Solving Streaming through unbinged: ux/ui case study
Unbinged puts all of your streaming services into one app. It is meant to help you save money, help you watch what you want, and to stop watching when you have other things to do. Its primary functions are to schedule when to watch what and when to subscribe or unsubscribe from a streaming service.
Netflix changed the world when it made streaming movies and television easy. Its success led virtually every company that owned movies or TV shows to make their own streaming services. The arrival of Disney+ marks the end of anyone feeling happy with only one streaming subscription.
The Problems with Streaming
The most obvious problem with streaming services is the number of services. Many are must-haves because the hottest content is split among them, but being subscribed to multiple services can get expensive fast. Besides the price, owning multiple services makes browsing for something to watch painful. After sifting through one library, you don’t feel like starting the process over again on your next service. There is so much content that you won’t be able to see the entire library and might not even know something is available to watch. To make it worse, if you find something you want to watch later, it could be removed with no warning.
On the physical side of things, remotes are awful navigational tools for streaming services. Those who like to stream on a big TV rather than their tiny laptop screens are punished by their remotes. The same button must be pressed many times to get across the screen, a process that is effortless on a computer or phone. The biggest insult, however, is the keyboard. It will take a century to type in half of a movie title with a remote.
An issue that exists more on the user side rather than the design side is binging. Being able to binge a TV show is tempting and can easily lead to procrastination or a general disregard to life outside of your favorite TV show. You could resist the urge with a strong will, but there is no system in place for those with little self-control.
With all of these problems in mind, I have designed Unbinged, an app that makes streaming simple again. Unbinged puts all of your streaming services into one app. It is meant to help you save money, watch what you want, and stop watching when you have other stuff to do.
Since you probably aren’t using all of your streaming services equally, Unbinged makes it easy to know when you should subscribe or unsubscribe from a service so you can save money. You can see when each service is going to add or take away a show you want to watch. Schedule when to watch a show so you can get it done before it’s gone, and set Unbinged to unsubscribe from that service once it’s gone. Streaming companies aren’t going to be too happy about this feature, but it will inspire competition between them to keep people subscribed.
The ideas behind Unbinged are a result of long-term research I performed on streaming services. Before researching, I wanted to make my own streaming service that addressed the problems I had with other services. I quickly learned that a new streaming service was the last thing we needed, but a way to curate our streaming services could be a successful app.
Through various online articles I realized there are way more services than I imagined, and how that spreads content thinly across different places and makes it more expensive to stream what you want. I also read through low-rated reviews on streaming services and discovered that the most common complaints were price-hikes and content removal. Offline, I talked with people and found that there was an interest in a way to limit how much you watch to stop procrastination, and that they dislike the way content is curated on streaming services.
The next step was to look into services similar to the app I was going to design as well as to gather data I could find online. Reelgood is an app that also brings all of your streaming services into one place, but does not have the other features I was planning on adding. Screen Time on the iPhone was similar to the time-limiting mechanic I wanted to add. I could look at these for inspiration. As for found data, I found that the biggest audience for streaming services are 18–34 year olds, 76% of adults have certain shows that are “must-haves” when looking for a service, and that close to half of adults watch TV and movies exclusively through streaming services. Through this data I could determine my probable audience.
I observed myself and other people using streaming services. Watching other people made me see how much they struggled in finding something to watch, especially in a group. They had to flip though slowly with a remote, and swap to different services once they got bored looking through one. For my own, I looked through the services I have access too and took note of what was wrong with them. Netflix was showing me too much content I wasn’t interested in, Amazon Prime Video repeated titles often and had paid titles mixed in with free titles, Hulu had a confusing interface, and HBO Go started each show with a commercial, despite paying for the service.
I performed my own research to back up everything I’ve found. I created a survey and posted it online so I would get more diverse answers than if I spread it to friends and family. It was posted to two subreddits on Reddit, /r/television and /r/SampleSize, and a Facebook group called Student Survey Exchange 2019.
With enough research under my belt to know what to make and who to make it for, it was time to create user personas. These are made-up people that are representative of the type of people that would use the app.
The Design Process
The function should be more important than its looks, but no one is going to use the app if it’s ugly or difficult to navigate. I started designing while researching so that the app could have a visual direction early on.
The first designed part of the app started with more research. I looked at logos containing play buttons, film reels, and televisions for inspiration. The next step was sketching out ideas involving televisions, and the concept evolved to just reference the color bars of a glitching TV. This gave a color scheme for me to work with as well visuals for the whole app. Animations would appear glitchy and the pages of the app will be divided into vertical bars, all to resemble the color bars.
I knew everything I had to put in the app, but I didn’t know how to organize it in a way that people would easily understand. I used a technique called card sorting, which involves organizing all the pages you want in the app together and having other people rearrange them in ways that make more sense. The first iteration differed greatly from the last. Everyone has different ideas about what goes where, but with enough hands on it, a logical organization comes out. If I had designed the app without doing this first, I’d imagine people would have a lot of trouble navigating it.
I then created a paper prototype to visualize the app better and work out any kinks in the navigation left over from the card sorting. Each page was drawn out roughly the way it would appear in the app and organized in a way to show which page would lead where. You would think it would be easy since the card-sorting was already done, but every time I added a feature I realized that ten more features needed to be added. You don’t notice how many pages you really need until they’re laying in front of you taking up a lot of physical space.
After the paper prototype I moved on to prototyping in Adobe XD, where the design would be finalized and it would eventually resemble a functioning app. I designed it to look like the paper prototype and then refined it to be more visually appealing and be vertical to resemble the color bars.
A hurdle in designing the prototype was that I was used to designing apps for phones or websites, which work much differently than an app for a TV. Instead of linking a button to another page, I have to account for an arrow button on a remote highlighting each button between the one you are on and the one you are going to. The remote app allows you to bypass this for the most part, but you still have the option of using an arrow button, and it is essential to show this for the viewer to see what is happening in the video of the prototype. Otherwise, pages would seem to be opening up on their own. To account for this, the prototype had to be designed more like a slideshow than a functioning app, which gave me the idea to make the remote app for easier navigation.
Designing Unbinged was a new experience because I had never focused so much on research for a project before. It was nerve-racking spending so much time researching before even starting the design, but I came to realize that the designing part came much easier with all the research backing it up.
Art Direction: Abby Guido