Notes from Netflix “Cinematic UX”

I recently attended this after-work event held at Netflix HQ in Silicon Valley—which, incidentally, served as a rather fun homecoming after 5 years since having worked there as UI consultant. It was truly wonderful re-connecting with the Netflix design team, and getting a sneak peek at some upcoming concepts ;-) Yay!

Regarding the talk itself, Alvin Lee, one of the team design managers, led a brief overview of what they term “cinematic UX” and how that concept has been successfully achieved via Netflix service delivery and interface mechanics. Below is a rundown of the 5 core elements of what constitutes (for Netflix) a “cinematic UX”:

1. Visual: Given the entirety of Netflix’s content is television and movies, it’s quite obvious the experience delivered must be primarily visual. This also means going beyond standard box-art, towards iconic signature frames and scenes from their catalog, which are memorable and soul-stirring.

2. Story: Again, given the special nature of the content, Netflix took an approach that maximizes the value of emotive, resonant qualities of their movies, namely around the story. As a result, the rather bland vanilla plot descriptions were tweaked to be more specific, memorable, and emotional, with a “point of view” that jolts the viewer to want to view and engage with the story of a certain movie or TV show.

3. Emotion: Building upon the prior principles, this one is essential for creating a “cinematic UX”, whereby viewers are drawn in, and have a visceral reaction to the dramatic, engaging content being consumed. The challenge for designers then is how to make “I want this now” as an emotion consummated via expertly designed content consumption interface: the artwork, the previews, the interactions, with both “pre-play” and “post-play” engagements for a show or movie.

4. Immersive: This pertains to drawing the viewer into a world where they feel close to the content, in a space that’s been aptly extended across devices and channels, to feel continuous and enriched. In terms of the interface, this refers to minimizing the “app chrome” elements and focusing on the content itself, with subtle UI controls for interaction and more smart techniques (like auto-play the next episode of a TV binge watching session)

5. Be Entertaining: Naturally, given this is all about movies and TV shows, the spirit of entertainment should be evident in the interface and experience all throughout! How can Netflix enable a positive, rewarding, and FUN experience that keeps viewers coming back for more and also firmly cement Netflix as the premier destination for entertainment. This final principle serves as the capstone that pulls together the prior four into total fruition for viewers.


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