When was the last time you watched a TV show as it was broadcasted? For many people, it is likely to have been a while given how much TV has changed in recent years.
The ability to record shows on cable boxes meant we could come home whenever we wanted and still never miss a show. Streaming services for TV and music have freed space on thousands of shelves dominated by CDs or DVDs.
Streaming is big business. At its peak, Napster almost destroyed the record industry, serving over 20 million users in the year 2000, while Spotify now boasts more than 286 million monthly active users. While Netflix serves over 20 million users.
This incredibly high number of users places a great responsibility upon us as designers. The smallest of design decisions can have a huge impact, changing the experience across devices and users.
We’ve rounded-up 10 best-in-class UX examples from a range of streaming services to help keep millions of users around the world entertained.
With the market now saturated with streaming services, the sign-up experience is arguably one of the most important user journey points. Frustrate a user before they have even started and you risk the user choosing a rival streaming service.
The sign-up flow isn’t a place for innovation. Netflix shows us that signing up doesn’t have to include a huge song and dance to show what the service offers.
The website offers a classic banner design with the sole focus on enticing users, presenting a single text field to suggest how easy it is to get started.
This screen is followed by another, which focuses on explaining the sign-up process and the steps it will take to begin watching content.
So far Netflix has not shown a lot of detail in what comes with the service. The less complicated it is, the wider audience of users it reaches. Using simple illustrations to show compatible devices here is a subtle and clever way to inform users without cluttering the interface. There's no technical lingo, perfect for the less tech-savvy user.
The payment screen looks like most other payment screens, offering users familiarity and reducing possible concerns.
The copy is also clear and simple, including details of how to cancel, with no links to huge pages of Terms and Conditions. The transparency here doesn’t leave much room for doubt to creep in.
Families are dynamic and streaming services should be able to provide entertainment for everyone. No one needs or wants a hundred different streaming services for one family.
Services should be flexible to define what can be watched by who, so that parents can trust that their children are watching appropriate content. You would think that services like Disney+ would be completely safe for a child by default, yet some of their documentaries do contain profanity.
Yet, Disney+ is exemplary when it comes to balancing the needs of adult users and children. Other services do offer separate children’s profiles, but nothing stops a child from choosing an adult profile to watch the content.
Disney+ solves this by providing the option to create a PIN for each profile. This feature only appears when selecting an adult profile, after a child profile has been added to the account, which makes sense as it is no longer only adults accessing the content.
It also comes with an added bonus in that other people can’t watch content on your profile and therefore affect all your recommendations!
On YouTube, around 500 hours of video content is uploaded per minute. The US Netflix catalog boasts more than 1,300 shows and 4,300 films. Spotify offers more than 50 million songs and 700,000 podcasts. With such a huge amount of content and choice for the user, deciding what to watch or listen to could be a daunting endeavor.
While Spotify has millions of options to choose from, the service is best in class for discovering new content for two reasons. Firstly, the ease of discovering new content, and secondly the affordance of how new content behaves.
The space for new content is made up of different playlists, offering a range of new discoveries. Playlists based on new songs they think you’ll like, another one dedicated to new songs released by the artists you enjoy, as well as mixes of music based on the genres you listen to.
As a Spotify user, you know how new content in this space will behave. You know ‘Discover Weekly’ brings you new content every week on a Monday based on what you listen to.
While the ‘Release Radar’ brings you songs newly released by artists you listen to, every week on a Friday. The differentiation in categories balances content you are likely to enjoy with branching out to different genres.
Arguably Spotify is not unique in offering new content. Netflix is similar, in that the categories at the top of your catalog are frequently refreshed.
However, I think Spotify performs well here, as there is more transparency on how the content behaves, and more scope to influence it.
Spotify’s ‘Made for You’ section, which involves new music by people you listen to and completely new music to discover
Some services are best in class when you need to pick up where you last left. BBC iPlayer, Spotify, and YouTube are a few platforms that will sync timestamps of where you left off, whether resuming playing across different devices or after a long time from when you were last watching content.
We chose the BBC iPlayer for this example because it will highlight your last viewed content on the homepage. When returning to the app, the first content with focus is not the last show you watched, as you did stop watching that content after all.
However, with one click down, you can return to the list of your last watched shows, whether you’re halfway through or to show the next episode of the last show you watched.
Each thumbnail also shows you where you are up to in that show, helping you decide whether to continue from that point or remember that you fell asleep and you may need to start from the beginning.
There are so many streaming services and thousands of films and TV series to choose from. If you simply don’t know what to watch, the number of options can seem endless, and even overwhelming.
Sometimes people just want a little background noise, perhaps to relieve boredom or loneliness.
The ‘Play Something’ feature on Netflix takes this problem and runs with a solution. With a shuffle option, Netflix puts on a TV show episode or film at random, taking away the choice when you can’t choose.
You can quickly select ‘Play Something’ to have the sound on in the background and quickly get back to what you were doing. This saves so much time and mental effort of scrolling endlessly through thousands of options.
Streaming content is now more than just a one-way relationship, with someone being served a show on their couch. Services now offer different ways to interact with content and its creators. Twitch is the world’s leading streaming service for all things gaming and more, with the ability to chat with the people live-streaming the content, as well as with other fans.
The experience of Twitch starts as soon as you visit the website, even when you’re signed out. Each video has tags describing the content along with the language of that channel. The videos recommended are based on location as well as theme. Suggested videos are a range of games and languages.
For example, visiting the site from Berlin in Germany, streams for popular themes like Fifa or Among Us are recommended in German and English. This means you can easily find your people and know which language is used to interact with others in the chatroom for that stream.
Even the adverts have automatic subtitles. For example, English adverts have captions translating the content into German.
Twitch streaming service offers a chat to speak directly with the content creators in real-time.
Screenshot of Twitch when first accessing the website, with videos tagged by topic and language.
Most Disney productions are translated into more than 40 languages from English. So, it’s no surprise that Disney+ is the best in class when offering content in different languages. Not only does the platform offer a range of captions, but you can also switch the audio into another language.
The ability to use one language for audio and another for captions has a huge impact on inclusivity and usability. For families of different nationalities and languages, using captions for one language and changing the audio to another means that everyone can watch the film together.
It also provides a great way for adults and children to learn a language. Many of us grow up with Disney films and shows. Even if you have never watched a Disney film, the storylines are easy to grasp and the language used isn't complicated.
This makes following along in a different language relatively easy. You can turn on captions to practice reading, or switch the audio to practice listening, and use a combination of languages and options to fit what you need to learn and still understand.
Since 2011, Netflix has been ahead of the pack thanks to providing streaming services behind one click on a TV remote control button.
Netflix was the first service to incorporate a dedicated TV remote control, so now we don’t have to scroll and click through other apps and menus to get the service we want. Now other companies have partnered with TV companies for their own buttons, directly opening their service.
This is a small UX feature that can make a big difference. TVs have become smarter and yet remote controls are still awful to use; the buttons still stick and who knows what the majority of the other buttons do.
Offering buttons per service means we can access them quickly and easily and can flick between different services. Long gone are the days where we have to remember the numbers of all our favorite channels.
Have you ever been to the cinema and were disappointed with the experience? People talking through the film, popcorn flying back and forth, and silhouettes dancing across the bottom of the screen. Oftentimes the cinema is too expensive for these kinds of experiences. That’s where the Cinépolis streaming service comes in.
Cinépolis is the largest cineplex chain in Mexico, which offers an online service in South America and India. While their website mostly focuses on the in-person cinema experience, they also offer a streaming service.
The difference here is that you can rent the films currently showing in cinemas, at home. This makes a lot of sense during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but this service has been available for some time. This is incredibly enabling, particularly for a wide range of people. Those who don’t like cinemas or those with any ailments or traits which make the cinema experience unpleasant.
Some films, like ‘Mujer Maravilla 1984’ are available for customers to buy tickets to see at the cinema or rent/buy.
Some streaming services in the world now go beyond the typically produced content of films and series, by offering users to upload their own content for others to consume.
V Live, a Korean video streaming app, popular in many Asian countries, has many parts to its service. V Live provides the ability for celebrities to create channels and broadcast their content to fans; in a similar way to YouTube, combined with the ability for fans to subscribe to channels and live chat with the celebrities, much like Twitch.
There is also another part of the platform that offers news and articles on celebrities where users can like and leave comments, much like a feed.
Typical to other Asian applications which serve as a one-stop of everything users need such as WeChat, V Live is all you need for content, from streaming through to engaging and interacting with content and the creators.
Streaming services have revolutionized the way we consume content, and for many of us, there'll be no going back to the old ways of watching media.
They have adapted to our lifestyles, allowing us to consume content at any time and anywhere. Long gone are the days of rushing back home to watch a show at a set time.
Streaming is now such a huge part of our lives. Quite frankly they have been the savior of our sanity over the last year, one quarantine at a time.
With hundreds of millions of users at the mercy of our design decisions, every day, across the globe, and across devices, we deserve a positive user experience that goes beyond our basic needs of watching a show.
Which streaming apps offer the best user experience in your opinion? Which features make the difference for you?
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