I love Netflix and I don’t mean just lounging around with my iPad or my Roku at home, binge watching shows and movies (although I do love that too) but their innovative approach to their business, products and now show production and strategy. Even their strategy to go after original programming and then how they executed on creating such amazingly addictive shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and Peaky Blinders (a little less known buy my favorite).
Their latest move that got my head spinning and yelling “genius” in my apartment to myself is when they had a new Marco Pollo episode at the top of my Netflix home page under Shows Recommended For You. I had watched the full first season of Marco Pollo (which is amazing) but I knew the second season couldn’t be out this soon. So I obviously clicked on it and was surprised to see the description saying something about it being a special feature episode on the back story of one of the main characters. Genius! Who does that? I’m guessing they filmed it during season one and just planned on having it in their back pocket drink the wait for the next season.
It did remind me of some special feature stuff you’ll see online or on YouTube for certain shows. Like having the show staff do some speaking about the shooting of the new season and maybe show some raw footage. But there’s something that always bugs me about seeing the actors and actresses out of character, and it seems to lessen my connection to the show since it starts to emphasize how its not real. The accents are gone, you see the set creation (making the realistic settings crumble back into the real world) and instead of getting me excited about the next season, I’m now feeling disconnected with the show I once felt was real.
I do feel like I need to say that I feel their business model around their original programming could be optimized a bit. I’m a little scared to say it publicly in case it catches on and it comes to fruition and then it ends up costing me way more money in the long run. Hmm… why do they release an entire season at a time? What benefit do they get for me to binge watch an entire season at once, over one weekend or one night? Do you see where I’m going here? We all know you have the whole season ready at that time, but why wouldn’t you release like 1 a day, and then possibly charge a very small nominal fee to watch the next one early? And to explain it in a dramatic way, when House of Cards season 2 came out and after episode 1 killed off Zoe Barnes, how much would you of paid to watch the next episode right then immediately? $.99? $1.99? $9.99? $49.99? Personally, if I knew that next episode was done but not being released for a whole other week, I’d for sure pay up to $100 (or if you know me, it might be more even) to watch that sucker.
As a designer, you should enjoy diving into research and just getting lost in your explorations. Its time away from the pressure of always creating and designing something, and just letting lose on the interview (or in the physical world, I guess). But it is good to have some initial goals to help get you started or else you’ll spin worse than a … oh you get it.
My goals for branding research usually starts with competition, then industry, then related media. And I set my goals on finding examples for Logotypes, Symbols, and Color. That gives you at least some high level ideas on where to start and my goal is to always fill up a tabloid size InDesign page with little screenshots.
At first, I just go on a web rampage and just splatter little screenshots all over my InDesign canvas, but at least on the appropriate page for logotypes, symbols, or color. Then you’ll start to discover some trends or relationships where you can start grouping your research or hone in on your searching.
For this research, I was looking specifically for Product Suite Families and any relationship from the Parent Product down across the Individual Products. This was fun as its something I don’t think I’ve ever really looked into. I was amazed how some product suites leveraged typefaces consistently across the entire suite, while some completely disregarded that. Some used colors in some relational manner like taking them from the parent symbol, while some just used the one main brand color and used it to make each product icon or symbol look like its within the product suite.
After about a 4 hour research session, at least I have a good 6 pages of cleaned up examples. Another tip is to not get too hung up on thinking of how each element can apply to your specific needs. That will drive you nuts. Just go with the flow, faster the better probably so you don’t overthink something and leave it out. Get it all in your InDesign file, clean it up (leaving some on the canvas and not on the actual page), and then sleep on it before really going through and thinking about which is best for you to apply to your project.
One of the more satisfying things I’ve done from a design execution standpoint … go out and concept a large-scale media wall application from scratch, just based on a client’s new marketing campaign. They don’t even see it coming, but you hit them with some beautiful mockup laid over a photo you took on your last visit. They usually freak out a little, and then often seem a bit timid to ask how much its going to cost them, like we can’t tell they want it no matter what.
The beauty of how to do this, especially when talking about large-scale media walls which can be over 10,000 pixels wide, is to make sure you can re-use all the campaign assets from their website and NOT require the client to seek out any original assets which is always a pain for them. I’ll usually download all the graphics from the website before I start concepting in real pixels, so I know how I can blow them up (about twice their resolution at most) and what exact pieces I have to work with per each type of content node I want to include. After that, I get a developer with me and start whiteboarding it out, just to make sure you’re not getting too crazy, everything is working from a data perspective … and at the end of the day, it gets them involved early in case the client wants to pull the trigger quickly, and you always want the developer in a more ‘ownership’ capacity to get the ball rolling on this type of innovative digital media.
If you’re a designer and don’t know HTML from your backside, you can still use Axure to easily create a prototype for a client. I had to rip out a prototype for a project and instead of brushing up my HTML skills for mobile, I just used Axure to save my time in finding a developer real quick to do it right.
If you don’t know Axure, I think it started out as more of a User Experience tool, which allowed Sitemapping and Wireframing linking. But then I think it saw its audience use it more for rapid prototyping, and then some really cool features starting coming out like responsive settings for mobile and its file hosting platform Axshare.
To be honest, I was forced to use it at one of my agency jobs and I wasn’t happy about having to create a fully functioning prototype as an User Experience Architect (my role at that agency), but I did see clients really light up and fully understand the wireframe concepts when they could easily click through the prototype themselves. The program is really easy to use, as far as importing image graphics and leveraging their text boxes, drop downs, radio buttons, etc which all work in various browsers perfectly.
I will say that the mobile settings work really well for creating a mobile app prototype. When you start wanting to demonstrate sign-up flows and any text forms, using Axure’s ready-to-use elements makes this extremely quick, almost faster than wire framing them in some other program and then they automatically work on a mobile browser using the native functionality of the browser. Love it.
I just noticed that Netflix is pushing harder for social recommendations from its users. Now don’t get me wrong, this should be a huge (if not their top) initiative in my opinion. Other than showing me an activity feed of all my friends and what they are watching and rating, this type of recommendations to friends is probably the next best social means of bringing friends together to increase usage and activation.
I think the “Recommend” button has been there for a while, but now they are prompting recommendations as the first thing when you log back in, promoting you to recommend the last thing you watched. It doesn’t look like the most elegant design, but its stupid simple and is a good start to test if this feature is working with its users or not. And now that they have my Facebook info, I’m curious to see if I’m more tempted to use this as it should be an easier work flow to complete. I was surprised they didn’t have a default message in the message text box based on the show, because even though I’m going to type over some of it, I don’t want to type the show name or any other details I might not exactly remember. I’m also very curious if they will do more now with my friends activity since they have access to that info, and can cross reference it with their users. This type of content (tv shows and movies) has to be one of the more social elements in peoples’ lives, so I can’t imagine people would be scared to leverage this social element on Netflix.
I grabbed a seat at a Chili’s bar to catch a football game, and when the bartender didn’t come over for a minute, I ironically noticed a little tablet staring at me which was playing a brand loop with little promo videos about drinks and appetizers. Ok, I’ll bite. I touched it and it gave me some intuitive options of drinks, menu, games, and more. Nicely done Chili’s, I didn’t see that coming. It actually helped me get my beer order ready before the bartender arrived. The interface was pretty simple (good job not overdoing it), but it did have a slough of bar-like games to play.
Upon browsing, I was happy to see a free giveaway for an email signup. It was done pretty tastefully (pun intended) and the signup form wasn’t too overwhelming. This is one of those points (digital takeaway, or user activation) that someone in the industry is always looking to see how others do, or if they did. I’d be interested to see the conversion rate for this bar tablet signup, but at least they are leveraging their digital experience to try.
I was pretty surprised when the bartender handed me the wine list menu and upon opening the book-looking thing, I saw an iPad inside it. It felt like a normal menu, but was crafted to house the iPad right in there, so clever. At first I felt like it was a bit too innovative for the normal bar experience where you want to easily view some drink options, but the app was pretty intuitive and quickly got me to my wine selection.
I have to say this is a great idea (outside the normal pessimistic stuff like running out of power and bugs) just by having a dynamic means to update your menu and have promos and richer media. It was easy to see each section within the app to get all the drink options, and the app did have some nice brand imagery and even though I didn’t notice any, I wouldn’t of minded getting some promos for some event or special at the restaurant or casino. I wonder when the actual dinner menus will start to be on tablets or touch displays now … I’m surprisingly open to it now.
While doing some research before starting a new tablet application user experience, I was checking out the local favorites (Behance, Dribble, etc) and was surprised to see the most eye-catching examples were mostly leveraging a side menu bar. They are almost taking the old tab menu of the first Apple app developer guidelines and just flipping it on the side, which automatically gives it an innovative look. But don’t be so shocked as many native apps on the iPad leverage a left-hand navigation of options.
My first pondering … was this anything to do with Facebook’s left-hand menu options that they released a few years back? I was skeptical of it at first when it came out (how would it interact with the back button paradigm of page flows, etc), but then it caught on like wild fire, and rightfully so, when Facebook does something you only have a taught user base of over a billion users.
For my tablet interface design, I chose to proceed with it but then really had to decide if the side nav was ever-present or expanding/collapsing. It sounds like an easy decision, but it actually has pretty big impacts when you start designing the page layout or a grid system and need to figure out if your content can be covered up or not.
But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when I first emailed some initial mockups to my iPad and viewed them. My left thumb naturally was in place to easily switch between my menu items, which made me extremely glad I made them pretty large with an icon and small label, as it was the perfect size for my thumb to hit with little worry about fat-fingering it.
So I guess this new tablet interface style is now in my repertoire, and we’ll see out it irons out with this app product in design reviews and later in live user testing.