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Does Amazon’s Design Overhaul Prove UX is More Important than Content?

Nikki Perugini

Director, Product Design & Advisory

September 5, 2022


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Amazon Prime Video is one of the largest OTT streaming services in the world, second only to Netflix, for now. These top players closed out 2021 with 221.8 million and 200 million global users respectively. With a large portion (~56%) of Amazon subscribers in the 18-34 age bracket and growing, Prime Video is expected to amass over 240 million global subscribers by 2026. Netflix is no longer the only giant on the big stage of OTT streaming, and we are seeing that products like Prime Video, Disney+ and Paramount+ are able to compete with the subscriber levels of Netflix, and are even predicted to surpass it in future years.

Prime Video has long been touted as one of the leading services due to its huge catalog of movies and TV shows - more than any other streaming service in most countries around the globe. In an attempt to compete with Netflix, Amazon spends hundreds of millions of dollars on production and marketing expenses for its original series, estimated at 500 million USD in 2021. Whilst it has gained popularity for its breadth of content, many users were growing dissatisfied and some even turned away due to a product experience that left much to be desired.

Amazon Prime has never been known for its elegant or intuitive user experiences. In fact, it has had a lot of bad reviews and even a number of articles that encouraged people not to subscribe due to the poor experience. Some key pain points have been a lack of consistency with platform guidelines, below par content discovery and navigation, and a dated interface design. For a long time, it appeared as though the company was relying solely on its content offering to bring in new subscribers. It had made little improvements to the interface of its apps and website, and seemed to be getting by doing the bare minimum in customer-facing product experience. With fierce competition rising in the OTT space, one can only guess that Amazon has identified this strategy as a risk that could see it eventually push it out of its high standings. At the least, it would make it much harder to compete with new offerings like Disney and Paramount. Both platforms provide users with a deeply personalized experience and plenty of innovative and sought-after features. Amazon’s lion's share of subscribers were quickly being exposed to a number of more premium experiences, and with churn rates continuing to rise, the company had to make a move.

Amazon’s design overhaul

This brings us to the design overhaul of the Prime Video experience that launched in mid 2022. Prime has undergone a major revamp to its product, focusing on getting the UX & UI right. These improvements were made initially for Android and connected living room devices, including smart TVs, Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, and game consoles as they represent the majority of customer viewing. The changes are purposeful and clearly draw parallels from their competitors like Netflix, HBO Max and Disney, with UX/UI best practices adapted from the big players, along with a couple of nice delighters to help it stand out from the crowd. We heard from Amazon that extensive usability testing was conducted on the new designs and people generally took to the changes very quickly, which is not so surprising when you consider the growing conformity between streaming apps in the market today.

By now you’re probably wondering - what did Amazon actually change? One of the most obvious transformations appears in the update of navigation on the home page. Amazon has opted for a left-hand side navigation, streamlining the page structure and using clear icons for visibility. This change has both visual and functional benefits, by reducing the steps required for users to move between pages, especially once they are deep in the vertical scroll of the home page, and giving more visibility to the entire app structure with icons that are fixed on the screen. This move also allows for more vertical page real estate, which Amazon has utilized to improve the hero content element with more visible metadata and an action button, followed by clear category tabs for TV Shows, Movies & Sport. A simple yet ultra-useful addition when searching for content. 

Improving discoverability

This brings us to the next improvement, and in my opinion, the most important one. In the overall discoverability of content on the platform, Amazon has made a number of small enhancements to various components which add up to a huge benefit from a user experience perspective. This encompasses the addition of a number of new rail types on the home page, including a top 10 rail, and custom oversized tiles with auto-play trailer functionality. We know from our own research that trailers are the number one piece of metadata that users look for when making a decision on what to watch. It’s great to see Amazon embracing this by placing more emphasis on trailers in other components such as the “Previews for you” feature. Some small, but important, improvements have also been made to the search functionality, with the addition of suggested search queries, simplifying the laborious task of entering long search strings using tiny arrow keys and a clunky on-screen keyboard.

Amazon has also made some deliberate updates to the separation of subscription and store bought content, in a bid to show more transparency and build trust with customers. There are now indicators within the thumbnail descriptions to make it easier for customers to differentiate between content that is included in their subscription and those that are available to rent or buy, a long-standing pain point for users on the old platform. Amazon has also included some featured rail sections with only paid content previews, a nice visual change indicating the premium nature of these titles.

You may also notice the home page includes subtle advertising for additional extras to be bundled with your prime subscription, in the form of a “subscription” rail. Here users are able to subscribe to smaller content providers, such as hayu and MGM, all aggregated through the Prime experience. This updated layout makes it a lot clearer for users to see their current subscription and get a taste of other content they could be missing out on, a nice upsell technique from Amazon.

Increasing engagement with new features 

Amazon Prime has also taken this opportunity to add some nice extra features to its big screen platforms, such as the inclusion of “Watch Party” - allowing subscribers to watch with a group of up to 100 people. Previously this feature was limited to its website and mobile apps only, missing a large portion of the social watching market. In some regions, live channels and free content are also available on the Prime service, both of which now have dedicated hubs in the main menu with improved discoverability and design. The updated channel guide features clear live indicators and an easy to use channel switcher, while sports content is also seen front and centre for those users who subscribe.

Amazon has paid careful attention to the interface design throughout this process, improving the overall look and feel of its apps by cleaning up font styles, sizing, padding, margins and focus states. These tweaks help to give Prime Video a much more premium experience, seemingly drawing inspiration from Apple TV’s clean UI and rounded corner aesthetic that has been praised in the industry. 

We expect to see other video services follow suit in prioritising UX and UI. Consumers are no longer satisfied with content alone, and are looking for a well rounded service that is also easy to use and provides a simple way to find content that they love. Enrique Gonzalez, UX Design Manager at Amazon says, “[our customers] have relentlessly high standards for their membership experience and interactions with Amazon… It’s important for us as a team and organization to not only stay in tune with the needs and expectations of members, but also exceed those expectations at every opportunity.” 

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, this overhaul makes a huge statement about the importance of UX & UI design in the OTT product strategy and experience space. It marks a shift in the mindset of a large and influential  company, Amazon Prime, which previously had not invested huge amounts in this area of their business. It raises curiosities around how Amazon will take the success it has seen on the big screens to its mobile apps and website in coming months, which would be likely to bring even higher rates of engagement across the board for Prime content. But most importantly, it continues to drive innovation and digital product excellence in the video space across the globe, ultimately providing customers with better experiences and more value for their money.

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