Great Wolf

500 Days of Summer

Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of waterpark resorts with eighteen locations across the US and Canada. Over the course of five months, we engaged with the Great Wolf team to lead the design and development of a guest-facing mobile app experience with an emphasis on on-site research along the way. Vacations should be an escape but sometimes the real world gets in the way. My goal was to make sure that the guests of Great Wolf make the most of their time at the resort and not worry about the logistical aspects of being on vacation.

My role

My primary role within the project was to lead the discovery and research phases of the engagement which included research planning, stakeholder interviews, ethnographic research, user testing and research analysis. I was also responsible for creating prototypes of the app which were used for both client-facing design reviews and user testing purposes. I also developed UI components in support of our lead visual designer on the project.

The challenge

Great Wolf locations around the country are often in areas where there are competing attractions nearby, some of which might draw larger crowds. An example of this can be seen in Garden Grove, CA where the Great Wolf location is competing with arguably the largest attraction in the country - Disneyland. Because of this, it’s important for Great Wolf to highlight its defining features: an indoor waterpark only accessible to guests and a theme which caters to young families with children. This surfaced several interesting initial questions which we kept in mind as we developed our discovery and research strategy:

  • How do we keep people engaged throughout the entire length of their vacation?
  • How do we promote the safe and family-friendly environment that Great Wolf has cultivated?
  • How can we tell the story of Great Wolf to differentiate them from their competitors?

The Approach

We decided early on that the best way to validate some of our initial assumptions and fully understand the problem at hand was to immerse ourselves in all aspects of Great Wolf from lodge operations to the general customer experience. Over the course of the project, the design team visited three Great Wolf locations (Wisconsin Dells, Anaheim and Minneapolis) to conduct research and provide us with a range of experiences.

Site visits usually consisted of three main phases:

  • One free day within the location where the product team can experience the resort through the eyes of a guest.
  • Ethnographic research in the form of observation and interviews of key members of the various operational teams within the resort to understand their workflows further.
  • Interview sessions with staff members and leadership team to gain more insights into pain points and business challenges.

Key insight

Guest issues are not being solved fast enough because of staffing limitations and manual, non-digitized workflows.

Certain Great Wolf locations face difficult competition for staff members because of their proximity to other resorts. Managers and staff often face scenarios where they are not able to address issues fast enough which leads to frustrated guests. We saw this as an opportunity to prioritize features and workflows within the app that would create operational efficiency by encouraging self-service.

The Great Wolf characters are an important part of the resort experience for both children and parents

Guests spend a lot of time interacting with the characters of Great Wolf - all of whom have different personalities. You see them in their activities, on the menus and in the rooms yet they don’t have much of an online presence and most guests are not aware of them until they arrive. We felt that the app could be an ideal place for us to allow the personalities of the characters to shine through.

Putting it to the test

The insights we gathered during our site visits helped us to validate certain assumptions we held and allowed us to test the strength of our ideas and early concepts against real data. In order to continue the development of our designs, we knew it was important to put them in front of potential users. With the help of Great Wolf, we schedule remote interview sessions with 10 former guests. The sessions were around 45 minutes to an hour and was designed so I could walk through specific sections of the app with the participant. Generally, I focused on the following areas of interest:

  • What were their first impressions of a particular feature?
  • Did they understand the primary purpose of that feature?
  • Could they find what they were looking for?

Key insight

Guests expected the workflows on the mobile app to be streamlined or simplified in comparison to the workflows on the desktop website.

One of the features we introduced to the app is mobile check-in functionality which mirrored the online check-in functionality that already existed on the dot com site. However, since this was in a mobile format and the guests using it might literally be moving while using the app, the workflows seemed complicated and lengthy. This is something we wanted to keep in mind - how could we translate existing workflows to be more efficient on a mobile format?

Final thoughts

Great Wolf Lodge offers something unique to its guests - the ability to have a self-contained vacation with a variety of activities for children all within the resort for a reasonable price. Our shared goal was to ensure that the personality and hospitality that we saw during our visits was reflected within the app itself. To do this, it was vital that workflows within the app were as intuitive as possible, preventing situations where guests can feel frustrated.

Our strategy of continuous validation through interviews, on-site visits and testing allowed us to make quick, data-informed decisions with our client. Ideally, testing sessions should have been baked into every sprint so we could continue using the momentum of user feedback but time did not allow for this. However, the insights that were surfaced puts us in a great position to continue improving on the product beyond the launch.