Suggestions For Future D23 Expos

Posted By Debbie on August 16, 2015

For those of you new to this blog, hello! I’m Debbie and I’m a UX (user experience) designer. I specialize in interaction design and information architecture, which means it’s normally my job to make websites, apps, and other user experiences better, easier, more user friendly, faster to learn and use, etc…

I’m a big Disney fan, mostly of Parks and Resorts. I just attended my third D23 Expo in Anaheim, and some of the poor organization is shocking. The event doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes either. In case anybody is listening, I wanted to offer my help and some ideas for the future.

The Space

The Anaheim Convention Ctr has 1.6 million sq ft of space and is adding more. If Dreamforce can operate in Moscone’s 2 million sq ft and have 130,000+ people attend, you should be able to do well with what you have in Anaheim and easily herd roughly 30,000 people.

The space isn’t well utilized. Key things people want to do are across the convention center from each other. Important things like StagePass and StorePass (I’ll get to those) are way on one side of the show floor. If you really want to maximise crowd control, perhaps those go somewhere else… upstairs? Or not at all? I’ll get to that.

There is a lot of lining up outside and you had no canopy or water. It was 92 degrees this weekend. People are lined up for hours in the SoCal sun without love. Workers didn’t seem to know where bathrooms were. They sent us to the Hilton Hotel, which the Hilton might not have liked.

Since you never do anything to gauge attendee interest in presentations, you seem to have no idea what size rooms to use. I was in the 11am Silly Symphonies presentation in a huge room that was half full. Well sure… everybody was downstairs lining up for StagePass.

Balance crowds across the three floors of the building. Put Archives back upstairs (and bring back the archives merch shop from 2011). What else can go upstairs? I wonder if the whole thing could be flipped. Big presentations downstairs in halls that can hold thousands and thousands of people; everything else on the top two floors since those pavilions, shops, and activities can be separated into themed ballrooms.

The Workers

It looked like most people helping out here were Cast Members (workers) from Disneyland and Disney Stores. They seemed to be in people-pleasing mode rather than crowd-control, rule-enforcing mode, which meant that experiences were inconsistent. I saw one guy talk his way onto the StorePass line at one of the stores even though he had no StorePass. He didn’t think he should have had to wait considering everything else he had to wait for.

Yeah, we ALL feel that way. The lines here are unreasonable and poorly thought out. But these are the rules. The worker let him in. Things like that sucked. There are many stories surfacing from the event that are like this… workers moving people waiting on one line to another and then those people get let in later than they should have.

This is organization and communication. If your workers are going to be in people pleasing mode, then maybe hire the conference staffing people you can get for events. They won’t care what people think of things. They follow the rules. And then you won’t have Disney workers being mentioned by name in anger around social media. That’s bad for everybody.

The Rules and Strategies

The story of the guy who talked his way onto the line makes us ask did he know what to do and just didn’t like it? Or did he genuinely not know what he was supposed to do?

How is D23 messaging what you should do? Online “survival guides” said things like wear comfy shoes and bring water. But who is telling people how to plan the day, what passes you MUST get by when, etc… StorePasses were running out by 10:30am… and they only started giving them out at 10am. People were lining up since 9am.

How does D23 tell people how to play their game? How can messaging be clear but friendly? Nobody wants to read something that feels like terms and conditions. The first-timer friends I brought said if they didn’t have me strategizing, they’d have no idea what to do and be very angry about the things they would have misunderstood, not known, or just missed. PS: they don’t want to come to this event again. 🙁

I disliked this Expo so much that my first thought was, “I won’t buy a ticket to the next one until I read the rules and polices and make sure they changed for the better!” And then I remembered that rules and policies were broken or non-enforced everywhere, so those are meaningless.

The App

The mobile app was very bad. I don’t think anybody worked on the UX team for that one. I think someone came up with ideas, programmers built it based on the ideas, nobody did UX, and a designer put some icons on it.

There are so many places it doesn’t work as expected. For example, you add friends to it by logging into Facebook. But then what can you do with those friends? You can’t see what they favorited, which is what people seemed to expect. When a friend wanted to message me through the app, it looked like it was going to send her to Facebook. Well, she already has Facebook for that.

App notifications weren’t going through to many people, which tell me that this wasn’t tested on all appropriate devices. I saw plenty of iPhone 4 models around. If you think everybody has a 6, they don’t. One woman told me she couldn’t see the third day of the schedule without putting her phone in landscape mode. Again, nobody must have tested an older, narrow iPhone to see this.

Every time I tried to zoom in to the map, my screen went white and the map seemed to completely reload. That’s a crappy user experience. And when I got really zoomed in, someone saved/scanned the map at bleh resolution. I couldn’t tell a 6 from an 8 on booth numbers. Type was very small.

I am offering free, unlimited UX help and QA for your next app. Let some pros work on this thing. It’s too embarrassing to put out what you did. Let me and my team take your feature dreams and give them the layout, flow, interactivity, and ease of use they deserve. Free. Don’t want me? Hire professionals with senior-level experience (or higher). Don’t give this to entry level juniors, please.

If D23 resources are tight, lean on fans. You’d be amazed what we know how to do and would do without charging.

StorePass and StagePass

The expo has a system for letting people get into certain presentations that interest them. You can’t book those ahead. Each morning of the three-day event, you go and wait on a line to get a StagePass. This lets you pick one presentation from the first half of the day. You get a ticket and the assurance that you can get into this presentation. In the morning, the line was short, but that’s because we lined up to get in 2 hours before doors opened. So we’ve already waited 2 hours to get a StagePass.

The Expo expects you to line up AGAIN at 12:30pm to get a StagePass for the one presentation you’d like to see in the second half of the day. Some people started lining up at 11:30am. The line extended across the entire trade show floor across multiple halls, right through the middle of everything. It looked like thousands of people were on the line. I might be on that line 2 hours.

Why can’t I line up once per day and get two StagePasses? There’s no risk associated with letting me do that. If I don’t show up and the presentation is popular, there is a standby line of people who will HAPPILY take my spot. That spot won’t be wasted, so there’s no risk.

Even more bizarre is that if you line up for StorePass, the ticket to a shorter line to go into shopping areas, you can get up to three StorePasses each day. We waited about 40 minutes on the StorePass line but were able to get passes for two stores. Why can I get multiple StorePasses for one day but not multiple StagePasses?

And while we’re on this topic, why can’t I choose StagePasses and StorePasses from the app? Let the app check for location to make someone is at the convention center (or on the CC wifi, which also makes it likely I’m here). Let me pick 2 StagePasses for the day, first come to the app, first served. Let me get on a waitlist, which helps me NOT sit on a standby line if there seems to be no chance of me getting in without a StagePass. Sitting on a standby line with no chance of getting in is a huge waste of time at an event already seriously wasting people’s time.

I saw another good idea on a Facebook page. Someone said that when we register for the event and pay to attend, let us pick three presentations that we want to be guaranteed to get into (while supplies last). That way, even if you don’t feel like waiting on all those lines, you KNOW you are hearing three presentations.

Same could be done for StorePass. Let me get it when I register or from the app. Don’t make me wait on a line to get a ticket that lets me wait on another line later.

D23 might think hey, these are Disney fans. They’re used to waiting on long lines! Yes, but you’re forgetting one thing when comparing this to the UX of FastPass in the parks. It takes me 30 seconds to get a FastPass for Soarin’. It took me HOURS to get StagePasses and StorePasses.

The Problem With Waiting On Lines

When I am waiting, I am not doing. Not experiencing. This was made clear when I had breakfast in Disneyland the day before the Expo. We waited nearly an hour for breakfast after ordering. Evidently the waffle machine went down. The waiter didn’t just apologize; he gave us FastPasses to ANY ride we wanted.

He understood that while waiting for food, we missed a chance to be on rides in the park. We missed a chance to be sharing pictures of us doing cool things. The Expo needs to understand the same thing.

“I can’t wait to stand on a 2+ hour line to then wait on a 40-minute line to get a ticket that lets me later wait on a 40-minute line,” said no-one ever.

Do you want us doing things, buying things, and plugging Disney to our social media worlds? Or do you want us on lines for endless hours and experiencing the negative emotions that brings?

It’s about the payoff. When I was a kid, we went to Disney World during Christmas week when we were off from school. We waited 60-90 minutes for a 5-minute ride, and it felt like a good payoff. I remember disliking lines but feeling it was worth it to go on the ride.

The payoff feelings at the D23 Expo are few and far between for attendees… unless you’re a Sorcerer…


Sorcerers. People hate them. These are attendees who paid $2000 for a ticket for the priviledge to have early access to a few things, their own lounge, and to never wait on a line. They can waltz into anything. I think I paid under $150 per ticket. For $2000, I can have a week in Disney World, so it’s not worth it.

If you’re going to give Sorcerers early/extra access to merchandise, then please make enough merchandise so that other people can buy it too. I know D23 is about getting limited edition stuff. But if you are letting 20K, 30K, or more people into the Expo, make more stuff. We want to buy stuff. NOBODY will refuse to buy stuff because you made 10,000 of them and the edition isn’t limited enough.

“This limited edition isn’t limited enough,” said no-one ever other than the guy buying it to sell it on eBay before the day has ended.

Make stuff. Make it easy for non-Sorcerers to buy stuff.


D23 is a club. This is our once-every-two-years event. You can buy a ticket if you’re not a member. You’re not guaranteed to get in since members are let in first.

Wait… what? You can buy a ticket and then not get in? Is this some sort of shitty oversold flight? Can’t we do better?

If you want to limit it, then be smart. Say it’s for members only, who can bring up to 5 guests who are not members. Members can’t buy tickets. No NON member line. If you want to buy a ticket, go with a friend or become a member. That might drive membership… if you want more members.

As a member, which costs under $100/yr and has other perks, I would be happy if non-members couldn’t buy tickets. That’s thousands of people who won’t bitch me out on long lines where tempers run short.

Rebrand This And Focus On The Consumer Relationship

If this is just Disney’s ComicCon, then stop calling it D23. It’s Disney’s Fan-Whatever. Fan-Tasia. 🙂 Put Disney resources on it full time and blow people’s minds. Fire your event planners. They are not serving you or your customers well. They’ve proven over the 3 expos I attended that they can’t handle this.

Considering it’s a 100% marketing event plugging Disney stuff we can all buy, put more resources on this. Hire full-time Imagineer geniuses to event plan the heck out of this, build a KILLER app, and make this event the one nobody can miss. Build a cross-functional Expo team that combines all the business units, Disney Meetings (these guys and gals are event pros), marketing, ambassadors, UX, app devs, etc… This is a no brainer.

Your outsourced event people just aren’t cutting it and you’ve given them more than enough chances to prove themselves. “More people came this year” may feel like a success metric, but there are other KPIs. Look at the sentiment being expressed. The fighting. What’s on social media. Look at no-shows. I had local friends buy Saturday tickets months ago but then decide to not come once they saw the pandemonium on TV and I warned them to stay away.

If you want to sort people for the purposes of an expo, then look at DVC membership (people you make the most money on), people with annual passes (people you make the next most money on, sorted by level of pass), and then something like D23 fan club membership. Maybe you also look at Disney Movies Anywhere membership at that point… or whether someone ones a Disney Infinity set. Somewhere in there might be shareholders. I heard a few people complaining they “they’re shareholders and can you believe” [complaint complaint complaint].

You know who you make the most money on. I’m guessing it’s DVC members. But use the data you have and focus this event on those target audiences primarily. Recognise people for their relationship(s) to you, Disney. Play into that. Start playing this event to the people who spend the most money with you year after year.

In Conclusion…

The smartest way to go is to cater to DVC members primarily, other memberships secondarily or tertiarily. Put real Disney people on this full time. These people do nothing but plan the Expo even if it’s every other year. You make people feel at home and feel the Disney magic. You help people feel cared for, listened to, and catered to.

Disney knows how to do that better than anyone. That’s why the Expo is so hugely disappointing for people feeling frustration. It’s not like a bunch of jerks planned a crappy event because they are jerks. This is DISNEY. We expect a LOT. And I just had my third Expo be frustrating, exhausting, and disappointing.

I know you can do better. Someone has to decide it’s worth the time and money to do it. Create the joy we fans know you can.

And For Fun

I will be a 3D-printed, face-scanned Mouseketeer.

2015-08-14 15.53.45

Responding To Responses

Editing this to include some responses I got to this blog post.

What else can you expect with 45,000 passionate people?

I can expect a lot though at this point, my expectations are pretty low. I am basing my expectations on business events I have been to like Dreamforce. They have 130,000+ people in one convention center annually. It is pretty smooth! They even pack most of those people into a last-night party. The one I was at a few years ago had Metallica playing and free alcohol.

If Dreamforce can make wrangling 130K people look good, why should this event be so messy with 1/3 the attendance?

The event would have been better if more event planners had headsets/walkie talkies.

I’ve done some event planning. I own a set of six (expensive) walkie talkies with earpieces. Most of my concerns wouldn’t be solved by more walkie talkies. To name a few, the flawed used of event space, the agonizing process to get StagePasses, and an app that was poorly designed, built, and tested aren’t fixed by more headsets.