Saturday, December 11, 2010

Great essay on waiting in line

Via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing comes a pointer to this marvelous article about the theory and practice of designing waiting lines for theme park attractions, specifically the waiting lines at Walt Disney World and its new Winnie-the-Pooh attraction.

You probably have no idea that an essay about lining up for a ride could be anywhere near this fascinating and absorbing, but it is:

It's simply a beautiful, expertly executed experience, and the real world seems to fade away slowly as we descend into the perfect dream state. The surrender is so complete that nobody ever seems to notice several significant logic gaps which the queue sees no reason to explain, but rather leaves mysterious. How, for example, do we end up in outer space? It's just there, at the end of a hallway, as if outer space could be on the other side of any ordinary door.

As the author points out, the special magic of doing this well is that the simple activity of waiting in line is part of what builds and reinforces the entire experience of the ride:

The Haunted Mansion, similarly, conjures up an ethereal "house" out of painted walls and suggestive darkness and so we think there's more there than there really is, but we believe the house is really there because we've seen its' exterior. It's hard to not be fooled into believing that there is a real interior inside a solid looking exterior house or facade, or a real room behind a solid-looking door.

About 15 years ago, I had my first experience with Disney's ride reservation system. This is the process by which you can reserve a time slot for one of the more popular rides (Indiana Jones, etc.), and then you simply show up at the appointed time and enter a special pathway which enables you to skip the majority of the line and go directly to the ride.

Ride reservations definitely resolved one of the bigger problems that Disney was having, and made it possible for visitors, with a bit of planning, to avoid spending all day waiting in line to ride only a handful of rides.

However, I recall distinctly remarking to my mystified family that one of the downsides of the new approach was that, for a lot of the rides, "waiting in the line was actually a lot of the fun". When you just walk right up, get on the ride, and walk back away again, somehow the ride isn't anywhere near as fun.

Find 10 minutes. Pour yourself a cup of coffee (tea, soda, milk, etc.) Get comfortable and sit down and read the article. It won't be wasted time, I promise.

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