Designing for You(tube)

Connie Ly
Connie Ly
Sep 18, 2018 · 4 min read

Youtube is the #1 video sharing website in the world and the #2 most popular website in the global market. This is a result of not only the company’s ability to pioneer video technology, but of design that caters to seamless video experiences from uploading, watching, and sharing paired with comprehensive social features.

As an avid user of the YouTube platform, I find that I am able to accomplish tasks in a matter of seconds. My typical flow starts with accessing the homepage, viewing the site’s recommended section at the top, scanning through a few thumbnails, clicking through my selection, and immediately watching content via autoplay and viewing community feedback by scrolling down to the comments section. This will almost always be my flow unless I am looking for something specific, which would take me to the search bar on entering.

YouTube’s interface utilizes five different design patterns that help enhance the overall video-watching experience:

  1. Cards

Cards offer a way for YouTube to present a wide variety of content in an orderly and visually organized manner. As a user, I can make sense of the grid pattern and scan the collection for something that catches my eye. If I’m looking for a dance video, I can scan and find “A Simple Go” video by Keone and Mari. If I want to explore some music, I can click through to Mahogany Sessions. Each card is presented with a thumbnail, a title, author, and video details (views and date). It guides the viewing experience by providing the user with all the important information they need in one. Imagine if Youtube only presented their content with only titles! What a nightmare it would be to sift through everything!

2. Related/Recommended Content

YouTube features a Recommended section at the top of their page. They compile a collection of videos that may interest you based on your viewing history and offer a variety of options as well as a “Show More” button. The section changes as you refresh the page and will display additional recommendations as well as a “Not Interested” option if the content does not appeal to the user. This feature has been critical in my experience thus far — I often do not have the time nor the effort to manually search for my own videos to watch. Having a collection of recommended content provides me with clarity and direction for when I first enter the website.

3. Autoplay

[Not to be confused with the “Autoplay” button on the top right corner of the page]

Each thumbnail on the homepage will click through to a new page and automatically commence selected content. This design feature saves the user an extra step in accomplishing their task of watching a video. Instead of having to click once on a thumbnail and twice on the “Play” button, Youtube has designed each video to automatically start playing. This allows me to more quickly sit back and enjoy the content.

4. Like/Add-to

YouTube has designed for its content to be saved into multiple playlists (customizable for each user) and compiles each Liked video into its own list as well. I am able to simply watch my desired selection of content, give a Like if applicable, and then access each Liked video at any point in time. These design features eliminate the need for me to retain and recall the vast amount of information and media I am viewing and lets me go from video to video with ease.

5. Show Progress

Lastly, YouTube has designed its interface in a way that lets you know your progress within a video you’re watching as well as within other videos you may have started or have already watched. A bold grey line is filled out in red as the video progresses. You can also see that a couple of videos in the right column are underlined in red, signaling that I have watched each one in their entirety (the line would be shorter depending on how far I progressed in each video). As a user, these visual cues allow me to understand where I am at and limits overall confusion.

Each and every one of these design patterns may initially appear subtle when broken down but offer great usability power when strung altogether. It sure isn’t a coincidence that I find myself back on the YouTube platform over and over again.

Connie Ly

Written by

Connie Ly

Ex-figure skater. Avid tea drinker. Dipping my toes into UI/UX, one piggy at a time.

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