Design Tutorial: Creating a Compelling User Experience for IPTV

Let me start by stating: if you think designing for the Web and the TV should follow the same blueprint, you’re wrong. Designing for the Web and TV are extremely different processes and every person within the IPTV industry should know that a design for the Web doesn’t automatically translate to the TV.

The main difference between designing for the TV and the Web is simply the medium of delivery. The process of designing for both can be fairly simple if certain sets of guidelines are followed. However, if it is looked upon as 'just another interface design project' instead of an ‘overall TV experience’ the project can snowball into a tedious and never-ending process. IPTV is a totally different medium; with experience and requirements that are very distinct. A designer should understand the critical difference in these mediums of delivery to fully design a user interface that will attract audiences and increase interactions with their chosen medium.

To design and create a compelling user experience, a designer requires a clear understanding of both the context and the target audience. In the case of TV, the audience is the viewer who watches television to relax and be entertained. For this very reason, TV design has to be extremely simple, linear and easy to follow. This limits distraction and doesn’t allow the viewer to shift their focus from watching TV to another form of entertainment. This experience has been coined the "Sit Back Approach". You can compare that to the “Lean In” experience, which means direct interaction with something, such as using a computer. The TV experience is a shared, entertaining experience. It is less of an interactive experience and more of an immersive interaction. A user decides to use the interface, only when a decision has been made to change something on the TV. This means that any activity performed as a part of interface interaction is secondary to watching of the TV. Needless to say, designing the user experience for TV goes beyond physical issues of resolution, pixel grid, Standard and High definition or palette configurations.

But get ready for even more change now because Interactive IPTV is all about involvement. A designer is attempting to convert the "Sit Back Approach" into an active experience by giving the user complete control of their entertainment choices. The key thing to remember here is that the quality of experience (QoE) needs to be very consistent and stimulating. The key difference between the experiences of Digital TV versus the experiences of IPTV is the interaction. And this interaction is increased by the number of services that can be accessed. For example, a viewer can surf through a plethora of programs that are available to them at any given time. While doing so, the TV watcher can also place a voice call or IM their friends for a quick conversation about their favorite programs. While doing so, they can place an order for pizza and invite friends over for a bite. All this can be achieved just while relaxing on a couch, at the touch of a remote. This is precisely why IPTV gives a whole new meaning to "Immersive Experience". It can thus be maintained that successful interaction is born from a concept that intrinsically enhances the experience through its content.

Here are a few simple steps (The Basics of Experience Design) as applied to creating the best IPTV experience:
1. Understand and reflect on product/client requirements.
2. Ensure that the conceptual and functional specifications are as detailed as possible.
3. Sketch and Draw - Invest a significant amount of time white-boarding concepts and thinking of every possible element, scenario etc. so you can prepare an acceptance test plan.
4. Storyboard the concepts. This will allow you to easily take your client / potential viewer through the concept. At this same time, this will also help you discover your own mis-steps. As in any design process, navigation will dictate how the experience will be perceived and used. It is therefore important for the designer to solidify the navigation at this point.
5. Once the basics are ready, the designers can focus their attention on creative development. The most critical aspect to remember here is ATOT -- “Always Test on TV”. Whatever design concepts are implemented, make sure to transfer them from your computer screen and test them in the TV environment. What looks good on computer doesn't always look good on TV. Colors, proportions, scales and dimensions all vary largely from computer to TV. And remember that the viewing distance of TV versus the computer is different too. This will dramatically alter how the user interface is viewed and perceived on TV.
6. Finally as always, translating all this effort into a successful implementation is the most challenging task. As all designers will concur, the designs they create don’t always get translated exactly during implementation. Steps 1 through 5 will help you reduce that gap significantly and ultimately help to provide your TV viewers with what you have envisioned.
7. Needless to say, user testing, focus groups and other methods are the final items in this process. Make sure that you test with a variety of viewers within your target market. This will help you consolidate the design more succinctly.

Keeping things simple is a Design Mantra. What may seem like a really simple piece of interaction may ultimately prove to be a deciding factor of your product’s fate.

IPTV has a great future and it has a lot to do with its immersive QoE. But the ultimate judge for it though, will be the viewers who watch TV.

-Amit Tungare, UI Designer and TV Watcher Extraordinare

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This page contains a single entry by Amit Tungare published on December 20, 2006 6:39 PM.

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