Dear Netflix: please make your UI easier to use

Netflix is now available in 41 countries and its subscriber base grew by approximately one-third from third quarter 2012 to third quarter 2013. It has demonstrated creative chops with House of Cards (first Emmy for an online-only TV show) and Orange is the New Black (highly acclaimed).

But to add new customers — and retain its current base — Netflix has to do more than create original content.

It must make it drop-dead easy to watch-on-demand, whether that’s original programming, syndicated television shows or movies.

Netflix clearly prefers its customers watch streaming movies rather than deal with inventory, handling and shipping. The only option on a title description page is add the title to the watch instantly list, although a search entry contains both options.

Stargate Description
Stargate Main Description Entry


Stargate Search Entry
Stargate Search Entry


These three user interface suggestions would make “watch instantly” just a little bit easier. And reduced friction in a transaction — or a lower cognitive load — means increased profits. (Just ask Amazon, which is probably Netflix’s number one watch-on-demand competitor.)

1. Give us instant access to the Watch Instantly queue.

Netflix began as a DVD rental service, and those roots are evident in the menu bar which gives us instant access to DVDs (the DVD Queue) that we’ve decided we want to watch.

Netflix Menu


But where is the queue for Watch Instantly?

Buried. And oddly named.

Netflix my list
The Netflix “instant watch queue” is hidden.


Either the DVD queue should be also be found under the DVDs menu item or the renamed Instant Queue should be accessible from the main menu.

And why change the name from Instant Queue (which they did on my birthday) and default to automagic ordering?

After you’ve added several titles to your list, our technology will go to work and sort your List, presenting you with the titles you’re most likely to want to watch right up front. In our tests, most members really appreciated this automated sorting and it was much more useful than the manual sorting capability of the Instant Queue.

My List sounds as though it would include all titles of interest, not just watch-on-demand ones. But it doesn’t.

As far as manual sorting is concerned, the interface should made it clear that you can drag-and-drop to reorder. It doesn’t. No wonder customers might think it’s not useful.

Netflix My List

The Netflix interface for DVDs and Watch Instantly shows that it is easy to bump a title to the number one position but implies that any other re-ordering requires manual re-numbering.

That implication is wrong, and has been wrong since 2007.

Yes, you read that right. There had been no change in the Netflix queue interface functionality or appearance in six years.


2. Actively alert us when movies in the DVD queue are available as watch-on-demand.

And its corollary: actively alert us when movies in the watch-instantly queue are going to revert to DVD-only.

With the August announcement that Instant Queue was being renamed My List, Netflix tacitly acknowledged the need for an alert system (emphasis added):

We will also show a special call out if a title on your List will soon no longer be available on Netflix because our rights to stream it are set to expire.

However, active alerts about the availability of a queued DVD as watch-on-demand title could save Netflix money on handling and shipping and increase the use of the service. When customers use a service more often, they value it (if the service meets or exceeds expectations).

Of course, these alerts should be opt-in, whether via email or text. But currently they are passive, seen only when you visit the right Netflix queue page.

The warning doesn’t even appear on the description of a title.

And this tip leads directly to number three.

3. Make it easy to shift titles from the DVD queue to Watch Instantly.

I have a long-standing frustration with the Netflix web interface: when I see that a movie or television show in my DVD queue is available to watch instantly, adding that title to the Watch Instantly list is a pain.

Here’s Fargo, located in my DVD queue. I can see that it is now available to watch instantly.

Netflix DVD queue
Netflix DVD queue

When I mouseover the title in the DVD Queue, Netflix pops up a description. But there is no option for moving this movie to the Watch Instantly queue. The popup provides no options, not even to remove from the queue.

Netflix DVD queue
Netflix DVD queue pop-up should include an option to add to My List.

From the popup, I should be able to watch the movie, add it to the Instant Queue (My List) or easily delete it from the DVD Queue. These are the three options available when an item is in the DVD queue and is also available to watch instantly.

Proposed Netflix button

Here is a possible new button for the Netflix popup.

So there you have it.

  • The Watch Instantly queue should be accessible directly from the main menu.
  • Netflix needs an opt-in system for alerts when a title’s status changes.
  • It should be easy to move a title from the DVD queue to the Watch Instantly queue.









By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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