Duration

Team

Role

Tools

July-August 2020 (6 weeks)

Individual project

Research & Design

Adobe XD, Invision, Adobe Illustrator

Netflix Case Study

This redesign of Netflix aims to give viewers back more control over their media consumption habits. 

Design Question

How can we create a viewing model on Netflix that promotes healthier viewing habits and encourages more diverse content viewing in users? 

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Background

The concept of binge-watching is not new, but streaming services like Netflix have made it more widespread and easy to fall prey to. Netflix relies on power-users that binge-watch frequently for revenue, but would there be a way for Netflix to retain its high profits while also providing a healthier viewing environment for its users?

During many virtual meetups while quarantining in the summer of 2020, my friends and I uncovered a shared experience. We were all ambitious college students sent back home in the middle of an academic semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had much more free time on our hands once classes were over and after study abroad programs and internships were cancelled. We also each had a long list of goals we wanted to accomplish before the start of the new semester. Despite all of these ingredients for success, we noticed that media streaming services like Netflix were taking up a considerable portion of our time and hindering our progress toward other goals.

My friends and I joked about our media bingeing habits and laughed it off as universal experience of quarantine boredom, but I grew more concerned when my friends started talking about how they weren't sleeping until 4 or 5 a.m. due to bingeing a TV series or when they said they felt increasingly socially disconnected due to their lifestyle. I was curious as to how much of our Netflix bingeing activity was due solely to our habits or if Netflix's design intentionally made it addictive. 

When I googled "Netflix binge", several articles from popular media sites cropped up. Writers everywhere were penning articles such as "68 Shows on Netflix You Need To Binge Now" and "The Best Shows to Binge-Watch on Netflix Right Now" and other such titles which encouraged more bingeing behavior rather than offering any solutions or explanations.

In my initial exploratory research, I found that 60% of U.S. adults binge-watch every week and 15% percent of users binge-watch every day. In the 18-29 age demographic that number increases to 73% of users. The average Netflix user spends over 8 hours on Netflix each week. Watching time often replaces things such as sleep, socialization, and health. A poll conducted by Morning Consult in 2018 found that these behaviors are more prevalent in young people, with 76% of 18-29 year olds admitting to staying up all night to watch a show, 45% to canceling social plans in order to watch a show, and 57% to making less healthy choices because of a show.

Building a Polished User Understanding

USER PERSONAS

Two distinct profiles of Netflix users emerged after the interviews that I conducted. I focused on the demographic of young adults aged 18 - 29 years old, since this demographic has the highest percentage of binge-watchers. 

Age: 19

Occupation: Film Student

Habits: 

  • Customizes their Netflix settings, such as the autoplay feature

  • Takes a moment after finishing certain movies or shows to reflect. Reflecting process can involve activities such as logging the viewed media into a diary, reading written reviews online, or silently thinking

  • Likes to seek out new and diverse content 

Frustrations: 

  • Loses out on social opportunities because they like to watch certain content in a solitary and controlled environment

  • Annoyed at the disruption to their reflection process by autoplay trailers after finishing movies but also wishes to have autoplay when watching TV shows

Laid-back viewer

Age: 23

Occupation: Tired Office Worker

Habits: 

  • Does not personalize Netflix settings, such as the autoplay feature

  • Often puts on shows in the background of doing another activity

  • Watches that were either recommended to them by the Netflix algorithm or by friends and family. They start watching another show as soon as they finish one.

  • Watches popular content and content that is similar to the content they have watched and enjoyed before​

Frustrations:​

  • Gets bored by their recommended content, but has trouble finding new and exciting content to watch

  • Spends more time than they want to on Netflix and feels guilty 

  • Loses out on sleep because of binge-watching

Intentional viewer

Competitive Analysis 

Furthermore, there is a autoplay toggle during playback that can be accessed through the settings button. This allows for dynamic autoplay which gives the users more control over their viewing.

I conducted analyses of autoplay on two competing media streaming services: Hulu and Disney+. 

Autoplay on Hulu allows the viewer to finish watching until the end of the credits before being directed into watching another show, while indicating on the slider which show the user will be directed to next. The option to skip the credits to get to the next episode or show is unobtrusive and shows up only when the user activates the cursor. The user gets a few seconds to close the window after the credits end and before the next episode or show is streamed.

Disney+ has a autoplay toggle in the user's profile settings. With autoplay turned on, the user would be navigated to a screen similar to the one below during the credits of a movie, prompting users to play another show or movie similar to the one they just viewed.

After finishing a movie, there is no specified time frame in which the user must decide whether to play the next recommended media or to stop the autoplay. They can continue to stay on this screen or click on the mini screen at the bottom right to return to their movie and finish watching the credits. 

Neither of these screens on Disney+ offer a native back button or escape button. The user must use the back button on the search engine or device itself. 

(Netflix offers a very similar screen but its animation creates a more frantic and disruptive experience.)

After reaching an end to an episode of a TV series, there is a 10-second countdown in which the user can intervene by clicking "See All Episodes" or the back button before the next episode automatically starts playing.

Disney+ autoplay in action during the credits of the movie Up.

Netflix's autoplay in action during the credits of the movie The Artist.

Brainstorming Potential Solutions

Based on the discoveries from the research, I brainstormed a list of potential solutions and features that would be beneficial to the Netflix users. 

I drafted some thumbnail sketches of these features for both desktop and mobile. 

Clarifying the Problem

I conducted user interviews with five average to heavy-use Netflix users and conducted a survey which reached 18 other respondents to gather information about users' current viewing habits and thoughts. Using my findings, I compiled an affinity map that highlighted the top concerns and frustrations in the current way users interact with Netflix:

USER RESEARCH

Users that had some form of screen-time restrictions on their devices for Netflix noted that they usually ignored the notification for when they exceeded the screen-time limit. They would often continue using their device past the time limit, but the feeling of guilt hung over them, creating a negative emotional experience yet spurring zero change in action. 

Users who were dissatisfied with their Netflix homepage recommendations felt that they had no "direct influence" over their recommendations. Users watched content that was either recommended to them on the Netflix homepage or recommendations received from friends/family or third-party sources such as lists on Buzzfeed, Letterboxd, and more. Several users voiced their desire to find different shows/movies from the ones they watched but expressed difficulty in finding such shows. 

Users overall greatly enjoyed using Teleparty (formerly called Netflix Party), a third-party Google Chrome extension not affiliated with Netflix that enabled Netflix users to watch shows/movies together virtually. Users often used shows/movies as touchpoints of socialization whether it was watching movies together with family or discussing the newest episode of a TV series with friends. Despite this, users were uncomfortable with the idea of their friends and family knowing what they were currently watching on Netflix. 

Netflix’s current model recommends content within a feedback loop, leaving users unsatisfied with the content they are consuming as well as the time they spend on the platform.

Problem Definition

Netflix’s current model does not accommodate users' natural patterns of viewing behavior, leaving much to be desired.

Constructing the MVP

I created a lo-fidelity mockup based on my sketches to ensure that the designs aligned with intended functionality before delving into the finer UI details. 

For more intentional viewing: Director's commentary feature

For aided socialization: Shared watchlists

For easier selection: Internal recommendations

Adding more inputs to the feedback loop: "Something Completely Different" category 

For reflection: Year In Review (similar to "Spotify Wrapped")

For in-app recommendation: Add friends

Adding more inputs to the feedback loop: Random recommendations on loading page

Incorporating Feedback

In walking through this mock-up with 2 of the original interviewees and 3 other Netflix users, I was able to find out what was working in this version of the app and what needed more work. 

  • Users were excited about seeing personal stats on their profile, although the specificity of some provided statistics put them off and made them feel surveilled, such as knowing which times during the week they were most likely to use Netflix. 

  • Users responded well to the "hide" feature on their watch history. 

  • All 5 users said they could easily see themselves using the shared lists and category lists feature.

  • Users liked the recommend feature and liked being able to readily receive recommendations from friends, but they wanted to be able to send recommendations to multiple people at a time, and couldn't easily figure out how to do that. 

  • The recommendations on the loading screen passed too quickly for users to be able to interact with it. 

With this feedback, I adapted the user profile to use more general phrasing, modified the design of adding a show/movie to the user's list, and removed the recommendations on the loading page as a feature. 

BRANDING AND UI KIT

Since Netflix has a strong and easily recognizable brand, I knew it was important to keep the UI of my added features consistent with users' idea of Netflix's current visual identity. 

*Netflix uses a custom font called "Netflix Sans". Since I could not get access to the custom font, I used Helvetica as a close substitute. 

Prototype

Reflection

User research is continuous. 

I kept coming back to the user research week after week, asking questions that I hadn't considered previously, testing my assumptions, and validating my design decisions. I am continuing to learn how to craft better, unbiased survey questions and master the art of interviewing, but I also found that these revisits helped ground my designs back to my users at each step of the way. 

Focus on solving one issue at a time.

Although I had defined my initial broad design question into a more targeted problem, in my research I kept uncovering new but similar user frustrations that captured my interest. In an attempt to solve all of these individual grievances, the scope of my project became larger and multifold. Although it was exhilarating to create a wholly new web experience for Netflix, I realized that this was not the most effective way to introduce new features or solve problems. When a user was interacting with multiple new features I had created, I would not know how an individual feature affected the user experience. In future projects, I now know that I must build and test one problem at a time. 

Designing for what people want, not just what is best for them.

Some users didn't want their time back. They didn't like how much time they spent on Netflix, but they also knew that their enjoyment outweighed any attempts at cutting back. Furthermore, some viewers didn't want to be told by designer like me or a piece of code that their viewing habits were unhealthy. Just like screen-time limits, it was mostly ineffective and totally unpleasant. I realized that often a person's want is stronger than a person's reason. It is not empathetic design to dismiss those wants in pursuit of a solving a subjective need. In this project, the user interviews helped shift my focus to giving users greater autonomy and decision-making over their time. 

As an idealist, I want every one of my designs to help make the world a better place. It was with this mindset that I began this project. I wanted to redesign a popular platform that encouraged bingeing and took precious hours out of users' weeks, and I wanted to give users back their time. What I quickly realized during user interviews was that some people did not want this.  

Other Work

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September 2020 - May 2021 | Web

Data analysis tool using historic price data to estimate future produce prices for Farmlink employees who are negotiating produce purchases with farmers.

May - July 2021 | Product Design

Led user research and usability testing for an online creative brief tool aimed to standardize and streamline brief creation for video creation.

The final high-fidelity prototype incorporated the feedback I received from the usability testing. 

HIGH FIDELITY MOCK-UP

Users receive notifications of recommendations from friends.

Users can add friends to their friends list, found under their profile. 

Users can add desired shows and movies to a specific list category or their general list. 

The user's profile offers a watch history and personalized stats on their past week of watching. 

Users can recommend shows and movies to their friends.

"My List" is separated into user designated categories. Users can create new lists and add friends to lists. 

Users can use the autoplay toggle to turn off or turn on autoplay during playback. 

"Your Year in Review" allows users to reflect on their year with Netflix. Detailed personal stats engage users and generate excitement around the mystery of their results. 

This updated profile provides more opportunities to recommend new shows to users. The personal delivery of these recommendations will further motivate users into watching this recommended content.

View Full Demo