Reduce the cognitive load of Movie Night

Title with image of pop-corn
Time to read: 5 minutes

All modern internet-enabled things have been busting my imaginary balls since they entered my life. But none has caused so many headaches as NETFLIX.

And Netflix is kind of awesome, because it’s given us shows like House of Cards and Grace & Frankie. 

But Netflix has no clue whatsoever how to deal with Movie Night. 

Movie Night is something that all couples have. You’re tired, it’s Friday or Tuesday or Sunday night, and all you want is a takeaway and a movie to watch to cleanse your brain. But there’s two of you, with different tastes and appetites… 

How do you choose?

Our scenario at home, played out at least weekly and refined over more than six years, consisted of infinitely scrolling (horizontally… of all things… damn you UI designers of Netflix!!) on a teeny strip of recommendations, popping one open, reading a description, suggesting it to the other person, not being sure, closing it, and scrolling some more… while the other person does the same thing in parallel on their own device. 

By the end of ten minutes, we’d stuff it all and watch whatever trashy thing came up next just to watch SOMETHING, because we could barely remember our names let alone the name of the “ok, maybe I could watch that” film from 5 scrolls and 10 pop-opens ago. On which device? End-of-day brains just don’t stretch that far.

Infinite choice means cognitive overload

In an era of infinite choice, when we know what the pattern for deciding is through task analysis (research, shortlist, eliminate, decide), and we have billions of digital tools at our disposal, why -oh, why- do we not use any for Movie Night?

We hacked it! 

One time, I suggested we hack the process of choosing a movie, by individually adding movies we want to watch to a pinterest board called Movie Night. I hypothesised that once we had a shortlist of things we each considered acceptable, it would be easy to review that together and decide.

Not only did that work well, it turned out we’d both added the same film, so that was the one we watched!

But Pinterest sucks (don’t get me started), and adding one thing to it from Netflix takes 9 steps. Nine. Bit much, no?

Oh, and after that first movie night I discovered that I couldn’t remove anything he’d added. He can’t remove anything I’ve added. Generally removing things is tricky. And there is no way to remember which ones we’d already watched… So it very quickly became unmanageable.

It did solve the problem (for the two or three nights we could remember things about) though, so I know for a fact that a joint shortlist would be something we would use.

So I propose the following.

What if Netflix allowed us to create a second watchlist that two users on my account can see and contribute to? 

Or maybe we could see an “overlap watchlist” or “overlap recommendations” from two users on the same account?

Both of those are super lazy ways of making Movie Night easier. I’d bet the Netflix product design and development team could put the second one together in 3 days flat.

One tiny detaill: we are in the unorthodox situation that I have a netflix account whereas he doesn’t. Instead he has a persona on my account. And now we have movie nights on our couch and it’s lovely… except for the choosing a movie part. That part is still a pain in the … brain.

Fix movie nights and get chocolates

This is obviously not critical functionality for Netflix, but it certainly would make our Movie Nights (and everyone else’s Movie Nights) so much easier on the brain, that I’d personally buy flowers and a box of the best pralines in the world (Neuhaus, in my opinion) for Andrew Law (Director of Product Design at Netflix) if he were to make this happen.

Andrew, if you ever read this; this scenario has been nagging at me for more than two years. Take me on for six months as UX Lead with a co-Lead (two UXers at the top is an awesome way to work) and I will make Movie Night headaches disappear for everyone!! 

And also, I really think it would be fun to design for a two-person persona… just because it feels so counter-intuitive :)

The UX-y part: the Couple “persona”

If you want to talk UX, here is a starter for ten on the couple / flatmate persona’s current setup, behaviours, and needs. It’s mostly based on us, and what I know from experience goes on in a few other friendly couple-households.

The needs bit is a bit feature-y, I’ll grant you that… but in the context of movie nights, these are the things / jobs they need to be able to do ;) (JTBD fans anywhere?)

The Couple / Flatmates are…

… probably sharing one person’s Netflix account, because smart TVs only connect to one account at a time (arbitrarily ball-busting internet constraints…).

… individuals with a past, so they want to keep their viewing history and recommendations (separate) rather than start over on a new account. (This will occasionally clash with the point above)

… individuals with different tastes, which COULD OVERLAP, but they can’t tell because there is no way to compare their watchlists or recommendations.

… limited in time, and tired from work by the end of the day.

The Couple / Flatmates need…

… an easy way to tell what they have in common.

… a place to curate a *shortlist* of films (especially films) that they would like to watch with their partner / friend rather than indulge in alone.

… a way to *eliminate* films they do not want to watch from that shortlist (and somehow make that action visible, so whoever added them will be able to tell they didn’t magically disappear, that they were vetoed out).

… a “zoomed-out” view of all the options available, (e.g. a grid of images) because trying to remember things that you can’t see is taxing on the brain. Best to just see them all the time. (One of the fundamental usability heuristics by Jakob Nielsen, and a core principle of Design Thinking)

… a way to eliminate movies just for tonight’s movie night, because sometimes it’s more of a “not tonight” kind of movie rather than a “I never want to watch this” kind of movie.

… a way to upvote movies just for tonight’s movie night, because sometimes it’s a “definitely in the mood for that one” kind of movie, and it’d be nice to be able to point to those ones in a cluster of some kind.

I’ve been debating creating a little app for helping couples create this shortlist, but I’m not sure the world needs yet another app. Also, apparently, Netflix doesn’t have an API, so people would have to add things manually to that external shortlist, which feels like an annoying overhead to me.

Eventually I’d like to see this expand across all entertainment services like spotify, podcast libraries, netflix, amazon prime, and more.

Because sometimes you’re too tired to properly interact with your significant other at the end of the day. It would be nice if there was an easy way to share a passive experience instead.

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