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A post by
December 20, 2018

On designing better workflows

On designing better workflows

A post by
December 20, 2018
min read

When launching a digital video product, content should always be the star, and it’s the product’s job to let it shine.

Meaning: you need tools that can manage your most valuable asset properly, and present it in its best light.

Dividing our attention between more devices and content sources than ever before has made us very selective about what we watch. Consumers demand digital video products that keep them constantly engaged — and this is where your editorial team comes in. Having a beautifully designed product with great content is meaningless if you can’t present it to people at the right time (or if they can’t find it).

In our more than 10 years designing and delivering digital video products for global brands, we’ve learned the hard way how much a beautiful front-end experience depends on the whole video workflow acting in harmony.

At Ostmodern we’ve traditionally specialised in designing consumer-facing products where the aim is to create something that audiences can intuitively use to watch content, and that will keep them coming back. Audiences have so many streaming services to choose from, and products always have so much competition, that people now have a very low tolerance for disappointing user experiences.

We hypothesised that if we put as much care into designing a content management system (CMS), then not only would editorial teams have a better experience, but the end user would also benefit from those teams’ increased effectiveness.

This was when we started looking at the end-to-end workflow in a bit more detail.

Do video products still need editors?

The over-the-top (OTT) industry has been dominated by Netflix for the last few years, as they’ve led the way in converting people to online video. With unprecedented scale for a video product, they’ve leveraged clever recommendation software to keep users happy and engaged … most of the time.

If the leading force in the industry doesn’t need humans to put content on its website, why then does anyone else? Big data can tell computers exactly what you want to watch at exactly the right time, no matter who you are or where you are in the world. Right?

Our findings say something different. Through years designing and building video products, we’ve found that humans are still much better at recommending content than machines.

Don’t sack your editorial team!

Recognising that it’s Saturday night and people might be more in the mood to watch a family film, or knowing Sunday afternoons make people want to watch a boxset to finish the weekend, are examples of simple connections for a human to make. In fact, editorial teams have been making these decisions intuitively for years in TV broadcasts, by choosing which content airs when through a deep understanding of what works for their audience.

Buzzwords such as ‘AI’, ‘machine learning’, and ‘personalisation’, are now used extensively at any video on demand tech conference in the world. This degree of examination and public discussion can bring up the assumption that technology will replace people when curating a catalogue.

We’ve rarely seen this play out. Instead, it’s important to maximise the value that your team adds — putting human effort where it counts most — and use AI or computers to reduce the effort required in necessary, but low-value, tasks.

Smart people need the right tools

If you agree with us when we say you need smart people to manage and curate video products, then you probably also agree when we tell you those people deserve the right tools to do their jobs.

In our early days working with Channel 4 through the launch of All 4 — one of Britain’s first OTT products — we spent a long time collaborating with their editorial team and learned a lot about what really makes a successful video product.

During multiple interviews and user testing sessions with Channel 4’s editorial teams, we learned some interesting things:

  1. The CMS used by the editors didn’t allow them to do what they wanted, so they’d end up hiring front-end developers, who would basically hack the site and give them the result they wanted
  2. The amount of work required just to ‘keep the lights on’ made editors stop asking if what they were doing was actually worthwhile because they were too busy just doing it
  3. Everyone hated using the process of getting video onto the front end; it was laborious and slow and there was nothing enjoyable about it
  4. Conversely, during their lunch hour, they would all use Facebook or Twitter effectively to content manage their social presence with much better results… FOR FUN!

This last point made us realise how competitive the landscape was for digital product design. It also made us wonder why no one puts the same care into designing the experience of B2B tools like a CMS. When users spend so much of their time on incredibly well-designed social media sites, (which are effectively user-generated content management sites) they are baffled by how the software they use at work every day is dull, slow, and completely unintuitive.

The old adage of ‘a good worker never blames their tools’ was validated here by the fact that these editors were making the best of a bad situation. Even so, we also felt that it was true to say that ‘a good worker would be a lot more productive if they had good tools!’

Tips for designing better video products

How, then, can we improve on this experience — and what makes a good process for a video team? Designing video workflow products is a complicated task, so we thought we’d share some of our learnings, which are worth considering if you’re looking to redesign yours. Here are four.

1. Complex workflows require a design team to work closely with editors

User research has always been the hallmark of a good design process and this is particularly essential when designing workflow tools.

No other digital products require optimising for user workflows so closely.

With consumer products, if you have the right content or a strong enough brand, users will overlook a bad UX if they only use your product once or twice a week. Editors or content managers can sometimes spend their whole day working in your tool, so small frustrations can quickly become demoralising.

This is why it’s vital to understand these workflows inside and out before you take on any redesign project. Just because it makes sense from a business perspective to structure a flow in a certain way, doesn’t mean it will be the easiest flow for an editor to do their job right, and this is what should always be prioritised.

Simple task-based testing with prototypes — or even with existing tools — is invaluable.

Tools like InVision allow you to create an example flow and test it with users quickly

2. Reducing repetitive tasks is imperative

When designing consumer products, even small details or features that are badly designed can make your product frustrating to use. When designing for workflow business tools these small frustrations will require an editor to work around them hundreds of times a day, multiplying the frustration massively.

Only exposing key information in the UI at the right time is incredibly important. Often a video workflow product or media manager can contain thousands of assets and sometimes millions of data points. As designers, it is vital that we make sure our users are never overwhelmed with information, but can also always find the right data to make decisions.

Imagine one of your users has to select from a few menus or even click one more time to expose the right information in order to make a decision. Over the course of a day, this can lead to hundreds of extra clicks and add an extra hour onto their workflow. It all adds up and can be extremely frustrating.

Skylark CMS introduced colour to make it easier to scan and action items in a list

3. We can learn a lot about user expectations from consumer products

As of 2018, there were 2.27 billion monthly active users of a popular content management system and media manager: its current operational and political challenges aside, as a content management product Facebook is very effective. It has reached incredible market penetration by encouraging its users to upload more and more content.

To do this they’ve created seamless user flows for uploading content, personalising content and browsing content. For users of functional business software, it is now unacceptable to have an inferior experience from the likes of Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram.

‘If they can do it, why can’t you?’ is often the cry.

Adding flourishes of brand personality is no longer taboo in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, as users have come to expect a certain level of craft and attention to detail, and there is now much more competition.

Showing that you don’t just want to help your users get the job done, but that you also see and respect them as real people and not drones, can be a real differentiator in the market.

We always want to allow editors to be able to personalise their workspace within a product to make it feel less cold and more human

4. Constantly learn and iterate

In the world of product design, constantly learning and iterating on our products is now the standard expectation. Video workflow products are no exception.

While they can be expensive to build and launch, the real hard work comes after. Having a product out in the wild is when we can really learn how it’s being used and where frustrations users have are exposed.

Having a good process in place to learn from users and iterate on what’s been launched is imperative to designing a strong product. Carving out the time to fix things or make small changes can be a difficult conversation to have with stakeholders but these small tweaks, as opposed to new features, can sometimes be much more valuable to your users.

We added micro-interactions to help declutter the UI and make the workflow have fewer clicks

Meet user expectations

Digital products are a bigger part of our lives than ever before. They serve different purposes and respond to diverse needs, yet they have a consolidated presence in our day-to-day activities. The consequence of this is that people now have minimum expectations for the digital products they use, and demand that these be intuitive and instantly accessible.

Until now software-as-a-service or workflow products have often trundled on being antiquated and barely usable, but were deemed acceptable as long as they got the job done. That’s no longer the case, as users have been shown what they can have from the likes of Facebook. They expect the same from their business products.

Ostmodern was founded on our belief in design’s ability to improve people’s experiences and drive business success. This philosophy is what has driven our approach of ‘quiet innovation’ to entertainment products.

Despite the stigma of designing for internal tools, there is a natural connection between the type of patient and disciplined design approach we’ve always undertaken on consumer products, and the practice of refining the ‘unglamorous’, high utility parts of the product workflow.

We’re really excited that our clients are recognising that good quality user experience isn’t a preserve of the end customer or audience; but that it is also a huge business benefit when offered to those vital users who manage products every day.

Engage the world.

Skylark is the CMS for streaming. It has tools to help any organisation build, operate and scale truly engaging video experiences.

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