In the pursuit of the clearest, highest definition content, companies cannot forget that user interfaces and experiences define what television will ultimately look like in the future. How might it better integrate with other devices? How can interfaces create motion, transitions and controls that establish deeper connections with users and their various bits of content?
During the course of our work, companies have engaged with us to innovate and create experiences that round out the picture of the changing TV landscape. We’ve distilled the following insights for creating interfaces that re-imagine the television to meet and even elevate people’s expectations of what so-called smart TV can be.
1. Respond to changing human “channels”
People are their own programmers. They are pulling content from their DVRs, Netflix, YouTube and Hulu, and sometimes their own personal videos. Unlike the set-top-box providers, users don’t care where TV content comes from. They are watching it across various screens. Our research shows that when consuming media, viewers’ time, attention and location are increasingly variable. The possibility of their shifting – from one task, one device, one place to another – at any given moment is very real. TV experiences must be able to respond accordingly. A person’s favorite channels, viewing behavior and subscriptions all need to be portable, and content needs to be accessible regardless of where the person is or where their content lives – in the cloud, on a DVR, on a hard drive, on a mobile device, or on a tablet.
Like water making its way to the sea, users will get TV content in any way they can, through the easiest means possible. We have seen how users will lose patience with artificial barriers and still find ways to consume their favorite content. We do not make it our business to help companies navigate the legal aspects of licensing, distribution, and DRM, but as advocates for users, we help companies understand the impact to the user experience these sometimes artificial boundaries create. We work with companies to find opportunities to unify the viewing experience and engage with TV content.
2. Respect the content
Nothing comes before content. While UIs must do more to manage the increasing complexity of today’s media and devices, they must do so with minimal impact on the viewing experience. Users do not want to see a homescreen when they turn on the television. People expect what they are watching to be front and center, and the UI should never obstruct it. That might mean adding transparencies and picture-in-picture during navigation. Or it might mean offloading interface controls, browsing, and social engagement to companion devices. What is of utmost importance is that the UI not obscure the content.
3. Design for shared experiences
Most often, televisions belong to a home. Yet, to date, they’ve been designed as linear, single-user devices. That thinking overlooks the fact that televisions, unlike phones and laptops, are used both individually and collectively. Interfaces of the new television must enhance the group dynamic, while balancing those enhancements with the awareness that groups are still made up of individuals. For example, a television might enable viewers to share videos from their personal devices. But what happens when that viewer leaves? What plays, and who’s in control? The design of next-generation TV interfaces needs to handle multiple users and the switching between those users in a way that preserves the viewing experience.
Interfaces also need to facilitate sharing with people who aren’t present. Social exchanges and sharing are increasingly being used to discover content. Community-aware interfaces are better attuned to the role televisions play in people’s lives and can support family and friends discovering, synchronizing and personalizing their media experiences in the context of others. Yet, when it comes to user experience design of these features, the parties involved have to determine whether social features should be baked into a TV interface as a standalone app, or as a UI layer on top of content or engaged via handheld devices. We think a TV experience must account for all three.
4. Build a hub for digital life
Plugged into the individuals and groups of individuals around them, televisions start to take advantage of their unique position at the center of people’s lives. Gradually, they are becoming a convergence point, unifying and simplifying various channels of entertainment. Plugged into the web after years of disconnect, televisions can bring back the eyeballs that shifted to other devices. Its large display and shared nature make it ideal for managing a multi-dimensional, multi-person experience. As it becomes the hub of digital life, it must do more. Even when it’s off. Ambient displays hold the potential for making the biggest screen in the house more useful – surfacing notifications, photo reels, timers and dozens of dormant activities onto the home’s centerpiece. With a little innovative thinking, the big screen is starting to once again do big things.
5. Think outside the set-top
Television is not a device – it’s an experience that draws from both the content and the ways the content is engaged. It’s what happens when multiple devices are added to the experience. It’s the tablet as a remote. It’s a movie library browsed on a companion device. And, most importantly, it is the content people want with them wherever they go. Far from the days of leaning back and taking it all in, people are taking an active role in their viewing interactions. It’s all about access. People want to manage and interact with the content that matters to them, uninterrupted by device or context. The UIs of next-generation televisions must account for their place in an ecosystem of devices. The living room may always have the biggest, best screen in the house, but TV is no longer constrained to the room with the best screen. TV user interface design must meet users where they are.
Traditional TV UI models are basic, disconnected, one-dimensional and linear. The new mobile, social and interactive contexts of use demand new UI solutions that are born out of polished service design thinking. Punchcut works to understand user behaviors in these new multi-device contexts and capture them in engaging, intuitive UIs. We specialize in bringing strategic interaction, motion and visual design together to create high-definition interfaces that are tailored to a new way of watching television.