satisfy any discomforts you may currently have such as being hungry or thirsty. If you read Part 1: about Six flags you may recognize the not so obvious importance of this. Main point being, we can eat and relax while the lines die down.

Next thing we saw was the Universal Studios globe rotating over water with fake fog pouring out of the bottom. It looked awesome and had little kids playing in it (even me) as well as tourists taking a ton of pictures. So far through this experience of just trying to get into the park you’ve never really ran into instances of strong discomfort and you haven’t even entered the park yet! As you walk further down there is an outdoor shopping mall on a catwalk with all of the top fast food chains, movie theaters with the latest movies, a contained sky diving/hovering arena, and tons of boutique shops to buy things from purses to chocolate, to Hello Kitty dolls.

After doubling back to the entrance we went through security which was fairly painless. It had 6 check points total with quick bag checks, and no metal detectors (good sign of the type of crowd you will be mingling with.) Right upon entrance we are being asked to take our picture, with a red carpet laid out leading us to the entrance of the park that checks your tickets. Upon entering the gate your immediately met by a huge bronze statue with one character acting and looking like the other bronze statues. The entertainment just kept going, soon you saw several characters from their movies, particularly the cartoon characters. It was also extremely easy to find a park mark, in several different languages too marked clearly with flags for each country. I never saw empty slots of the map rack so someone was definitely keeping an eye on restocking them. Right next to the map you had employees with a big flat screen TV helping to show people how to get where they want to go. If you ever needed food you would just have to look left, right, or behind you and you were sure to find some.

We heard people screaming, “Last call to catch Water World!” and saw hundreds of people running to get in the gate. “I’m closing the gates!” As we entered, I briefly caught a sign that said “Water World, the #1 live action show in the park.” Immediately you were met by this overwhelming feeling of excitement and anticipation after seeing a crowd similar to what those saw in a Gladiator Colosseum. As you try to find your seat you see several people being sprayed by water as they try to find a seat and the crowd getting wet as the preformers entertain them with antics. This builds up fear to add to your excitement and anticipation, there are three guys doing this so you have 3 instances of relief that you didn’t get wet. Once you take a seat at a bench the water antics continue as they spray the audience mercilessly with little water devices. This whole time you wonder, “Am I going to get wet!?” so you don’t even think about how long the show is going to take to start, or how much time has even passed.

Lesson #3 Evoke several different emotions to get people to forget about waiting times, and to build upon the acceptance of your main product. Things like video, info-graphics, quick tips or facts are some examples when people are waiting.

After the intense water show we headed over to the classic ‘tour the studios’ tram ride. The newest attraction they added was King Kong 360 after the original burned down in a studio fire. The wait to get on the tram was just as advertised when we walked in ‘75 minutes.’ Some will agree that you need to provide feedback as to how long you have to wait before you can experience a ride so that you can decide through opportunity cost if it is worth your time at the moment. Others will disagree being too lazy to put the signs out (Six Flags) or to attempt to erase the feeling of waiting through the surroundings and experience they promote as you wait. This route is much harder since the reality of seeing hundreds of people waiting in line quickly make you realize how long it is going to take. Six Flags tried to go this route, never letting you know how long of a wait something would be and employing a ‘dark pattern’ trick with their latest X2 ride. They put you through the standard people maze that most coasters do but then they made a single file bend that goes around a corner surrounding by trees and vending machines that obstruct your view. Once you pass this corner, you see the same maze that took you an hour to get through. Several people left once they realized truly how long the ride would take. Rather than tricking their guests, Universal Studios went in between. They announced at the front how long it would take so that you wouldn’t waste your time and then funneled people into a wide open area that had clear view of how many people were in line. Along the wait they had several opportunities for you to buy drinks or ice cream and they made a lot of money with the inflated prices at the right points in the line. They also provided mistifiers to keep you cool, flat screen TV’s showing clips of old films and comedies, as well as posters that summed up the most memorable films/actors of each decade.

Lesson #4 Provide feedback to your users about how long something will take and deliver on that estimate. Don’t trick your users into a bad experience, let them know well before hand what they are getting themselves into.

Finally, waiting in line for the Simpsons ride. That was the fastest 1 hour wait for a ride I have ever experienced, why? Having 20 LCD’s streaming the same cartoon clips in sync so you can watch them as you go through the line makes you forget you were even in line. The clips were just long enough to get you through the entire thing without having to repeat. So not only did it provide us with something to pass the time, it also extended the Simpsons ambiance. It was like a perfect storm, short cartoon clips, comedy, relates to the ride, it all just went together. The ride also wasn’t a let down. It felt like it lasted 2-3 minutes which was very long when compared to the 2 ½ hour wait for a 20 second superman ride at Six Flags. It’s amazing how rides are these days, incorporating 3d technology with a stationary cart that tilts and bucks, these rides are definitely going to give the pure metal coasters a run for their money.

Lesson #5 Use comedy and short story clips to entertain the mind rather than have it focus on the negatives of what it is being put through. Also make sure that whatever medium you choose has as much visibility as possible for your users whether it be more TV’s, magazines, or advertising signs.