How Netflix taught me why User Experience matters

Plex was acting rather sluggish so I naturally started to eliminate the bottleneck thus tried different setups and eventually media playing options at home. For example running Plex Media Server on my laptop connected to the NAS wirelessly, then same with running sample locally, then trying out Video Station which is a stock solution for the Synology product line—the works.

However, this post is not about figuring out how to play media files at home. This is about realizing how important User Experience is, and how features, a solution offers, are not.

Netflix has been my default choice when watching movies and shows. It boils down to a couple of things:

– no fiddling with media files
– launches fast
– accessible from everywhere without needing me to configure anything
– the time it takes to display video content on screen is crazy fast
– seeking time is crazy fast
– handles profiles within the family (and keeps seek positions for the profiles)
– has subtitles which always work and is easy to turn on and off

None of the other solutions I explored offers these at the fidelity Netflix is capable of. If an app fails to deliver me these, I just tend not to use it. Not by conscious choice, it just is. The media player visuals don’t matter that much when I need to wait 10 seconds just to see the movie start to play.

You see, all of the media player solutions provide all these features. But sometimes they choke on media files, but then VLC can play them just fine. Sometimes they don’t display certain subtitles, but that other player does, and sometimes they don’t remember seek times. Netflix, on the other hand, constantly delivers on these and never fails. You have complete trust in Netflix.

If I were to maintain a roadmap for a media player solution, the experience provided by Netflix would be my North Star metric. We wouldn’t take on new features, integrations, podcasts, whatever feature business is convinced we need to have to succeed, unless we’re excellent in launching and seeking time metrics, media handling etc. It would require a completely a radically different thinking about our product architecture.

What I realize is that even though Netflix has limited content options when compared to other offerings, I tend to fall back to it. I just don’t want to fiddle with settings, IP addresses, managing media files, thinking about transcoding problems, and all that jazz.

I’m inclined to say when the core User Experience is great, you’ll win users over. The same way Netflix wins me over even though 2% of all the media produced in the world is available on it. At the end of the day I just want to hit the play button and watch something before passing out.

Action button iconography problems

If you’re like me and use Google Meet and Slack calls for video conferences frequently, you might have been in the same confusion. This is what the controls look like, Slack top, Google bottom:

Slack starts with Audio ON, Video OFF
Google starts with Audio ON, Video ON

Iconography however is completely confusing, especially if you use these apps back and forth. One displays a microphone when you’re talking, the other a crossed out microphone. Am I on mute? What should I press to go on mute? (The video is even more confusing as Slack has it off by default, Google the other way around, and they use icons the opposite way.)

If a button can switch between two states, what should you display on the button: the actual state you’re in (Slack) or the action you can perform on the button (Google)? I’ve always found Slack the oddball, it never felt natural.

Zoom goes the Slack way, but at least they write labels underneath the buttons, it’s a mix of the two worlds:

Apple seems pretty consistent with this, here is FaceTime…

…and Apple Maps:

This latter is displayed on a 2D screen. Press “3D” if you want to switch to 3D map view. Seems logical, tell the user what will happen with pressing the button.

By this time I’ve learned to live with the logic of Slack, in practice I just know if it’s dark, it’s off, if light, it’s turned on. I never look at the icons.