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Why UX Design Comes Before UI for TV

We read a lot about the importance of the User Interface in OTT, but the key to success is a UX design that facilitates it in the first place.ux design mazeThere is a lot written about the importance of the User Experience (UX) in the video industry. But in the end it all boils down to answering one simple question:

“What’s on TV tonight?”

But as the picture of the maze above illustrates, this is not an easy question to answer. When it comes to searching for content, the viewer has to answer themselves a series of questions first: Where to find it? What device can I use to find it? and what user interface do I need to use to find out?

This is where it becomes important to differentiate between the User Experience and the User Interface. There is an order to them; one informs the other. And to get them the wrong way round is, as the French say, mettre la charrue avant les bœufs (literally: to put the plough before the oxen).

The Distinctions Between UX Design and UI Design

We use the French rather than the normal English ‘to put the cart before the horse’ in acknowledgment that much of this information comes from a fascinating presentation called ‘User Experience - The State of a Complex Art’ given at a recent VO event by Pascal Hippolyte Besson, CEO of a leading European multi-screen agency, Dotscreen.

He offers the following definitions of UX and UI design.

UX design is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. User Experience is a conglomeration of tasks focused on the optimization of a product for effective and enjoyable use.

UI design is its complement, the look, and feel, the presentation and interactivity of a product.

The distinction between them is important. As Helga Moreno put it in her famous blog post The Gap Between UX And UI Design:

“Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.”

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Which is more important? The answer is, of course, both. A service will only really succeed if it has both great UX and UI; great navigation and great design in one package. It is not an easy thing to achieve though. There are limitations placed on the UX design by the business model underpinning a service. SVOD, live, advertising-driven, transactional VOD… all these different models place different demands on the UX.

UX also depends very much on what the backend can provide in terms of loading times, picture sizes and on-the-fly rescaling, the degree of possible personalization, and more. As a result, the UX needs should very much be considered when speccing out the backend. Then there are technical restraints in terms of the end-user delivery mechanism and whether that will be via an app or an STB, what processor is involved, and more.

When it comes to the design process it is crucial to know what the end controller will be. Whether voice, a finger swipe on a touchscreen, a remote control or a combination of all three, potentially at different times, the way that the user will interact with the interface is different for each. A modern Sky TV remote has 26 buttons, not including the numerical keypad. Apple’s Siri Remote has 6. Designing for one is not the same as designing for the other.

It is also worth considering that different actions take place on different devices. Netflix, for example, sees 40% of signups taking place on PCs, but six months later they only account for 15% of the viewing as the majority of new subscribers (70%) transition to televisions to watch. Only 25% of subscribers, meanwhile, signup via their televisions.

The Difference Between Live and On-Demand

Let us illustrate some of the complexities in UX design involved by considering the different UX expectations that develop in live versus on-demand contexts.

Live is all about granting quick access with a single remote. Viewers want to get first to the channel list and see current program info in the first instance, which has invariably meant a reliance on a grid view as seen in many EPGs. The current program is highlighted in the middle; pressing left and right takes the view into the past and into the future for catch-up (if integrated) and recording respectively. It is a long way from a perfect design — it is even difficult to integrate and manage on the technical side — but is an example of consumers driving expectations. Consumers expect it, focus groups like it, and for the moment it is here to stay.

Consumers also have a range of expectations covering volume, subtitles, recording, starting over, time-shifting, zapping using digits, previous channels, audio, home screen, and more. The challenge is providing all this functionality in a simple interface.

On-demand has a different set of criteria that can probably be characterised as narrower but deeper. Discovery is at the top of the agenda, then the catalogue is presented in a variety of different ways: genres, movies, TV series, etc. Profile management is important for personalization and setting access rights for children’s profiles, as is the ability to scrub via the remote, set automatic next episode play for binge-watching, and, of course, search.

Netflix is widely considered to be the leader in the field, but it is interesting to note that its global UI and UX have not changed in five years. It will be interesting to see whether Apple TV+ or Disney+ can move the design forward when they launch later this year, though current screenshots suggest little movement from the common format of metadata at the top of the homepage, followed by CTAs, recommendations, episodes, etc.

Watch this video to see more about Dotscreen's video applications. 

UX Design in a Nutshell

To summarize, the goal of UX design is to enable the viewer to find the content they want. As a result, it must fulfill the following criteria.

Be useful - meet expectations and add value to the service
Be usable - maintain ease of use
Be findable - can the consumer find what they want quickly?
Be credible - provide what the consumer genuinely needs
Be desirable - do consumers want to use it?
Be accessible - work across languages, generations, abilities, and more
Be valuable - provide real results

Consumers want to do many things with the content that is presented to them. They want to browse, discover, control, and, of course, ultimately watch it. The goal of designing a good User Experience is to help them do just that. Good UI is important since without that you can have something which is functional but ugly, but it is the UX that comes first and provides the real opportunity for differentiation in the current market.

Andy Stout

Andy Stout is a broadcast and technology journalist, who, over longer than he cares to think about, has written for most of the major publications in the industry. He is fascinated by technology and its evolving impact on society, and enjoys bringing an eclectic viewpoint to the Viaccess-Orca blog. He was awarded a First Class BSc from the Open University and lives with his family in Northern Ireland.