Rebecca Cioni

Product Design & Research

Walt Disney World Resorts Digital Key

Making arrival experiences magical

In 2017, I lead The Walt Disney Company's first-ever digital key project, replacing Guest's plastic hotel room card with a digital key inside the Walt Disney World app. Leading a team of three, I established the vision for this interactive feature, gained buy-in of the vision from executive stakeholders, and worked with product and tech teams to bring it to life.


Disney World guests often face long lines when checking in at their resort's front desk. Resorts were seeking to decrease these lines and allow guests to skip the front desk entirely. Guests could already check in via app or web, so now they needed a way to enter their room. Enter digital key! From a technical perspective, digital key needed to connect physical door locks and the guest's mobile device using an in-house reservation management system. From a user experience perspective, this digital key was one of the first times Disney's mobile apps would reach out into the real world. This was an important precedent that needed to deliver magic as expected by Disney's guests.


In order to understand guests' arrival experiences, we partnered with our research team to conduct a three-day focus group with guests. We learned that Disney guests were totally unfamiliar with digital keys: at the time, digital keys were mainly in hotels that catered to business travelers, while Disney guests are primarily leisure travelers. We also supplemented this research with a competitive analysis of in-market products like Hilton and SPG digital keys, ring locks, and Volvo remote keys.


Armed with research and competitive data, we moved into concepting. My team of six designed a large number of low- and mid-fidelity comps and motion studies to help realize digital key. We shared these concepts in critiques and with stakeholders in order to narrow down to a single concept.

A few of our initial concepts.

Interaction Design

After narrowing down to a single concept, we needed to figure out how this key would actually work. Because we were building on an in-house backend system that had never been intended to communicate with guest-facing applications, I spent hours on conference calls with our tech team to learn how this backend worked so I could craft a delightful guest experience across all stages and states. I ensured that this highly complex flow was still simple and easy to use. Even our errors were designed to be delightful.

Part of the interaction flow of digital key; the state guests see at any given time is determined by their reservation status, their mobile device status, and the status of the door lock itself.

Future Ready Templates

In our concepting phase, I identified the need for multiple different resorts and brands to use digital key in the future. So, we designed digital key to be template-able: the UI could easily be updated while the core functionality could be reused.

Diagram showing how the digital key UI was split into template layers.


We shipped digital key in 2018 and it quickly gained adoption by resort guests, with over 80% of Direct-to-Room Guests using it to enter their room for the first time. Its templating capabilities have also been utilized by two other brands...and counting.

The final UI and animation of the first Walt Disney World digital key.