Posted by: Helen Walters on March 31, 2010
Today, YouTube rolls out the new design of its video pages. The redesign is the result of eight months work involving designers, researchers, engineers—and YouTube’s own audience, some of whom were actively canvassed for thoughts and feedback, some of whom have acted as unwitting testers (as is parent company Google’s MO, fairly-baked design ideas were rolled out to a small segment of the live audience to gauge response before making changes for the global audience.)
It’s about time. As the web has grown denser and increasingly complex, with more users, more videos, more channels and more modes of watching video online, the viewing and user experience at YouTube had become somewhat overwhelming, and not in a good way. Screens were overloaded with confusing icons, related items, buttons, stars, stats… Personally speaking, watching video on YouTube had become a matter of watching content almost despite the design of the page. I’d learned to tune out the visual noise in order to watch a particular film.
Latest figures from ComScore state that over 12.5 billion videos were watched in January of this year, so the site is clearly not suffering from a lack of attention. But here’s an interesting stat: according to YouTube, most users stay on the site for an average of 15 minutes a day. That’s enough time to watch three or four videos. Again, speaking for myself, I’ve found myself clicking off fairly quickly after watching the video I’d gone there to view. Even when I had time on my hands to indulge a curiosity to click around, the experience wasn’t particularly enjoyable or intuitive, so off I’d go to browse elsewhere. And this, YouTube product manager Shiva Rajaraman told me, is an issue they wanted to address actively with this redesign.
One of the more controversial aspects of the redesign will doubtless be the ditching of the stars rating system and an implementation instead of “like” and “dislike” icons. Among testers, this has been “one of those polarizing topics,” says Rajaraman. “Part of it is that stars around a video shine in people’s minds when they think about YouTube,” he explained in a phone conversation. “But we learned from usability studies and data on the site that most people rate videos with five stars, and they only rate when they like something.” That’s led to a distorted evaluation system. The new binary thumbs up/thumbs down system is intended to fit in better with social network terminology (which has of course run into its own issues—the problem of “liking” very sad, upsetting or disturbing content, for instance). YouTube will also tag videos with badges for “most liked” or “most discussed”.
Already, stats show that the redesign has had an impact on page views. The rethought right rail, which includes a blended list of recommendations of more videos based on a number of different filters has seen an uptick in both traffic and engagement. “We believe that solely from changes on the right side, we’ll increase views by 6% when we launch,” says Rajaraman. The redesigned comments/viewer engagement section below a video, meanwhile, has seen comments and ratings increase 7%.
These are not insignificant numbers. More traffic and longer time spent on the site, of course, means more ads served means more ads seen means more revenue. And that’s the most powerful argument for the value of design of all.
The new YouTube page. Terribly difficult to see, I know, but note the “like”/”thumbs down” icons below the video. An animated user interface also makes for a more seamless user experience of finding out more detail about a particular video.
What comes next? The BusinessWeek Innovation and Design team of Michael Arndt and Helen Walters chronicle new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.