Client: Adult Swim / Cartoon Network (Conceptual) July 2020
Design System Buildout
I contributed to all phases of the design process including: research, user interviews, usability testing, and data synthesis. I concentrated a large part of my individual efforts to the creation of the wireframes, prototyping, and move to high fidelity.
The following is a conceptual design for a premium streaming service that was created over a span of ~60hrs. It aims to provide a premium platform for users to access and engage with [adult swim] content.
Adult Swim needs to develop an app that serves as an ad-free premium streaming service for distribution of Adult Swim content. The primary factors that guided the development of our solution were the need for a central hub for [as] content, the idiosyncrasies of the fan base, and opportunities for growing the brand.
WHAT IS ADULT SWIM?
Adult Swim started as an after-hours block of programming on Cartoon Network that was intended for a more mature audience. Their content is marked by irreverent humor, sexual themes, graphic violence, and general absurdity. Initially offering primarily animated content, they have since expanded their catalog to include live action shows, music, podcasting, and video games. They currently have a mobile app and website that provides limited content to users unless you connect an existing paid subscription with a 3rd party tv provider. They currently have a reach of 94 million U.S. households through the various services that provide access to Adult Swim content.
In order to truly understand the problem we were attempting to design for we sought to immerse ourselves in the Adult Swim brand. I am fortunate enough to have been around during the inception of Adult Swim so I had a good sense of their brand identity going in. My approach was to browse their catalog, watch some episodes of their more recent shows, and explore their mobile app. In my exploration I learned that they have expanded to several different mediums like music and podcasts but still maintained the same identity that has captured the attention of so many.
In essence, our primary objective was to create a streaming app. The proliferation of streaming services has radically changed the way our society digests and engages with content and this reality guided many of the subsequent decisions. We knew that cable subscriptions are on the decline and the number of users moving to premium streaming services is growing rapidly. Our aim was to create a solution that targeted this growing market of "cable cutters."
The next step was to explore the offerings and features of potential competitors. We chose to look at leading entertainment streaming providers and streaming services that offer similar content to Adult Swim. The intention was to identify the common patterns and features that users have come to expect in order to ensure that the solution we designed felt familiar. We intended to build upon existing systems that are established and have proven successful.
We also examined analogous comparators to explore features like gamification, communication, and avenues of interaction. Our goals was glean some inspiration for new, innovative features that might be included in our design. The comparators we chose also shared the same target demographic and served as points for the intersection of subcultures within the Adult Swim community.
User Research (Interviews / Survey)
We interviewed several users with varying levels of familiarity with the Adult Swim brand. Gathering qualitative data on the needs, goals, and frustrations of our potential users was integral in our design process. I myself am a user of streaming services but as I engaged with users from the perspective of a 3rd party observer I was able to uncover insights I did not know what I was looking for. It is always difficult to overcome bias when you identify so closely with the topic being examined and this was my primary blocker during this part of the process.
The qualitative data we gathered from our user interviews was valuable but we wanted some quantitative data to further inform our design. We created a survey that was sent out to users and posted in public forums like reddit.
The tale of the tape... or survey.
What do you find most important when deciding to purchase a streaming subscription?
This data would inform which features users found most important. This would later clarify the prioritization of features in the app we created.
Which feature would you want added to a streaming service?
We added potential innovations to the survey to help pare down what features users might find most desirable. This informed which additions might be most viable or add the most value to the app in the eyes of our users.
Which streaming service do you use the most?
The data from this question helped to provide insight into which streaming services we used most. This would be later used to identify which interface to build our foundation on in order to create a feeling of familiarity and inspire confidence within our users.
SYNTHESIZING THE DATA
We pooled of our data and began to sort through it by doing an affinity map. We were able to distill insights from our user interviews and survey into overarching categories that would be the basis for our solution. As we grouped similar insights patterns began to emerge which lent more clarity to the problem. I have come to understand that the a a significant part of developing a successful solution is a strong understanding of the problem.
Some of the categories that formed during the affinity mapping process.
From the patterns that emerged we wrote some “How Might We” statements to serve has the building blocks for our proposed solution. These would prove extremely useful in creating our personas and prioritizing the needs of our users.
How might we give users agency in curating suggested content?
How might we gamify the [as] mobile experience to further engage and delight users?
How might we provide users with a platform for social interaction to generate discourse about the content?
How might we create new ways for users to discover or sample new content?
How might we engage the nostalgia of our original viewers?
How might we create shareable content for our users to bond with others through social media?
Creating the personas is one of my favorite parts of the design process. My experience as a teacher has taught me that understanding people is the key to helping them. The following personas were created as composites of the users we interviewed and surveyed. They gave life to the problem and allowed my team to refer to a person rather than a faceless generic user. This humanized our design process.
Hayley represents our new user. She is someone who has recently discovered Rick and Morty and became an instant fan. She is a college student and has been introduced to Adult Swim content by her dorm mate. She likes to watch shows on her phone because she lives the busy life of a college student, constantly bouncing between campus and work. She has seen other [as] shows since discovering Rick and Morty and wants to explore more. She provides an opportunity for our team to design a solution that provides avenues to help her discover new content that she will like.
“I love Rick and Morty! I wonder what other shows I would like.”
Needs and Goals
• Learn about new shows based on viewing habits
• Maintain a social profile to keep track of watched shows and to connect with others
• Browse content by creator so she can expand her fandoms
The Content Seeker
Mikey is our power user. He has been an avid fan of Adult Swim shows since its inception and he loves informing others of this fact. He is very proud of is knowledge of the Adult Swim catalog and its history. Mikey is looking for ways to dive deeper into content and ways to engage with other fans. He is currently active in online communities that focus on adult swim properties and content that is similar. This user provides us with a window into the massive cult following that Adult Swim has built over the years. He sheds light on this groups need for a component of social interaction revolving around the content.
The Super Fan
Needs and Goals
• Keeping subscription costs within budget
• Staying on top of new episodes/content for his favorite shows
• Receive achievements after different viewing accomplishments
“I have seen every [as] show twice and moderate a subreddit on specific episodes.”
After developing our personas we identified gamification as a possible solution for meeting some of the needs of our users. Gamification draws on Mikey's inclination towards putting his fandom on display and serves as motivation for Hayley to discover new content. Before attempting to incorporate gamification into our design we explored Richard Bartle's taxonomy of player types to identify potential avenues for implementation. Placing our 2 personas on a chart allowed us to visualize what needs might be best met by gamifying the streaming experience.
I have come to learn that good user experience is determined early in the process. The more you understand about the user the better the solution will be for that user. I am a firm advocate on leaning into data and research to "uncover" potential solutions and that is what we did for the Adult Swim app. We gathered all the insights and research into the potential users and distilled our insights into 3 overarching problems. A clearly defined problem is the foundation for a strong solution and we iterated with those goals in mind.
Users appreciate the content recommendations present in streaming apps but desire agency in the selections that are curated for them.
Give users control over what content informs the algorithm that determines the suggested content.
Adult Swim's following is a thriving subculture in and of itself. The users are marked by particular characteristics that reflect a desire for a deeper engagement with the content they know and love.
Gamify the streaming experience by rewarding users based on activities such as viewing, exploring, communicating, and sharing content. This will also encourage discovery of new shows.
The users expressed a desire to engage with other users about the Adult Swim content.
Provide opportunities to interact with the users by including social media aspects within the app. Chat rooms and sharing content like clips and gifs will stimulate brand growth and user discovery.
User & Task Flows
We created task flows and user flows in order to layout the hierarchy and navigation of the solution we were designing. This was done before actually sketching potential solutions because it ensured that the goal of our users and the manner in which the users would accomplish those goals was clear and logical. The task flows that were designed addressed the goals of the users and their interactions with the solutions we proposed to meet those goals.
Sketching and Ideation
We pooled our collective creative energy and conducted a design studio where each team member ideated potential solutions through sketching. After each member presented their sketches we decided on aspects of the sketches that would best serve our users and conducted another round with those features in mind.
Wireframes and Prototyping
The next phase of our design process involved translating the hand-drawn sketches into digital wireframes. I took the lead on this aspect of our project and rendered the solution in mid-fidelity on Figma. Using the task flows/user flows I connected the frames to create a clickable prototype that would display how the app we designed would address the needs of our users as dictated by our research.
We tested 8 different users in order to validate the design choices we made as a team. The users were asked to perform 6 task flows which allowed us to test the core competencies of our prototype. The user interviews were conducted remotely and the sessions recorded. We recorded both qualitative and quantitative observations. We determined that a successful completion of a task would be characterized by a completion of the task with 1 or fewer mistakes, mistakes being marked by having to click the back button on the prototype.
Our observations were used to give us a clearer picture of how our users would interact with the app and to identify any issues or frustrations they might face. The process was extremely insightful in that it reaffirmed many of the decisions we made to meet the needs of our users. It also provided us with valuable data related to frustrations or pain points our users may have encountered. From the data we outlined actionable steps to address the pain points before eventually iterating in high fidelity.
Sometimes I'm in the mood to watch something like ATH and only that. If I can turn the other shows off I can get the suggestions I want and not have to skip all the other shows they recommend.
Why do you say that?
I really like that I can choose which shows in my history I can turn on and off.
This addressed the users need for agency in their algorithm. We needed a way to address the desire for users to be able to inform the list of suggested content. Our solution was to be able to include a list of recently viewed content that could be toggled on/off in order to guide the suggestions. This allows users to curate their own suggestions based on their mood.
We gamified the Adult Swim experience by rewarding users for interacting with the content in various ways such as watching shows or participating in chat. The reason we believed this to be a sound design decision lies in the nature of Adult Swim's fan base. Based on our research we identified a tendency to express pride in their “immersion” within the Adult Swim culture. We thought this would be an opportunity to leverage that in order to encourage more discovery which would in turn lead to growth for Adult Swim.
Our research uncovered the fact that many Adult Swim fans participate in social communities revolving around the content. Reddit seemed to be where the most vibrant discourse was occurring. We sought to address this need by building in a chat feature that allowed a user to engage with others based on the show/content they are consuming. This provides another opportunity for users to discover new content and grow the brand.
In a real-world setting this would just be the start of our journey. The design process a perennial process because the product can always be a little better. The first step in taking this product to the next level would be to coordinate with other stakeholders and departments to establish some key performance indicators. Once we have some KPIs to measure the success our next step would be to return to the research phase. We would continue to refine our personas and identify pain points then repeat the design process.