A design journey from mobile to TV: YouTube Shorts arrive on the big screen
Editor's note by Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer: Bringing Shorts to our community has transformed the way people create and watch video on YouTube. When we introduced this new format, we optimized the experience for the mobile creator and viewer. Today, we’re expanding viewing access to Shorts to our fastest growing surface: the TV screen. While this may seem like a natural next step, an incredible amount of thought and care has gone into bringing this vertical, mobile-first experience to the big screen. In this next installment of our Innovation Series, you’ll hear from two of the user experience (UX) design leads who made this leap a reality.
Coming soon to a TV near you … Shorts! Starting today, viewers will be able to enjoy these bright bursts of video (60 seconds or less) on the big screen at home.
While expanding Shorts to TV may seem straightforward conceptually, the journey to get here was not as simple as it sounds. That’s why we’re pulling back the curtain to share a behind-the-scenes look at the process of bringing a vertical, mobile-first format to TV.
A look at the planning process
To make this moment happen, product managers, engineers, designers and researchers from the Shorts and TV teams came together to discuss how to bring this new video format to the big screen. It was important that the Shorts experience on TV felt consistent with what the community sees on mobile and also natural on the bigger screen.
Love me, love me not
To better understand what viewers would like from a Shorts experience on TV, we took an unconventional approach to our research and asked participants to write either “Love” or “Breakup” letters to express their feelings about short form content on TV today. The “love letters” showed that viewers liked the community experience, watching content they love easily with friends and family. Meanwhile, the “breakup letters” showed that people felt it could be clunky, slow to load or lacked key features like sharing. Here are two examples of the notes we received:
“I was skeptical before we first met but I must admit you showed me things I didn't know I was missing — the larger screen was a bigger and more comfortable viewing experience.”
“I feel you have a little way to go before you’re ready for a relationship — be more user friendly... be easier to navigate. ”
Making the jump from mobile to TV
Our research told us that there would be unique perks of watching Shorts on the big screen. They're easier to watch with others, and the larger screen makes it a more comfortable viewing experience. But the design challenge remained: how could we preserve the essence of Shorts with vertical videos on wide screen TVs? We started by creating three very different design concepts:
We wanted to know if the unique feel of Shorts could be conveyed in our conventional video player (Option A) or if it should be customized to better fill the blank spaces on either side of the video (Option B). We also considered a divergent option — the “Jukebox” style (Option C)— where multiple Shorts would fill the screen at the same time, taking full advantage of the TV screen’s additional space.
After another round of research, feedback showed that the joy of Shorts gets lost in the consistent video player (Option A), and the Jukebox style (Option C) strayed too far from the essence of Shorts, which features one video at a time. The customized Shorts experience delivers the best of both worlds: a clean design while making the most of the wide screen’s additional space.
We also learned that viewers wanted to be in the driver’s seat of the viewing experience and were happy to use the remote to manually advance to the next Short rather than have the feed autoplay. This was unusual. Typically we find that level of interactivity can be tedious with a remote, but in this case, short-form video is unique. Research indicated that people want to take charge of the viewing experience — just like with Shorts on mobile — and even expected it.
Using prototypes to bring Shorts to life on TV
In our final phase of design, we created two high fidelity prototypes of a customized Shorts video player that incorporated feedback from our latest round of research. Now we were trying to balance a pure viewing experience with features that people expect from Shorts and YouTube, like comments, community actions (e.g., like, subscribe) and finding related videos.
The “simple” prototype included the bare minimum: sidebars and basic functionality for engaging with Shorts. The “maximal” prototype gave a lot more visible functionality, from related tags to comments and included a color-sampled blurred background.
When we tested these prototypes with the community, we learned that people preferred the “maximal” version. It made better use of the TV screen’s additional space and the color-sampled background made the experience feel more modern.
Bringing our learnings live
In the design rolling out today, you’ll see a modified version of that “maximal” prototype; we simplified the design of the right side rail, but will be looking to bring in additional functionality in future releases. We believe that this experience balances the fun, quirkiness of Shorts in a way that feels natural for TV.
As YouTube continues to make it easier to interact on TV, the richness of the Shorts experience will only grow. Bringing Shorts to TV is a great bridge to bring two of our most important experiences together to benefit both creators and viewers. Over the coming weeks, this experience will be rolling out on TV models (2019 and later) and on newer game consoles. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!