Accessibility and Usability: A Case Study With Netflix

Join me as I transition into the UX field in analyzing one of my favorite platforms and its accessibility features.

Adina Katz
Jan 22, 2019 · 5 min read

Since my decision to pursue a career in UX, I’ve been made further aware about the accessibility features products me provide. This has, of course, had me analyzing each app and website I visit on a daily basis. Is it usable? Intuitive to use? Is this accessible? What about it isn’t?

In this article, I will use Netflix as a case study to learn more about usability and accessibility.

How Easy is Netflix to Use?

Usability is defined as the ease of use of an interface. There are five broad categories for usability heuristics.:

  1. Learnability
  2. Efficiency
  3. Memorability
  4. Errors
  5. Satisfaction

Learnability

Over the past four years, I recall learning to use Netflix for each of my different devices: my iPhone, iPad and Amazon Fire TV. I find the streaming service to be consistent in that it is easy to learn throughout its various platforms.

  • Its interface is clear, simple and can easily learned. Whether mobile, tablet or TV device, Netflix is easy to navigate through so you can find what it is you’re looking for (or simply browse because you’re not even not sure you’re looking for!
  • When hovering over links, whether it be the option of user profiles in your account, or browsing movie options, the buttons are highlighted, providing feedback for its users.

Efficiency

After quickly learning the straightforward interface of Netflix, users can quickly browse and select what to watch, view recommendations, selecting from their saved list — all features that contribute to the efficiency of the app.

  • Autoplay feature: A couple of years ago, Netflix has an autoplay feature in which following the completion of an episode of a TV show, it automatically proceeds to the next one, aka how my The Office marathons take place. This allows users to not have to reach for the remote or manually select.
    (It is important to know, that when I refer to the efficiency of Netflix, I am referring to the app’s efficiency, not my time spent. :))
  • A feature that would further contribute to efficiency of use, would be to have a filter to categorize TV shows and movies by time duration, allowing viewers to have a further efficient browsing experience.
My favorite efficiency related feature is the “skip intro” option, letting me get straight to Dwight and Jim pranks, no time wasted.

Memorability

  • The fixed category titles make it easy for the user to browse through the different options, preventing her from forgetting which section she is in.
  • Upon entering your profile, the top most section is “Continue watching for…” specified to what you were last watching, pausing where you are up to, avoiding any frustration in trying to recall where you stopped, or even worse, were interrupted.
  • Users can create lists to save shows or movies that they would like to watch at a later time.

Errors

The Netflix app is designed to forgive user errors in selection. If I accidentally selected the wrong season, no biggie, I can quickly go back. Additionally, should I start playing an episode but manually skip the intro and go too far ahead, I can select “go back” in ten second intervals.

Satisfaction

I speak for myself when it comes to satisfaction regarding Netflix. I love it. And not just because it has the whole series of The Office.

I rarely have time to watch TV, but when I do and just want to unwind, Netflix makes it an easy and enjoyable experience.

Paradox of choice

Though not part of the broad categories for usability heuristics, the paradox of choice is something that is something many of us can relate to when it comes to Netflix.

Netflix’s usability may be indirectly hindered with The Paradox of Choice. As a kid, watching a movie was a simple experience. I’d put in the Big Daddy VHS we had, watching it for the tenth time (we didn’t have that many choices, and my younger sibling may have pulled out the cassette film). Those days are long gone and streaming services such as Netflix have an almost infinite amount of choices.

One [negative] effect [when it comes to choice], paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.

Barry Schwartz, Paradox of Choice

If I have enough time to watch a movie, I’ll often find myself deciding to watch a movie I’ve previously seen or The Office reruns, knowing that the overwhelming amount of choices can be overwhelming, eating at the limited time I have available to watch anything.

Just the other night, as my husband and I were deciding if we had time to watch something before going to sleep, we realized we didn’t know what we wanted to watch and rather than endlessly browse, we opted to go to sleep.

Accessibility

Accessibility focuses on making a product accessible to people with disabilities. This ensures that the product can be used by anyone, regardless of their capabilities.

  • Netflix offers closed captioning for its users, providing accessibility for those who are hearing-impaired. The captions include both dialogue and surrounding sounds (ex: “car honk”).
    Sighted individuals may also benefit from using captions, for example, if they are watching something in a language foreign to them.
  • Audio description is an optional narration that describes what is happening on your screen, such as a facial expressions and scene changes. This is helpful for those who are vision-impaired.
  • Keyboard: unfortunately, on the web version, Netflix is not keyboard friendly. Meaning, there is no way to easily tab between the different categories. While this may not affect me personally in my regular usage of Netflix, it makes it challenging for those who are able to navigate mainly through their keyboards.

Dark Patterns

Though I consider Netflix to be a source of UI/UX inspiration, there is one thing that does irk me when using the app. I find it annoying that when I search for say The Great Gatsby in the search bar, Netflix will suggest titles they don’t necessarily carry, such as The Greatest Showman, when I’m in the middle of typing— though it’s not actually on Netflix! What Netflix does, is it offers predictive text for movies they don’t even carry. Suggested movies are fine, in fact, they’re great. What isn’t great, is the false hope Netflix gives me when suggesting text for the search box, for titles that are not available.

Let’s wrap it up

Netflix’s positive usability and accessibility features, make the process of watching a movie or TV show as seamless as possible. By creating personas of people with various needs, Netflix has successfully (and impressively so!) created an accessible platform with slight room for improvement.

Thanks to Yuval Keshtcher

Adina Katz

Written by

Aspiring UX Designer

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