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In my lifetime I have been a part of two club-like-groups — a book club that fizzled after four months and my high school’s thespian troupe (proudly represent Troupe 4634!). But the one thing I learned from even those limited experiences is that there is a deep-rooted passion that comes to life when a group of humans gather together around their commonality.
And if you want to see deep-rooted passion on display, might I suggest a glance at Universal Orlando Resort Annual Passholders? These people love the parks, know their stuff, and share their thoughts, feelings, and tips without bounds!
One of the things I learned really quickly about our UOAPs is their innate hunger for these teeny tiny little items of fandom, the Passholder buttons. The Facebook group is positively abuzz when a new one is available and I can see why; they really are rad.
The first of the buttons premiered in August of 2018 as part of that year’s Passholder Appreciation Days event. Since then, there’s been a new button every month or so that Passholders can retrieve in-park and sport for life.
While I fully get the popularity behind these quarter-sized tokens of expert-level UO knowledge, I was curious about how the buttons come to life and the folks behind them, so I met with Kristin Kiernicki and Morgana Wingate, who both work to design the UOAP buttons.
KATIE: Before we get to the buttons, can you tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be at Universal?
KRISTIN: I’m originally from Detroit and went to college for creative studies there, majoring in illustration. I was a children’s book illustrator for 14 years. Eventually I started a business that was more geared toward design and web design. A couple years later my husband got a job in Orlando so we ended up moving to Florida. A contract position opened up at Universal and it was great. I fit right in and the culture was really such a fun, positive environment. A full time position opened up for a graphic designer and I applied and got the job!
MORGANA: I actually grew up in Orlando; my dad used to take me out of school to play hooky and ride rollercoasters, so I’m definitely familiar with theme parks and that whole culture. I majored in advertising design, which I got into just because I wasn’t really sure as far as an arts degree what would be the best path for me. I worked for a small agency, did some freelance design and advertising, and then applied to Universal. I was here for about a year and a half before I got put on the Annual Pass segment with Kristin and the writer on our team.
KATIE: So how did the buttons come to be?
KRISTIN: I was just kind of getting introduced to the UOAP brand when the team approached us with this project to create some kind of giveaway to Passholders. And the idea for buttons was thrown out there. So we started kind of looking at vintage eighties buttons and the really eclectic quality to those and how some of them were really silly and snarky and colorful. We felt that was really kind of the voice that would connect best with the APs. We wanted to make sure it was really more insider, that it connected on a deeper level and told the APs they’re special. This is an elite group of people who have a truly unique passion for Universal. We did a lot of looking at the Facebook group and did a lot of digging on inside jokes and these special things that only this group seems to know and understand about our brand.
“This is an elite group of people who have a truly unique passion for Universal.” – Kristin
MORGANA: That Facebook group is invaluable. They’re completely candid and there’s all sorts of inside jokes on there and that was a huge insight into sort of that community and the strength behind the way they talk about things.
KRISTIN: Well and some people internally were a little nervous about it being too insider and people not getting it. But we kept saying that’s what is so great about the APs is that they have this amazing community and if someone doesn’t understand what a button means, they will talk about it and teach each other and it’s going to cause this great conversation. For me it’s been amazing to see this program develop and those things actually happen. It’s exactly what we wanted.
MORGANA: We knew it wouldn’t be a mass market thing because they smell it. They know what’s up. It really is an amazing thing to be able to look into these conversations and pull little gems out and make fun illustrations. You’d never think about it, but the moving walkway? They love the moving walkway! It’s a thing with them, so it’s been a lot of fun kind of discovering these people and digging our roots into this community. It makes the reward all the more when they’re clamoring over these buttons.
KATIE: What’s been meaningful to you both about developing and creating these pieces of fan loyalty?
KRISTIN: For me, working as an illustrator, an art director, a designer, throughout my career I’ve never had such a direct connection to the audience. With the buttons we are able to in real time to get their reactions to our designs and know right away whether we succeeded or not in a design.
MORGANA: Absolutely. I mean it’s a little different with Kristin being an illustrator for children’s books, you know that people are enjoying your work. But for me, having been in advertising since I was in school, you just kind of assume people hate what you make. Nobody wants to look at advertising! I agree with Kristin, people are connecting to these illustrations that we’re making and having a ton of fun with and — it’s just magical.
KRISTIN: Definitely. You know there really hasn’t been a project quite the same as this. We get to come up with the visuals that accompany an inside joke. We can be really playful with it and have fun.
KATIE: How does it work with determining what will be a button?
MORGANA: It partially depends on what’s going on at Universal during that year. With this year being the 30th year at Universal Studios Florida, we wanted a button that reflects that. There’s always something for the Holidays, HHN, Passholder Appreciation Days. There’s always the staples, but months in between, unless there’s a major announcement to be had, it’s pretty open to interpretation.
KRISTIN: And some of it is just holding onto ones we know are good but it’s not the right time. Anytime we come up with something, if we’re paying attention to something on the Facebook page, we’ll be like ‘hey we should try to remember that, that’s a good one for down the road.’
MORGANA: We definitely have a list written down.
“It really is an amazing thing to be able to look into these conversations and pull little gems out and make fun illustrations.” -Morgana
KATIE: Why do you think the buttons are so popular with the group?
MORGANA: I just think they really love the idea of Universal kind of giving back to them. I mean it really shows that we’re paying attention to this community and that it’s important to us. It strengthens the community, these buttons get people talking and get them introduced to properties or little tidbits around the park that they may not be familiar with.
KRISTIN: And it makes us feel good that it’s worth it to them to come in and wait in those lines to get the buttons. They are so dedicated.
KATIE: What makes Universal’s Passholders so special?
MORGANA: The snark level is off the charts with our brand’s fans. The connections people have here are kind of all over the place, whether it was a first date night they had or they just kind of happened upon this place and made friends with this bartender at Finnegans and can’t stop coming back to see him. Whatever the case, it’s always this very varied story, which is kind of this beautiful tapestry that’s really diverse.
KRISTIN: I will never forget the first time I went on the Facebook page. I could not believe the level of passion that these people have for our parks! Not just passion for the brand, but also for the group. And that mentality of sharing and supporting and just so willingly helping each other to plan or when someone has questions, they give answers and tips.
MORGANA: It really is nice how supportive they are of each other. They absolutely deserve to be rewarded and have something that makes them happy and coming back. It’s nice to be a part of Universal saying, ‘we listen to you, we appreciate you.’ A lot of them call Universal their second home. They can’t wait to come back home.
Hey UOAPs, tell us your favorite past buttons and your ideas for what future buttons could be in the comments below and by tagging us on social media with #UOAP!