Mickey Mouse Knows App Development (Really?)

Early in my career, I had the good fortune to land a job at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), a position which provided a peek behind the curtain of the ‘magic’ that powered the Disney theme parks. This was back the early ’90s, the beginning of the Disney Decade when Disney under Eisner executed a series of daring expansions around the globe. Imagineering, at that point, was run by Marty Sklar and a succession of business executives starting with Mickey Steinberg. (No joke, that was his name.) Marty was old school, having been tutored at the knee of The Great One himself during the construction of Disneyland and the years that followed. As the Imagineering geared up for the Disney Decade, the employee population of WDI ballooned as designers, artists, writers, engineers, show producers and more joined WDI as Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySeas were designed and built. And all of this new talent needed to be brought up to speed on how Disney magic was created. And thus Mickey’s Rules were created — an encapsulation of the concepts of design, entertainment and user experience which Walt Disney employed during Disneyland’s construction. No surprise, the rules have some rather broad application outside of the world of theme park design. In fact, when applied to app development, they still have tremendous value.

1. Know Your Audience — If you’re conceptualizing or designing an app, think about what your user base wants, why they’re using your app and what benefits or advantages they expect to get out of it. People use apps which solve a problem for them. It’s your job to figure out what that problem is and find a way to solve it in the easiest and simplest way.

2. Wear Your Guests Shoes — You’ve got to experience your concept and your design from the standpoint of the user, not an arbitrary ‘best practice’ or ‘cool design’. Think about how your audience is going to come to the app experience — what obstacles and challenges that they will experience — and adjust your approach accordingly.

3. Organize the Flow of People and Ideas — With good organization and design, many features can be incorporated into an app, yet still leave the app feeling simple and easy-to-use.

4. Create a Weenie — As funny as this one sounds, it translates to a pretty basic concept. Provide a touchstone for users to orient themselves, not only through the app itself, but conceptually.

5. Communicate with visual literacy — Make good use of text and non-textual ways of communicating — color and form, for example.

6. Avoid Overload — Don’t try to do everything at once. Your opening screen doesn’t need to have every setting, choice and option. Use interface hierarchies to organize your experience. See Rule 3.

7. Tell One Story At A Time — While Swiss army knives are great knives, they’re only functional as a screwdriver or an awl. An app that tries to do everything runs the risk of doing none of them well. Focus.

8. Avoid Contradiction — Your app should behave the same way through out. The internal rules which guide user interaction shouldn’t change.

9. For Every Ounce of Treatment, Provide a Ton Of Fun — The best way to get people to come back to your app is to keep it fun. Part of that can be found in good design, part in user experience. Don’t make your app hard to use just to make it feel authentic or ‘hip’. Be inclusive, not exclusive in features, terminology and design.

10. Keep It UpContinue to think about new features and future iterations with these rules in mind. Your goal is a superlative user experience.

Walt was fond of saying that “It all began with a mouse.” Starting your app conceptualization and design with these rules, “Mickey’s Rules”, in mind, will make for a great beginning for your app development process.

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