How Showmax’s design team took on the challenge of an expanded content offering

An interview with Showmax Design Team Lead Daniel Valčík

Showmax has been providing subscription VOD service in Africa for more than five years. It’s been five years of expansion and innovation, and our unique combination of hit local content, exclusive international series and movies, the best kids’ shows, live sports, and news, has proven to be a winning formula.

In that spirit, we’ve launched a new service called Showmax Pro. This new offer bundles the existing Showmax entertainment service with live sporting events from SuperSport.

This post isn’t about the expanded offer per se. It’s about the CX, UI, and design challenges around integrating multiple distinct services, and packaging them in a way that makes sense and is easy to use. We did a short interview with Daniel Valčík, the leader of the Showmax Engineering Design Team, to discuss all of the work he and his team put into Showmax Pro, the unique challenges of designing a VOD service for a mobile-first audience, and more.

With Showmax Pro, you needed to find a way to add a significant amount of new content, while keeping aspects of the design that Showmax customers are accustomed to using. How did you do it?
Actually, work on Showmax Pro started 18 months ago when we introduced Sport Beta to our platform. We started with a limited amount of sports content, but immediately started drawing up ideas for how to scale. It turns out that these early decisions, and the thought we put into them, were pretty solid. We basically set the groundwork for the core UI and UX solution for our current Showmax Pro plans then.

Thanks to Sport Beta, customers had already interacted with the layout and design solution - all we had to do was build on it. We had results from user tests, saw what worked and what didn’t, and got to work. With that foundation, we used the time we had to come up with a final Showmax Pro solution that really puts customer experience at the forefront.

Was there a moment when you had to literally go back to the drawing board?
Even though we were prepared for the Showmax Pro solution from some of our earlier work, we had to get back to the basics and reevaluate how solid the solution actually is. So yes, we did get back to the very beginnings, but this is what we do every time we start a new project. We were lucky to find out that the Sport layout was more or less ready and only needed a few tweaks and enhancements. The biggest challenges were procedural, like switching between users’ plans and payment options.

You mention conducting tests directly with subscribers. How do you work with them in particular?
We recruit participants for usability tests on the app, testing new features, and more. Sometimes we recruit only our own subscribers, sometimes only non-subscribers, and sometimes both, to go through a specific UX script, including tasks. We closely watch them solve the tasks, study their interaction with the UI, and try to guess why they perform the task in the way they do.

We also ask them additional questions about the UI - How they feel about the layout; placement of elements; what they expected to happen after having clicked on something; and things like that. All of these small details are very important, because what is obvious to us when we design may not be clear to our users. Basically, user tests are the only tests where you want to fail and learn from it. If you learn this information after the feature/product is live - it’s too late.

How do you keep the final look and feel, and navigation on the platform, under control with the addition of so much content?
Our goal is to put the content first, make it the focus, and not bury around a bunch of design elements. Navigation and information architecture are hot topics, and we are constantly working on them and trying to remain flexible.

Also, mobile devices are a bit more complicated than other devices in that they do not provide as much space. This especially matters for navigation and information architecture because, at the moment, the “More” tab acts as a “drawer” for a lot of things. This is what we want to change.

So we went to the very beginning to look at how we handled expanding content types and features, because the older apps were more static. Now, we are working on how to convert the most important priorities to the user on mobile apps, and reflect them in a navigation structure that makes sense both right now, and for the future.

One approach we are considering is to split the navigation model into something we call “passive” and “active” browsing - passive can handle recommendations from Showmax based on that user’s behaviour; and active is something where users try to find what they want to watch.

Mobile usage is mainstream in Africa to the point where a lot of Showmax customers aren’t mobile-first, they are mobile-only. How did this impact the evolution of the Showmax Pro design and its mobile-only version?
Mobile devices are definitely a key focus for us. A big part of delivering a good mobile experience anywhere - but especially in Africa - means putting data consumption at the forefront. We want to help our customers to get the most out of their subscription by setting the right bandwidth capping, offering more downloadable titles, and more.

This reminds me of the challenges I mentioned earlier about switching users’ plans and upgrades that had to be tackled differently on different platforms.
As a consequence of different payment methods, Android and iOS users switch their plans differently. The point is that we not only deliver mobile-specific solutions, but we offer platform adjustments as well.

Personally, I think that mobile devices haven’t shown their full potential yet. They can act as main devices for consumption, or they may serve as auxiliary devices because they can change their UIs and become a remote control to different platforms, they can be used to enter passwords to support seamless user experience and so on. Maybe Showmax on mobile devices has a greater potential to address user needs in Africa compared to traditional platforms.

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