Get to know the data driven design process at Showmax

“We live to get everyone watching” — this is one of the claims that we have here at Showmax to align on what we aim for. Another claim speaks to how we achieve it: “We make it easy, relevant and awesome”. The design of our streaming application is the nut that users must easily crack to get to great content — if it’s too hard, nobody gets to watch, no matter how smoothly the stream runs.

Our design team works with the User-centered Design (UCD) approach — customer needs and usability of the product drive every step of the design process. Tashi Gyamtso, a Showmax AndroidTV product designer, puts it very nicely. He discusses new ideas in terms of the actual customer. Ultimately, we’re trying to help the user, as a real human being, fully understand and effectively use the platform in the context of specific cultures, habits, and expectations.

To design a video streaming platform for the African market from Prague, we continuously conduct customer research and collect feedback to get things right. No one wants to create a product the final user doesn’t understand or won’t (or, can’t) use. As a closely-collaborating team of eight (including researchers), our data-driven and user-centered Product Design team is agile enough to deliver great value to customers quickly, and across all platforms.

To understand how this approach translates to everyday work, we talked to Daniel Valčík, our Design Solution Team Leader, and our team of Product Designers: David Lengyel from the mobile team (Android, iOS, and tvOS), Tashi Gyamtso on AndroidTV, and Matouš Jemelka from the web and smart TV team.

It all starts with an idea

In the past, the internal projects at Showmax came from all directions. This led to inconsistent designs that often went far beyond the platform-specific elements. When Design Solution Team Leader Daniel Valčík joined Showmax, his vision of the UX-first approach changed the rules, and design is now driven mainly by the customer.

In this short interview, Daniel explains his approach to Showmax design, and how it led us to the many ways we now collect feedback and ideas from our customers. “We let the content do the talking, with our design supporting it, not overshadowing it,” he explains. “Our design has to be seamless and invisible, but it also has to guide the user, support the interaction, and leave a good impression.”

We conduct A/B tests, prototype designs, and use Maze for non-moderated prototype testing. But what stands out in the process is that we invest a lot of time into customer interviews to explore their pain points and our opportunities to improve. We listen to what they have to say, and really try to act on this incredibly valuable feedback.

Our goal is to build a list of opportunities and plan the improvements as far ahead as we can, coordinating changes across all platforms. David Lengyel, our mobile Product Designer summarizes:

“Every idea is born as an answer to a correctly-asked question. We always consider the impact of the proposed change on the big picture, we collect data to support the idea, and we definitely ask the users whether they would benefit from it.”

“Lately, asking users about the new picture-in-picture feature or scheduled downloads led us to iterate the design and the concept itself. Based on the user feedback we played with the icon and its placement to improve usability.

“Our scheduled downloads feature reflects the market-specific need to save data on streaming and improve the old, already-available feature of downloading content for offline viewing. We added an option to download content during the night when the data is less expensive. We worked on the feature to ease the timing and triggering the downloads so that the users don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night.

Matouš Jemelka, our web Product Designer, says that for the web team, asking the user is the first step to take in the discovery process. They always advocate for work on any update using the feedback collected from users. A solid understanding of user needs helps them pick the most promising opportunities from our opportunity solution tree (pictured below). “Once we select the next opportunity to tackle, we validate the demand quickly,” Matouš explains. “Recently, we ran a short questionnaire for a few days to validate an idea for a reminder feature. The results reassured us that we are chasing the right thing. We will continue, explore it further, and deliver it.”

opportunity-tree

Turning ideas into designs

You’re a Showmax Product Designer and you get to work on Monday with a good idea of what you want to improve. You’ve read the customer feedback, you have an idea, and you want to run with it. What do you do next?

First, you check the analytics and see if you have the data to support your thinking. At Showmax, no idea gets to be sketched without proper, data-driven support. Next, you need to explore how valuable and feasible the possible improvement could be.

As Tashi explains, designers regularly meet developers at a grooming session to assess the ideas in the context of platform limitations, and how difficult and time-consuming working on the new code would be. This is then measured against the business impact the envisioned change could have.

“You end up with a four-field matrix that shows the ideas grouped in sectors according to business value and costs,” Tashi says. “We can see clearly what we must work on (low cost, high value), should work on (high value, high cost), what we could think about (low costs, low value), and what we won’t work on (high costs, low value). From these pools of ideas, we take the highest priority, or the biggest opportunity, and work on it.”.

prioritization

When you have a good idea, the data usually supports your thinking. When the developers give you the go-ahead, you need to get the third necessary input — user feedback.

Every Wednesday and Thursday we conduct customer interviews, where we have a chance to ask users a list of questions and listen to their responses. Not only do you receive valuable feedback specific to your idea, but you also find inspiration from other topics and issues covered.

“After the interviews, where more of us participate and listen, there is always a debrief to discuss topics we noticed. We discuss what we think about the responses, user behaviour, and more. So, you collect what colleagues think as well,” explains David.

Design critique and demos

Having the inputs from analytics, users, and devs, you sketch your proposal and iterate until you are ready to present it to other Showmaxers.

Designers meet for a design critique every Friday and focus on what each of them worked on. Discussing the reasoning behind the design, they search for vulnerabilities, unreasonable moves, or discrepancies with what users are used to. “We need to have a reason for every design we create. The answer I like it this way is not good enough,” says Matouš, about the design critique meeting.

smarttv A neat design of the Showmax SmartTV interface

Tashi adds, “We want to design politely, make things easy to learn, and avoid asking the users to learn something new every time they open the app. They learn the journey through the app the same way they learn how to get to Berlin. When you’re going to Berlin for the first time, you use navigation and follow the instructions. Later, you remember the way and don’t need as much help. The ideal state is when you are confident of the directions enough to tell others the directions yourself.”

The design critique is more than a feedback collection exercise. To see how other Showmaxers respond to new ideas and designs, they join the Frontend demo meeting — an open forum for the design, product, and development teams to share ideas and critique already-developed features. The meetings are held every two weeks, and everyone is free to speak up and share their point of view.

Improving the product is a cyclic process, and the designer adjusts the proposals based on the feedback received (there are numerous iterations). Once it’s ready, developers push it to the real world, and the search for feedback continues. The web team puts data up front, and Matouš says that they think of metrics at the beginning and the end of the process to advocate projects and measure the impact of the changes.

“Limiting churn, for example, is among our main goals, but it’s too difficult to link the design changes to churn right away,” Matouš explains. “So, we have come up with our own metrics to get a picture of how design influences things statistically related to churn.”

The Design system

The most recent (and biggest) initiative of the Product Design team is to create a design system including all the elements like foundations (colours, typography), buttons, icons, containers, etc. in shareable libraries available for all the platforms in Figma. Creating a design system is a life-changing, and almost life-saving, thing to do. We are making the first step toward implementing a solution that helps teams successfully-scale products — like creating the designs quickly with reusable components that respect the design language and offer a consistent user experience.

“When implemented, the design system will free designers’ hands to solve user needs instead of tackling common problems, re-creating code, and redesigning the same elements/solutions over and over again. If we didn’t go this way it wouldn’t be cost-effective for the team and company, and we would inevitably negatively influence the user experience, journeys, and we would increase the chance that the users leave the platform forever,” explains Tashi, who originally opened this project.

The initiative has been in progress for a while. We started with foundations, like colours and typography, and then we defined components based on it. Before creating each element, we collect all its occurrences in the product to see if the new form works everywhere. The rule for designers is simple: the design must remain nearly invisible and elevate the content (movies and series) above the user interface (e.g. buttons, forms).

“The project included a side task for unification of feature-naming across the mobile platforms. We reduced differences like app settings versus system preferences, adjusted the technical feature names to match how users understand the feature, and more. The consistent and clear nomenclature is the necessary condition of scaling,” adds David.

We are about to implement the design system and you can look forward to reading about it in one of the upcoming blog posts.

Are you interested in joining the Product Design team? Check the list of open positions and get in touch.

Please check the original version of this article at