User experience design is not a discipline that lacks buzzwords. When it comes to designing user experiences around television programmes the buzzwords breed and multiply. It's not a phrase I've come across recently but three or four years ago the fashion was for "1 foot (phone), 2 foot (laptop) and 10 foot (tellybox) experiences". Recently that seems to have been replaced by folks describing traditional tellybox viewing as a "lean back experience".
The implication is clear: if you're designing for experiences outside of the traditional desktop browser you can throw away the web textbook. People don't want to browse lists to find content and they definitely don't want to think. In place of lists and links if you want to make an experience that feels like television you need little more than an on button and a "recommendation engine" that only surfaces content relevant to you. But...
...when I turn on my TV set a typical "user journey" looks like:
- Hit the menu button. This brings up a horizontal list of the major functional categories (EPG, downloads for purchase, recording etc).
- Scroll to and select the Recordings button. Which brings up a list of what (in my working life) I might call TLECs. Or top level programme groupings (i.e. Gardener's World, not a series or episode of Gardener's World).
- Scroll to and select the Midsomer Murders button. Which brings up a list of recorded episodes of Midsomer Murders.
- Scroll to and select the episode I want. Which brings up a list of options: Resume play (if I've already started playing it), Play from start, Delete, More information etc.
- Scroll to and select Resume play.
- Pour a drink / lean back
I don't use search because it's hard to type from a remote control (made more difficult by the fact that my cat likes to sleep on top of the STB with his paw over the remote detector bit). And on the few occasions I visit the EPG it's usually to scroll forward (sadly no scroll back on BT Vision) to set up a programme to record. Even then it's a case of scrolling and clicking: up and down through channels and forward and back through time.
What I never do is turn on the TV and just watch (unless it's already tuned to the murder / mystery joys of ITV3). Content does not "come to me", I browse to content. And this isn't a new digital TV pattern. When I visit my mum the EPG is never used but the up / down channel buttons get a thorough clicking in search of the end of the soap opera rainbow.
None of which is to say I don't think there's a future for a "personalised TV experience". My ideal TV would look much like the one envisaged by Nicholas Negroponte back in 1995. But that takes a lot of media description bits and a lot of user tracking bits and a lot of social bits plus some very clever people to write the code to mine all that.
So I don't think we should shy away from list based navigation. (For all its one button shinyness the iPod / iTunes navigation is just some deeply nested (or facetted depending on screen real estate) lists.) And saying that the browser based TV experience should be more like the TV experience (and by implication more push and less pull) feels like wonky logic as the digital TV experience becomes more and more like browsing the web. And browse, click, repeat, lean back, repeat is definitely not passive.