Improving search accessibility

Improving search accessibility

Improving search accessibility

10 minutes read — Hundreds of million of users watch video-on-demand movies. However, it is not accessible to a specific group of people.

Netflix's search field accessibility

Context

Netflix is an Internet entertainment service for more than 125 million subscribers worldwide. With one app, you can watch shows and movies on any device. But one function does not work properly. On Apple Tv. This may be due to the Human Interface Design Guidelines.

Problem

Every time I want to watch a particular movie with my friends on Netflix, there is a sophisticated search function. The same problem occurs when we want to add the movie to the list. We always have to enter the search field manually and it takes a long time. And the dictation mode doesn’t work properly because of our accents.

Challenge

I was wondering why the search field is long-winded to enter the words and how we can reduce the problem. There are many users who can’t use the dictation feature due to their limited abilities. I’m talking about deaf people, foreigners and people with speech impairments.

The current layout takes too much time to enter a simple search (without dictation mode). An average user needs dozens of seconds to complete a simple word.

Process

Firstly I interviewed a couple of my friends how they would improve the accessibility. Some of them told me that they would connect the keyboard via bluetooth to Apple TV and nobody does it, because it is too much hassle. There is also a possibility to use the game controller with Apple TV to select the letters seamlessly. Playstation, Wii and Xbox users are already doing it. Some Apple TV users are wishing to have a QUERTZ layout because it is more straightforward for them.

Then I looked at Netflix search function again and I compared it with Apple TV’s one as well as with other platforms Youtube and Vimeo. I found out that they have the similar problem because almost every app meets the Apple’s design guidelines. Although there are many problems available to other platforms which I also could solve, I sticked to Netflix because it is the only one which offers 100% subtitles for Deaf people. The German TV programs doesn’t even meet this standard. That is why almost every Deaf user in Germany has a Netflix account. Nevertheless I want to improve Netflix accessibility a step further.

Before I continue with the results, I want to remind you that you should observe not only the digital but also the environmental problems.

Everyone who wants to watch Netflix needs a device like Smart TV’s, streaming players such as Apple TV, Fire TV (Amazon) and Chromecast (Google), game consoles and many others. In addition, the user needs a remote control which allows him/her to control the settings. That is, I included the observation of the interaction between the user, the display, the Apple TV device and the remote.

I am going to describe two main thoughts about the remote and the lettering.

Remote

The user needs the remote to control the TV to watch movies. I asked myself a couple of questions.

  • Why is the remote important for the user?
  • How does the remote work?
  • How can the user use the remote to input the words in a simpler way?

I noticed that a regular Apple TV remote has 6 buttons and a touch panel. Almost everybody controls the remote with the thumb to press or to feel the buttons and the touchpad. This feature allows the user to select every single letter with the thumb on the touchpad and press it to select it. It takes dozens of seconds for the user to set name of the movie. Inexperienced users needs minutes because they often mistype. This means that every time a user mistypes a letter, he or she has to go all the way to the right to delete a single letter, then go back again to continue.

I know that the remote has an accelerometer and gyroscope function, which means that certain applications allow users to use remote in three-dimensionally to control the functions. This means that the user can call the shots by lifting the remote or steering it left and right. So I thought about the idea of drawing the letters in the air as a faster way than typing with the touchpad.

Using Apple TV remote to write letters in the air. It is not an intuitve way for users.

There is also another way to write the letters by writing on the touchpad. The user can draw the letters on the touchpad with the thumb or fingertip.

Writing letters on the touchpad of the Apple TV remote is not intuitive. It can be difficult for users with large hands.

Both write functions can be activated by pressing the touch panel and completed by pressing the button again.

The user can also purchase a game controller or a keyboard to control the Apple TV. It is probably the easiest and the fastest way, but also a more expensive one because of the initial cost. So that is not quite feasible.

In general, these ideas are difficult to implement because the letter drawing is not intuitive for the user and may be too complicated to use. The additional devices are probably the best way if the user is willing to invest the money. But there is also a question of installation.

 

Letters

The default input style on Netflix ranges from space bar to A to Z and at the end of the backspace button. Below the letters are the additional functions. In addition to the standard layout, I quickly drafted various lettering structures. There are letter layouts in QUERTZ style, the typical navigation lettering in 5 parts. I also tried splitting the alphabet in two or three parts.

Various lettering layouts to find out the most logic approach for the users. I tried to split the alphabet into two or three parts to reduce the complexity of the overview.

It was a challenging process because I always had to keep an eye on foreign languages. The English alphabet consists of only 24 letters, while the German alphabet has 27 letters. Because it contains special characters Ä, Ö, Ü and ß (the double s’ ). During the movie evenings I noticed that most users don’t care about the correct uppercase and lowercase letters. They mostly use lowercase letters, because the search function understands them easily.

Later I created a high-fidelity mockup to get a feeling for which layout is the most efficient, effective and enjoyable. The QUERTZ-letters layouts are quite difficult for the user to use with the remote instead of the keyboard and it also takes longer than the single line layout. The navigation lettering takes up too much space and it intersects with the content.

A gallery of 7 high-fidelity mockups shows which one is the easiest to use and meets the Human Interface Guidelines.

There is a layout that least affects the user. The two-line structure layout. It has the following advantages:

  • it has a good overview
  • it is easier to handle
  • the user can delete the letters faster than usual
  • it does not affect the content

An animation shows the ideal search function for all users.

Playing with memories

Playing with memories

RICORDO

Playing with memories

10 minutes read — RICORDO connects generations together by telling stories — without display, no tapping, no wiping. RICORDO is made of wood. Its drawers hide things allowing you to touch. They call memories and encourage people to talk about things that connect generations.

RICORDO is an intergenerational game board. It was created at the Free University of Bolzano, Northern Italy under the supervision of professor Claudio Larcher. It was the second year of my Bachelor’s project and its name was “Made in Italy — design ed autoproduzione”. Our task was to create anything as long as there are self-handling products. The main challenge was to create a simple product avoiding high costs and complex production processes.

Fictional stories or also called Personas helps me to determine the target group. Albert Müller, the grandfather is one of them.

The Project Launch

When starting the project I wanted to help other people, especially children, handicapped and seniors to meet the real needs. During the research I found out that the seniors are the outsiders in a fast-pacing society because the main problem of modern society is the communication. Communication is decreasing between generations of people. It is happing because of the increasing influence of the new media which is actually not “social” at all.

The first approach was to stimulate the social relationship between different groups of people by developing a game. You know that playing a game brings people together and encourages gathering. I wanted to avoid the fierce challenges by bringing people together in a peaceful way and encouraging them to pursue a common goal.

I shifted my focus to seniors and children. I wanted to give the seniors the possibility to pass their stories to children. In this way children can learn life stories from their grandparents. You should know that most of the seniors don’t have either an internet connection nor a computer. They even don’t know how to use it. The children are also in the same situation.

To accomplish this goal the game should be designed simple. It should be understandable for seniors and also for everyone without the need of a user’s manual. I thought about some basic infographics giving you some necessary informations on the content and the actions of the game.

The fictional character Fritz Müller is the grandchild of Albert Müller. The game board RICORDO is going to create a new relationship between the grandfather and his grandchild.

Communication is decreasing between generations of people. It is happing because of the increasing influence of the new media which is actually not “social” at all.

The Prototype

The next step was to find out how to bring both groups together. I found out that things can stimulate specific individual associations and evoke memories. 

So I developed a simple prototype, made of cardboard. The cardboard boxes contains a random number of small things. Each player can take his own things and put it in the boxes – there is no rule.  But in order to inspire the creativity of the players I have put some samples in the three boxes: some photographies; some small objects, like pieces of shaped wood, a paper clip; and some paper cards which show one word in four languages like “desire”, “church”, “first love”. 

That is why the game board is called RICORDO. RICORDO is from Italian and it means “memory”. It also means keepsake, “souvenir, relict or even a reminder referring to the objects, which are a part of the game.

The form of the box was inspired by my friend who was once bringing her sushi in a Japanese bento box to the university. People usually store their lunch in a box but my box allows keeping your memories.

To make the game more exciting, I wanted to give the seniors and children a challenge by using a spinning top instead of a dice. Everybody can throw a dice but to use the spinning top you need to improve your fine motor skills if you want to play the game.

The prototype was tested in various groups of people. They played the game with a great enthusiasm. The game created a relationship between relatives, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. They also found their lost memories after seeing certain objects.

One of the first prototypes were inspired by the Japanese bento box.

Finalization

From this very point I was convinced that this concept could be a workable ground. So I started with the next step: exploring the details and planning the working process. I put the concept into dozens of sketches how the final product should look and how it should work. How the lid should be opened and how small things could be stored. How the storage and the playground could be combined. There was also a question of material and the production process.

A day before the deadline I asked one of my friends to try out the game board. He opened the lid and then he tried to get the littles boxes out from the huge box. He asked me how to do it. I was shocked because I completely forgot that the users should have the possibility to get the boxes out in order to play. I ran back to the workshop and drilled a little hole, about the size of a toothpaste cap on the bottom of the game board.

At this time I was convinced that the game board needs more work to make it a final product. The game board is made of maple wood. It looks very simple and noble and has an appearance of worthiness. It is also timeless and understandable because of the elementary infographics. They enables the understanding at story-telling and playing with various people.

The senior citizen are testing and playing the finished game board in a small coffee bar.

Relaunching RICORDO

4 years later my future wife discovered the game board and asked me why it was lying around. I answered her that I never found the time to improve the game board when the project was finished. She persuaded me to give it another try. I tested it again with seniors in Munich. Many of them loved it but one criticized the game. He didn’t know how to start telling a story because the there were almost no rules. I understood that there must be a game guide included to moderate the players.

Around this time I was writing my Master’s Thesis on Communication. There I had the possibility not only to introduce my Master’s Thesis but also the game board RICORDO to T. Bade, the counselor at International Association for Universal Design — IAUD. He was impressed of it and he told me to submit it to Start-Up Challenge. I did it.

RICORDO got nominated for the Start-Up Challenge. It didn’t won the prize but it thrilled many visitors at the fair of elderly care in Hanover. Even one senior citizen was very moved by the game board. He told me that it is the only possibility to keep his memories and he can pass those to his next relations after his death.

There is no ending, because the development of the game board is still continuing. It is going to be improved, produced and sold. It is not going to be a mass product. It only belongs to people who really care.