For designers, the priority should be giving an experience that meets users’ experience and needs ahead of ‘special attractions’, writes Ostmodern’s CEO and co-founder Tom Williams.

netflix mobile content

Source: Netflix

The temptation to make a great first impression often has the power to undermine serious core objectives. This is because it deprioritises these objectives in favour of shiny, decorative features. After a product has been launched, that temptation persists in adding even more shiny new features.

As users, we know that a certain familiarity between different products within the same category is important. As an extreme example, when buying a new smartphone, we don’t expect it to have a round shape (does anyone remember Microsoft Kin). We don’t look for a phone with buggy software or very weak battery life. We’ve come to expect certain things that make it possible to use this device in every basic task we need it for.

As designers, the priority is to materialise the experience our audience expects, and ensure their primary needs are met before we can stun them with a ‘special attraction’. The user may, at first sight, feel more attracted to a specific attribute in our product than its overall utility. If that appeal is all there is to the product, it will never be successful.

Innovation can be a deceptive agent if you haven’t been around long enough to know that it needs a support cast. A fundamental element to consider at the beginning of any project in product design is the audience–who we’re innovating for.

At Ostmodern, we use a term that keeps us focused on the user: empathy. There’s a reason why the first step in the creation of a unique selling proposition (USP) is understanding the target audience. Before considering the problem, your product needs to solve, before addressing industry pain points, a great product is built on customer insight.

One of the most common offences we find in the design of OTT products is the preference for more features instead of fewer, better ones. This has emerged from the proliferation of online video platforms; a consequence of multiple industry leaders constantly striving for innovation. Smaller newcomers and panicking incumbents gather every possible tool to fight this by cramming a product with features that end up suffering from grave problems. Those features are never interesting enough to sustain the audience’s attention.

Tom Williams CEO

Tom Williams

It’s an understandable error to make when navigating an industry that sees itself to be living in the shadows of Netflix. The number of streaming services today is staggering, and the subscription market appears saturated.

Audiences have expectations about content diversity but that won’t make a difference if it is difficult to find content in the app. The titans in this industry that others follow and whose features they try to duplicate didn’t start at the level at which they find themselves now, drawing millions of global viewers. Their library growth brought on technology improvements, not the other way around.

Even after years of studying this business, learning from competitors and launching ingenious features, these companies still work hard to understand their audiences even better. They excel at acting on what their audiences care about, presenting the information they want to show in the most compelling way possible to their target audience. This can’t be done by every company wanting to launch an OTT product.

Our dedication to delivering the most useful and captivating digital products is linked to our acknowledgement of core principles. They represent a set of values which guide us in the right direction, all the while considering the expectations of our audience, the business we’re working with and the complexities of building a product.

This leads to an approach in product development we advocate: the 80/20 rule. Our stance is to focus 80% of our effort in simply making sure that the product works, as users expect it to, by getting the core principles and interactions right. In the case of video and broadcast products this usually means that people need to be able to find and consume the content efficiently. This leaves you with 20% to push the product to express its individuality, reflecting its USP. The features that set you apart from competitors, your biggest brand differentiator and what will truly resonate with your user base all boil down to these 20%. The key objective, nonetheless, is that it will just work.

This is why we always meet and get into the mindset of an audience when we are defining product strategy. Understanding how they want to be spoken to – and what they really care about – will always save a lot of time and money.

Standing out isn’t just about being innovative. It’s easier to have a lot of different ideas and packing a bunch of new features into a platform than breathing new life into an older set of features that users are accustomed to.

True innovation in user experience comes from the harmony between design and technology. Your unique proposition should reflect your strengths and the ultimate goal of your product, and not be based on a template that could be used by any other service. The 80/20 approach will ensure your product stands out from the start, without breaking the bank or gambling on a crazy feature set. It’s all about keeping the user happy.

Tom Williams is CEO and co-founder at Ostmodern.