netflix retooled

I’m a heavy Netflix user. In my opinion, Netflix is why you buy a DVD player, not the other way around. I visited Blockbuster recently, to get a big pile of movies in preparation for tuesday’s dental surgery, and I noticed Blockbuster has rolled out a new “Movie freedom pass.” It allows you to keep two movies as long as you want, and see as many as you want, two at a time, for a flat fee.

My husband read the offer as we stood at the counter checking out, and snorted “same as Netflix except you have to go to the store and you get crappier films.” The endlessly maligned Blockbuster clerk did not respond, merely continued to ring me up. Sometime I think the clerks’ apathy provide a challenge to my husband’s gallic nature, as he seems to save his most insulting comments about american culture for our arrival at the counter.

So: back to Netflix.com. They’ve redesigned their site. Because I visit Netflix so often, and typically from clicking an email as often as navigating there, I had the good fortune to have old Netflix and new Netflix open in two windows and was able to capture at a page of each for comparison. And here is my rambling observations…

Below is the redesign explanation page. Most sites undergoing a major redesign now respect this best practice. A few years back, complete redesigns & rearchitectures were sprung on users regularly with hardly a word of explanation. Now there is usually a tour or guidepage explaining what sort of mischief the designers have been getting into and how to adjust to the new design. Even when a design is a great improvement, users of the previous design will often have problems as they relearn the interface.

Unfortunately the vast majority of the users will not turn to the explanation page, except perhaps out of curiosity or if they can’t locate a favored feature and want to see if it’s still there. Tours tend to get the traffic of a good banner ad… abysmal. Still, it’s good to offer help to those who seek it.

netflix-redesign_thumb.gif

In my case I’m thwarted by the move of search (#6) from the left (common not only to the old netflix but to many other of my regularly visited sites such as amazon) to the right. I’m sure someone had a deep and passionate argument about how having the search box on the right was more ergonomic and intuitive, but damn if I don’t keep looking for it on the left every time.
(There was a poster at this year’s ia summit with typical location of things like shopping cart and search– anyone have a link?)

Below we have the old netflix queue page and the new one. This is a page I spend a lot of time on, moving movies up and down the queue as my mood swings from serious to playful and my needs from blockbuster-stupid to intellectually challenging. I doubt I’m unusual in this pastime. Netflix’s few drawbacks is you can’t match film to mood easily.

netflix_old_thumb.gif

netflix_new_thumb.gif

There are two big changes in this page. One is the aqua-ization of the design. Everything is shiny 3-D macraphics. Why? Page was loading too fast? That fountain pen really enriches my renting experience! Those round tabs makes me feel so futuristic, like I’m in minority report!

I will admit that I have a personal aesthetic preference for the flat interface, and I really don’t get what a 3-d tab brings to the experience. But then, OSX leaves me vaguely seasick, and when my XP machine arrived, I spent a hunk of time removing the fisher-price interface and returning to the simple “windows classic”. This is my caveat… I like flat. Still, I do suspect this design will look dated pretty fast.

Moving beyond the veneer, let’s consider use. This page is a highly utilitarian one. Why add visuals that don’t help? The fountain pen neither helps in wayfinding nor explains how to use the page, nor sets the tone for the task. It bespeaks a designer’s struggle digging through clip-art seeking an image that represents managing a queue of movies– maybe the solution was no image?

Is an image necessary on this page at all? Setting the tone of the service’s brand seems far more appropriate on the home page, perhaps lightly across the browse pages. But once you get to a page the regular committed user accesses again and again, why not make it lightweight and swift, with no unnecessary elements?

One thing the image does do is tie the tabs into the page. Often tabs are tossed on top of an interface like a hat, and have no visual connection with the page they modify. This undermines their power– the ability to show state and provide both location and alternatives. The new tabs are far better tied to the pages they modify than the old buttonettes.

Are tabs the right metaphor for Netflix? On the web, you see two uses for tabs. the old software metaphor, which is different views of the same thing, and the new/old folder metaphor, top-level groupings of items. Amazon uses tabs in this way, as do most.

Netflix is using tabs to indicate the three different tasks a user might accomplish on their site, an atypical use for tabs. Tabs are probably the wrong widget, then. But a little rebel within whispers “I bet they tested great in usability.”

Another big change you’ll notice is the removal of the left-hand navigation. I’m going to assume they looked at the number of clicks this received, and decided that it was not serving any purpose beyond noise. On the other-hand, its removal basically renders this page a dead end. You’ve tweaked your queue, you are satisfied the right films are lined up to arrive… now what? What does the user want to do next?

My answer is usually

1. Find more movies on netflix
2. Go to IMDB and read up on a movie, or find suggestions for another.
3. Leave to do something else.

You can no longer easily do any of these on this page. Why not offer movie recommendations here? Why not do a deal with IMDB? Why not take overture text-link ads to take advantage of an exit point?

I think Amazon is the master of the “no dead-ends” philosophy. Every click provides you with a thousand other tempting offers, until you enter the check out tunnel. Netflix has got your money, the best thing they can do is make sure you view them as an indispensable part of your existence. Part of that means making sure you have a rich queue of movies so you never sit at home with no red envelope, wondering what you are paying for.

11 Comments

Add Yours
  1. 1
    Lyle, Lyle, Croc O' Lyle

    You asked:
    “There was a poster at this year’s ia summit with typical location of things like shopping cart and search– anyone have a link?”

    I think this might be what your looking for:

    Examining User Expectations for the Location of Common E-Commerce Web Objects
    http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/41/web_object-ecom.htm

    Also:

    Developing Schemas for the Location of Common Web Objects
    http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/3W/web_object.htm

    I remember storing these in my personal web memory enhancer: Powermarks. Only took a sec to look them up. Read more about it:

    Who needs bookmarks?
    http://crocolyle.blogspot.com/2002_01_20_crocolyle_archive.html#9027484

  2. 2
    bill reith

    I know little about design, my observations being more of the “why’d they do that” and the “geez, that’s nice” style, so it is illuminating for me to read your comments and see how someone who understands design better than I thinks about it and how it is implemented. I always smile when I see the title of your site, too.

    Thank you.

  3. 3
    christina

    Thanks Lyle– I actually only had the hard copy from the summit, so never had a chance to bookmark nuthin.

    and thanks for your kind comments bill– I think it’s fun to just backwards-engineer a design every so often. gets the brain juice flowing.

  4. 5
    Austin

    “It bespeaks a designer’s struggle digging through clip-art seeking an image that represents managing a queue of movies– maybe the solution was no image?”

    I often wish designers would choose no image more than they do. I think many do not learn the purpose of visual elements. They learn how to make them, but not why.

    I’ve had trouble urging them towards fueling the message. Any tricks you use to keep designers “on message”?

  5. 6
    christina

    Designers are human, in the words of Pedro Almodovar, “Talk to her”

    Seriously, since I’ve become a Design Manager at Yahoo I find simply walking around, reminding people what the goals of the project are, and asking them if what they see is working is typically enough. Designing is strangely seductive– perhaps its the close relationship with art– but working the surface can cause you to attend more closely to the needs of the design than the needs of the project. Remembering both and keeping them in balance is key.

    A couple things I do

    Create “Goal memes”. I keep meaning to write about these.

    In the search redesign, we had some key goals for the design, including fast. I crafted some sayings to go around these goals such as “Every pixel has a job to do” this helped us as we designed and reviewed designs… was this pixel working hard enough to get to stay? Did it need to go?

    Of course, this does mean taking the time to define what the goals from the redesign are, and what success will look like.

    Another thing (I keep meaning to write about) is page level task analysis.
    One each page, you should ask yourself what the user tasks are that bring them to the page, and then splice down the task into its components. this should help you know what belongs at the top of the page, what belongs at the bottom, what is primary, what is secondary, and what is associated.

    Just a couple “tricks” for ya!

  6. 7
    anthony morales | DESIGN

    More On Netflix’ Redesign

    Christina Wodke reviews NetFlix’ redesign with screenshots! She was lucky enough to have the old site open when she noticed the switch in another window and had the presence of mind to grab screenshots. Thank you! I chimed in on…

  7. 8
    Ordinary-Life.net

    Netflix Redesign

    Christina has some interesting comments on the Netflix redesign. I think the common mistake of using a site redesign to ONLY enhance the visual appeal of a site, is an opportunity lost. You’re going to tear the code apart anyway, why not improve …

  8. 9
    pasnthru

    Hello,

    I’m afraid this is going to be another one of those ‘you asked’ responses to netflix.
    I am in the process of rebuilding my web site and have been out searching for some new good links.Have been thinking about checking them out more as soon as I get a new DVD player. Some friends have had good luck with them.I went to their site a couple of times and sent email to discuss optional payment plans.I don’t pay for anything at all through the internet.period.
    I have seen identity theft in ‘working mode’ and am not anywhere near that stupid.
    When I found out that NetFlix was/is one of these places that have tried to redefine the word ‘free’ to suit their purpose of ‘suck them in with BS’ then tell them how much ‘free’ will cost them to make whatever product is work. These places also have the odd idea that this is a cashless society.NOT!
    What I mean by this is the way some companies have gotten the idea that they can more or less ‘force’ people to pay for products online by telling them “we are only set up to do ‘online pay’.
    Where did these people get this scam?
    What,the post office just goes around them but doesn’t deliver snail mail to that address?
    Or do they not have a business address?
    They just wander to the nearest park with a laptop and an apple for lunch?
    Give me a break.If a business can deal with pay pal,then at least one or two employees know what a money order or a check is and how/where to go to cash them.
    It really doesn’t suprise me that people actually fall for this.
    Anyway,I tried to get to netflix home page to see what they had/have for link graphics to put on my site. I get irritated when unauthorized people try to run things on MY computer.(keyword is ‘MY’ meaning it belongs to me.)
    I tried a number of different routes and got the same result for all of them.
    What the page they bounced me to said was:’To get started on your “free” trial with NetFlix,you have to activate your cookies’.(various detailed instructions followed for any and all systems and/or browsers. It read like the title should be ‘the dummies guide to activate cookies’
    Nothing else on the page.No link to their home page,no help link,no contact us link–nothing.
    Now,being the person I am I searched pretty hard for these items that should be there if only for customer relations that ALL business needs some form of to operate decently.
    What this page said to me was this: “activate your cookies now so we can bog your computer down to a stand still with trackers and information grabbers or we won’t even let you into our site.”
    I think they have an ‘un-solicited review/editorial coming their way when/if it becomes worth my time and effort.
    The drift of this short story-(or linked comments,if you prefer) is that I think I am joining the ranks of those that have already abandoned netflix like they would a sinking ship.
    Kind of makes a person wonder how many others were not currently and won’t at all do business with them.
    It’s my policy that if I am paying for something or some service,the business will meet me at least 1/2 way.The way I see it is that if whoever it is won’t take cash or money order,then they now know exactly what ‘free’ means because they won’t get paid at all.
    Yes,I read the ‘extra fine print’ blurb at the bottom and I did get a bit off subject and am a wee bit ticked about any business that uses the aforementioned ways in dealing with the general public.I tried to keep it on track and eloquent
    enough for all. If I am/was out of line and you delete it and want to see it at a later time,I am posting it on my blog page when I am done here.(I was thinking about it before bouncing into yours and was on the way.)Just figured that one text editor was the same as another and the subject was the same. Hope you at least read the whole thing before throwing it out. I also hope your experience with netflix was better than mine and there is the remote chance that I am just too paranoid. But that doesn’t mean that I’m seeing things that are not there.

    Later and enjoy— I’m pasnthru —> and I see a pop up bounce bubble getting ready to catch a thread to some other place I wasn’t looking for. Hope you like the book.

  9. 10
    pasnthru

    Hello,

    I’m afraid this is going to be another one of those ‘you asked’ responses to netflix.
    I am in the process of rebuilding my web site and have been out searching for some new good links.Have been thinking about checking them out more as soon as I get a new DVD player. Some friends have had good luck with them.I went to their site a couple of times and sent email to discuss optional payment plans.I don’t pay for anything at all through the internet.period.
    I have seen identity theft in ‘working mode’ and am not anywhere near that stupid.
    When I found out that NetFlix was/is one of these places that have tried to redefine the word ‘free’ to suit their purpose of ‘suck them in with BS’ then tell them how much ‘free’ will cost them to make whatever product is work. These places also have the odd idea that this is a cashless society.NOT!
    What I mean by this is the way some companies have gotten the idea that they can more or less ‘force’ people to pay for products online by telling them “we are only set up to do ‘online pay’.
    Where did these people get this scam?
    What,the post office just goes around them but doesn’t deliver snail mail to that address?
    Or do they not have a business address?
    They just wander to the nearest park with a laptop and an apple for lunch?
    Give me a break.If a business can deal with pay pal,then at least one or two employees know what a money order or a check is and how/where to go to cash them.
    It really doesn’t suprise me that people actually fall for this.
    Anyway,I tried to get to netflix home page to see what they had/have for link graphics to put on my site. I get irritated when unauthorized people try to run things on MY computer.(keyword is ‘MY’ meaning it belongs to me.)
    I tried a number of different routes and got the same result for all of them.
    What the page they bounced me to said was:’To get started on your “free” trial with NetFlix,you have to activate your cookies’.(various detailed instructions followed for any and all systems and/or browsers. It read like the title should be ‘the dummies guide to activate cookies’
    Nothing else on the page.No link to their home page,no help link,no contact us link–nothing.
    Now,being the person I am I searched pretty hard for these items that should be there if only for customer relations that ALL business needs some form of to operate decently.
    What this page said to me was this: “activate your cookies now so we can bog your computer down to a stand still with trackers and information grabbers or we won’t even let you into our site.”
    I think they have an ‘un-solicited review/editorial coming their way when/if it becomes worth my time and effort.
    The drift of this short story-(or linked comments,if you prefer) is that I think I am joining the ranks of those that have already abandoned netflix like they would a sinking ship.
    Kind of makes a person wonder how many others were not currently and won’t at all do business with them.
    It’s my policy that if I am paying for something or some service,the business will meet me at least 1/2 way.The way I see it is that if whoever it is won’t take cash or money order,then they now know exactly what ‘free’ means because they won’t get paid at all.
    Yes,I read the ‘extra fine print’ blurb at the bottom and I did get a bit off subject and am a wee bit ticked about any business that uses the aforementioned ways in dealing with the general public.I tried to keep it on track and eloquent
    enough for all. If I am/was out of line and you delete it and want to see it at a later time,I am posting it on my blog page when I am done here.(I was thinking about it before bouncing into yours and was on the way.)Just figured that one text editor was the same as another and the subject was the same. Hope you at least read the whole thing before throwing it out. I also hope your experience with netflix was better than mine and there is the remote chance that I am just too paranoid. But that doesn’t mean that I’m seeing things that are not there.

    Later and enjoy— I’m pasnthru —> and I see a pop up bounce bubble getting ready to catch a thread to some other place I wasn’t looking for. Hope you like the book.

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