by Joel Sass
In the Spring of 2013, the User Experience team was gearing up for the impending Netherlands country launch scheduled for September. To reduce barriers to adoption, we wanted to launch with a smooth signup experience on smartphones and tablets. Additionally, we were planning to implement the iDEAL online payment method, which is commonly used in the Netherlands but new to us both technically and from a user experience perspective.
At that time, we had two very different technology stacks that served our signup experience: one for desktop browsers and one for mobile and tablet browsers. There were substantial differences in the way these two websites worked, and they shared no common platform. Each website had unique capabilities, but the desktop site provided a much larger superset of features compared to the mobile optimized site.
To move forward with enabling iDEAL and other new payment methods across multiple platforms, we quickly came to the conclusion that the best way forward was a unified approach to supporting multiple platforms using a single UI. This ultimately started us on our path towards responsive web design (RWD). Responsive design is a technique for delivering a consistent set of functionality across a wide range of screen sizes, from a single website. For our effort, we focused on the following goals:
- Enable access to all features and capabilities, regardless of device
- Deliver a consistent user experience that is optimized for device capabilities, including screen size and input method
Cross-functional alignment and prototyping
In order to successfully tackle a responsive design project, we first needed to answer the following question for our team: what is responsive design? In initial brainstorming meetings, we aligned around a common definition that emphasizes the use of CSS and JS to adapt a common user experience to varying screen sizes and input methods.
At Netflix, we like to move quickly and not let unnecessary process slow down our ability to innovate and move fast. Rapid design, rapid development. To kickstart this project, we assembled a core group of designers and user interface engineers, and held a weeklong workshop. The end goal was to produce a working prototype of a responsively designed signup flow.
This workshop approach allowed us to streamline the entire design and development process. Developers and designers working side by side to immediately tackle issues as they came up. In effect, we were pair programming. This allowed us to minimize the need for comps and wireframes, and develop straight in the browser. It provided the freedom to easily experiment with different design and engineering techniques, and identify common patterns that could be used across the entire signup flow. By the end of that week we had created a prototype of a fully functional, looks-good-on-whatever-device-you’re-using, Netflix signup experience.
A/B testing and rollout
With a functional responsive flow now built, we came to the final stretch. Being highly data-driven at Netflix, we wanted to measure that our changes were having a positive impact on how customers interact with the signup flow. So we cleaned up our prototype, turned it into a production quality experience and tested it globally against the current split stacks. We saw no impact to desktop signups, but we did a see an increase in conversion rates on phones and tablets due to the additional payment types we enabled for those devices. The results of our A/B test gave us the confidence to roll out this new signup flow as the default experience in all markets, and retire our separate phone/tablet stack.
However, we didn’t stop there. We had also supported signup from within our Android app prior to this project. Following our global rollout for browser-based signups, we quickly integrated our newly responsive signup experience into our Android app as an embedded web view. This enabled us to get much more leverage out of our responsive design investment. More about this unique approach in a future post.
Many devices, one platform
Whether on a 30” screen or a 4” one, our customers are now provided with an experience that works well and looks great across a wide range of devices. Development of the signup experience has been streamlined, increasing developer productivity. We now have a single platform that serves as foundation for all signup A/B testing and innovation and our customers are afforded the same options regardless of device.
Our journey towards responsive design has not ended, however. As device platforms evolve, and as user expectations change, our designers and engineers are constantly working towards enhancing cross-platform experiences for our customers.
In upcoming posts, we will further explore how we built our responsive signup flow. Some of the topics we will cover are: a deeper dive into the client and server-side techniques we used to integrate our browser experience into our Android app, a more in-depth look at the decisions we made in regards to mobile-first vs desktop-first approaches, and a review of the challenges in dealing with responsive images.
Can’t wait until the next post? Interested in learning more about responsive design? Come see Chris Saint-Amant, Netflix UI Engineering Manager, discuss the next generation of responsive design at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX on March 8th.
Are you interested in working on cross-platform design and engineering challenges? We’re hiring front-end innovators to helps us realize our vision. Check out our jobs.