The invisibility of good UX

In the beginning I only had Netflix. I used it as the predominant way of accessing movies and TV series. I never had a complaint other than it seemed to be lacking in its listing of shows.

After a few months I decided to sign up to LoveFilm instant also.

As a developer of iOS apps I like to think that I know the difference between good and bad UX and I would like to think that my apps all create a pleasant experience for the people who use and pay for them.

It was only when I signed up for LoveFilm instant that I truly realised how, firstly, good UX is completely invisible and, secondly, bad UX can summon wrath from even the most tech-savvy users on a level I didn't know was possible from a piece of software.

To put substance behind my claims I thought I'd provide a comparison between Netflix and LoveFilm that I experienced recently.

One of my favourite TV shows of all time is Mythbusters and recently Netflix has added another few seasons onto its library of shows. Brilliant!

I turned on Netflix and found Mythbusters (in the "recommended for Oliver" section) and started watching. When the episode finished the next episode automatically starts after a short countdown, excellent. (This stops after a few episodes so that it does not play endlessly incase you fall asleep etc...)

Then life got in the way and I had chores to do and places to go so I got up, turned off my TV and XBox and went about living life.

Upon returning to the sofa I wanted to carry on watching Mythbusters. However, I had no idea which episode I was watching or which season.

When I turned on Netflix, the default starting point in the menu is "Recently Watched" and the default show in the currently selected position is your most recently watched show.

I pressed "A" on my Xbox controller and the episode I had stopped watching started playing again from the exact place I left it at! Brilliant!

Another of my favourite TV shows is Battlestar Galactica and this is only available on LoveFilm instant.

I turned on LoveFilm and couldn't find an easy way to get to Battlestar Galactica so I had to search. No problem there... Click "Search by Title" and enter "B A T T L..." Battlestar Galactica pops up underneath the search. Oddly it is split up into four separate and unrelated seasons.

Anyway, I started watching. An episode finished and I was thrown back to the menu showing only episode one. There was no opportunity to go to the next episode. OK, so I browsed to the next episode and selected it to start playing.

Then I had to leave and turn off the XBox.

Upon returning to LoveFilm there was no sign of me ever having watched Battlestar Galactica before. It seems odd that I could remember what the XBox was doing but the XBox itself could not?! Surely it can't be that hard to add a simple "Recently Watched" menu?

So, I went into the search menu. I was hit with the same situation, no record of ever having searched for anything before. My only option was to start searching again from scratch. So I did... "B A T T L..." Battlestar Galactica popped up (again split into different seasons).

A selected season one and found the list of episodes... all 24 of them... with nothing to tell me which ones I had watched, which ones I hadn't, where I was up to, etc...

I selected an episode, watched 5 minutes and then realised I'd seen it before so went to the next episode and repeated this process until I found where I was up to.

This happened every time I wanted to carry on watching the show!

The difference is amazing.

On Netflix a single button press is enough to carry on watching from where I left off.
On LoveFile it requires something like 40-50 button presses and 5-10 minutes of watching and re-watching to achieve the same thing.

It's only through experiencing a truly bad UX that I realised that a good UX is completely invisible to the user.

Things that you interact with to access services, no matter what they are, should be invisible. An app that gives you access to movies and TV shows online should not get in the way of your watching. On the contrary they should remove themselves from your experience as quickly as possible.

This is something I have learnt in creating my apps too. Rather than hiding the true content of the app behind menus and options I will endeavour to show the content of the app as the initial way in. The user doesn't have to do anything to get to the content and that is the way it should be.

One Comment

  1. Great post Oliver. I totally agree, I didn't realize how good the UX on Netflix is until I experienced the bad UX of LoveFilm instant. LoveFilm should be ashamed of their poor UX.

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