5 things traveling with toddlers teaches you about experience design

5 things traveling with toddlers teaches you about experience design featured image

First, what you are about to read should never be taken as a recommendation to treat your audience like a 3-year-old. The exact opposite is true. In fact, considering the needs of a traveling toddler will help you create more inviting and respectful environments for all visitors.

So, what’s this magical empathy that will convert your experience into a toddler guest-friendly relationship builder? Respect the impatience.

You better have a plan.

The days of winging it are gone. Experience design has grown up. It’s time to focus your energy planning for your audience because they are your precious baby now, not your portfolio.

So, before you start packing contents or implementing the journey, everyone needs to be aligned with what you want your audience to do. You need to start answering these questions for your UX roadmap: What are the goals? Who is this for? What feeling do you want? What do you need to include in this experience? (See also: Is this necessary?) Is there prior information that is important to remember? How will you determine success? How much time should this take? (See also: Are we there yet?)

And, you absolutely have to involve every key stakeholder, including your audience. There’s nothing that will exhaust patience more than re-building the whole experience or completely losing your audience because you forgot to ask if they needed their favorite stuffy.

Use your words.

Ever tried to explain something new to a toddler? It’s rough. Why? You don’t have a shared vocabulary, yet. And, that’s the key. You have to create a shared language with your audience both verbally and visually.

That’s why it’s essential to communicate with plain, approachable language. This rule applies to both the planning of the experience and how you engage your audience.

During the planning and experience-building phase, it’s important for your extended team to establish shared understanding of terminology commonly used during the process. This groundwork can be so vital to keeping a UX process on track that creating a glossary shouldn’t be ignored. Miscommunication is costly, and having less yet more productive dialogues eases tension for everyone.

For your audience, simple is always better. Clearly – often repeatedly – stating the mutually beneficial intent throughout the experience is the only way. In addition to ensuring clarity, be sure to customize your messaging with the appropriate urgency, personality and personalization to ensure you make it to the destination with fewer unnecessary exits along the journey. So, before we go any further, do you need to potty?

The scenic route or the shortcut?

Beautiful or easy. Form or function. Can we do both? What does the audience want? Oh boy, if there is one thing you can’t afford to misjudge, it’s the fleeting attention span of your toddler target.

Here are a few questions to determine what’s required and what isn’t. Is it most important to create a lasting memory? Is this a one-time experience or a repeated journey? How big is your audience? What is their typical level of engagement? Does that interest vary per guest? And, of course, how long do you have until you lose your audience entirely? The responses to these questions will help guide your custom-made experience.

Hit pause. Rewind. Let’s re-focus on that last question. The answer to that question is always the same: not very long. There is study after study that shows why (lack of) speed kills. Regardless of how you collectively decided to answer the rest of the questions, make sure you have at least one alternative route that provides immediate gratification, even if your goal is long term. A quick laugh or surprise can be the difference between best day ever and best day never.

It seemed like a good idea…

So, you considered everything above and the experience just isn’t living up to expectations for anyone. It’s time to change course – not pull the car over.

This is normal. People (especially toddlers) are complicated. Needs vary from person to person and throughout an individual lifetime. Getting what you want your audience to do to match what your audience wants to do is a difficult challenge no matter how thorough the plan.

Getting back on course doesn’t need to be hectic. Here are a few UX research methods and processes to get started:

  • Assess the current data with the prior data from similar experiences
  • Ask your audience what would make them happier (this is the most useful information if you can get a response)
  • Pinpoint key drop-off moments
  • Plan a new course
  • Get agreement for the new path
  • Test the changes on your audience

Subtle iterations of your original plan are common and will typically optimize the experience for everyone.

Of course, you can opt to abandon your journey entirely and start a new one, but it’s important to remember you are also abandoning the opportunity for any additional learning as well as taking on significant cost and time to plan and implement a new experience that doesn’t guarantee any less crying.

You’re going to need guest services.

You planned, created, iterated, iterated and iterated. You did it. That’s it, right?

Not exactly. The job of keeping your audience happy is never, ever done, and your best-laid plans will never, ever be perfect.

When you’re a parent, you are the guest services department. You manage expectations and feelings full-time, all-the-time. However, this built-in service isn’t implicit in business. So, you have to ask: Who is handling the meltdowns, the fits and confusion? Who is checking to see how this experience ranks against the audience’s other experiences? After all, you wanted this to be their best journey ever. Was it? Although a flood of contact to customer service is a serious warning sign of a UX failure, there is no experience so flawless that it doesn’t need guest services. Make sure you check this often-forgotten box before you embark on your next journey.