UX of Encanto
Updated: Mar 24
When we think of UX, we think of apps or websites and that's great. But I think the user experience can be explored in other aspects of life. The biggest of which is storytelling.
Encanto is about a family in Columbia that each member has a "gift" that helps the community in some way. For instance, Julieta can cure all pain and illnesses just by the food that she cooks or Luisa, who has the gift of super strength and uses it to move cattle for the townspeople. At one point, in their early adolescence, each member has their gift day, where everybody finds out what gift they have. However, for whatever reason, Mirabel, the main character, didn't receive any gift during her day. There is tension between Abuela and Mirabel because of this.
Further frustrations happen when the youngest member of the Madrigal family, Antonio, receives his gift. During the party, Mirabel notices the house is cracked and when she tells Abuela, she publicly doesn't believe her. However, it's later revealed that, Abuela was very worried. We later find out through heart songs that Mirabel's sisters, Luisa and Isabel are struggling to meet the expectations that Abuela has put on them. Not to mention Bruno, who has been living inside the house but is in hiding because she fears his mother. Eventually, the house (that has magic on its own) falls apart because there was too much tension between Abuela and Mirabel. Everyone's gift is suddenly gone as well. But the movie all ends when Abuela and Mirabel makeup and Bruno becomes accepted in the family. The entire community builds the house again.
Ever since I've watched Encanto three weeks ago, I've been playing four of their songs in my head. "The Family Madrigal", "Surface Pressure", "What Else Can I Do?" and, of course, "We Don't Talk About Bruno." I know I'm not alone in loving the music. As of February 28th, 2022, there are 7 songs from Encanto on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, including "We Don't Talk About Bruno" and "Surface Pressure" as the #1 and #10 song on the charts respectively. This is impressive since the movie came out in theaters on November 24th and on Disney Plus, a month later on Christmas Eve.
Of course, the fact that having the songs on the top charts is a pretty good indicator that Encanto is doing well, but if you need more proof, it's been the top movie/tv show for the month of January and February. According to Nelsen, roughly 40 percent of the viewers have come from those between the ages of 2 to 11 and 25 percent from Hispanic homes. This of course makes sense since the movie is about a family in Columbia and it is an animated movie, which tends to lean towards kids. But if you go on TikTok, I can guarantee you have seen videos of people of all ages and ethnicity using an Encanto sound, which shows that it's not just kids and Hispanics love Encanto. It's everyone. In fact, on average, According to Disney Media, streamers have watched Encanto five times accumulating over 180 million re-watches globally since launch.
So, that begs the question: How did Encanto become so popular and relatable?
I think a big reason why Encanto has done so well is that everyone can relate to Mirabel, the protagonist. For instance, Instagram is an app that thrives on showing the "positives" of everyone's life and although we are friends with most of these people, in turn, we never see the bad parts. Even from a celebrity/influencer standpoint, we only see what they want us to see. This can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety. So, in a family where everyone has a magic gift, Mirabel being the only one not having this specialness gives us, the viewer, something we can relate to. In a way, Mirabel is a vessel to tell this story. As UX Designers, we'll often be tasked to design a product for someone that isn't who we are.
Even the other family members are relatable in a way. For instance, Julieta can cure people's ailments with the meals she cooks. Obviously, we can't do that. But food has been known to affect people's moods in a positive way, and fixing people's problems is pretty much what a doctor or nurse are supposed to do. Another example would be Isabel, her gift is essentially being a super gardener or Pepa, who is basically just an accurate meteorologist.
There is something to be said about how the mainstream doesn't have a lot of hispanic representation out there as well or even representation from strong women like Luisa out there. That can help a lot with normalizing those things together.
One of the biggest skills in UX designing is empathy. Ultimately, the final product is meant to help the experience of the product better and in turn, solves the user's problems. In Encanto, Mirabel never felt special because of her lack of a gift and grew resentful to her sisters, who did have these powers.
But eventually, Mirabel starts talking to Luisa and Isabel and through the song "Surface Pressure", Mirabel finds out that Luisa has been feeling pressure from the entire community and she worries that if she falters in any way, the whole world is going to crumble. A similar thing happens when Mirabel talks to Isabel later in the movie. Also, through a heart song "What Else Can I Do?" Isabel sings about how her entire life has been set from the very beginning to the point that she was going to marry someone she didn't want to. This song started off because she grew a cactus out of anger, something she never grew before. It makes her wonder What Else Can She Do.
Towards the end of the song, Mirabel starts to join Isabel in the singing and is very supportive of Isabel in her new found discovery. This is notable because before this song, Isabel appeared very standoffish towards Mirabel and didn't seem like a nice person. In fact, the whole song started off because Isabel felt that Mirabel ruined everything. But then after this song, Mirabel and Isabel got along and we all forgot that they were fighting in the first place.
It would have been perfectly understandable if Mirabel never reached out to Isabel because of how Isabel treated Mirabel. But through empathy and encouragement from Bruno, Mirabel was able to put aside her differences and reach out. Which is something we should all be doing more of.
I've always found that a big reason why it's important to user test is that we as designers, already know all the secrets of the app (or whatever product is being designed) and we end up missing details or creating features that end up not being clear to everybody else. We want the user to be engrossed with everything the product does. Mystery is a way of leading the users along the way.
The screenwriters of Encanto (Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush and Byron Howard) already knew how the story was going to go but had to create a mystery in the movie that gets people interested. So, they know what's going to happen but they have to make sure the story is entertaining enough for first-time users. So throughout the first time watching this, the viewer has questions like "What is Mirabel's power?" "Why is Bruno shunned from the family?" "Why did Isabel look scared when Dolores announced that Mariano wanted a lot of children?" Then once people watch Encanto and find out the answer to these questions, we're still intrigued to watch it again. To the point that I wouldn't be shocked if we see Encanto will have a sequel.
I created this Madrigal Family Tree that is meant to enhance the viewing of Encanto