Magical experiences

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

Digital sleight of hand

Last week I was in the Magic Kingdom. The best thing about my trip? Witnessing my tiny daughter’s reactions to this blissfully overdone universe (‘look, Daddy, looook!’). The second best thing? My experience of one of Disney’s more grown-up magic tricks: the MagicBand. What can I say? I’m a UX geek through and through.

Disney’s MagicBand

If you don’t already know (and shame on you), Disney’s MagicBand is an unassuming piece of wearable tech worn on your wrist. When I heard of it, my innate British cynicism kicked in. ‘Magic?’ I thought – checking that I’d packed a brolly – ‘Ha! I’ll be the judge of that!’.

Fact is, it’s your theme-park pass,  your room key, your way of jumping the queue for rides, your way of paying for things, and, oh, it also lets you grab a copy of your photos and syncs them with Disney’s smartphone app. Neat.

What elevates this piece of tech to magical status is the way that using it makes you feel. It’s like a wrist-worn magic wand that unlocks a fantastical world of customer experience. It won’t bring broomsticks to life, of course, but moving effortlessly from touchpoint to touchpoint makes you feel like a digital VIP.

Like a moth to a digital flame

Each of the places where you can use your MagicBand is beautifully designed. Mickey’s silhouette is the ubiquitous motif that identifies each touchpoint. It acts like a benign HAL reminding us of what he can do for us. From the strokable elegance of the brushed-metal orbs at the entrance gates to the hypnotic, swirling lights of each PhotoPass scanner, this is irresistible design.

One of Disney’s PhotoPass scanners – suitably scuffed to match the ride’s aesthetic

Of course the visual and aural feedback is beautifully simple too. A soft chime and a green glow indicates success, a spinning light says ‘I’m working on it’ and the gentle throb of a blue light suggests that something isn’t quite right. Alarming reds and access-denied klaxons have been thoroughly designed out of this experience.

The people behind the curtain

The thing about magical experiences like the MagicBand is that they highlight those that are less than magical. Digital experiences must (for now, at least) run alongside analogue ones and by analogue I mean those that require us idiosyncratic humans. While the MagicBand delighted me with its seemingly infinite potential, my human experiences were often inconsistent and clunky. As I was reminded when, after a 45-minute wait, we hadn’t been given a table with space for a pram even after turning up with one, unadvanced customer service definitely isn’t magical. When I first started coming to Disney as a child, it was the people who helped to make it magical. Now, it’s the tech and I can’t help but feel a little sad.





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