Starting today, Netflix is rolling out a new website design–the streaming service’s first redesign in four years. And on the surface, it seems to include everything you’d expect: What had once been a clean grid of movie covers has evolved into a fully responsive experience.
Hovering over a title no longer produces a little popup window. Instead, it transforms the film cover into a slideshow, with a synopsis on top. Click the title, panes reposition across the page to make one big splash screen, and you get even more information on the film or show, including actors, runtime, and genre.
Anyone who’s been using the existing Netflix app on platforms like the Xbox One or Roku will recognize the interface. The website has evolved to match the app in Netflix’s intentional quest to unify its interface across platforms.
But the more important play in Netflix’s redesign is more subtle, perhaps lost in the razzle-dazzle animations. Look at Netflix’s design from four years back, and you’ll see an interface that cloned the shelf of an old video store. Film covers, with no explanation, serve as their own advertisements. You’ve already heard of The Avengers because it’s been part of a multimillion dollar marketing campaign, including trailers, billboards, and Taco Bell cups. So by the time you see The Avengers as a tiny thumbnail on Netflix, you’re trained as a consumer to know what The Avengers is. That cover is all your need.
Fast forward half a decade, and Netflix has been iced by much of the entertainment industry. The company frequently failed to renew licenses on Hollywood movies and shows, as major distributors and studios have been rattled by Netflix’s streaming power, concerned that they weren’t getting a large enough piece of the profits. To save the company, Netflix started producing its own content like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Why license content when it could just make its own?
The play paid off, and Netflix has lured more subscribers than ever through exclusive shows. But Netflix’s old design wasn’t optimal for the new model. The company is pushing out new shows faster than the average subscriber can keep up. Sure, House of Cards has significant brand cachet at this point, but what about other Netflix Originals like Bloodline, Grace and Frankie, or Sense8? Netflix can’t just drop these covers onto its old video store interface, bury its terse summaries under a popup window, and expect anyone to recognize them and watch.
So instead, Netflix has baked in more explanations into every seamless layer of the interface. Through slide shows, Netflix has more visuals to entice someone to watch. Through a synopsis for each show or movie, Netflix gets us with a written pitch. The industry will call these design interventions “tools for discovery.” But with Netflix, we see what a euphemism that term could be.
Because Netflix has redesigned, not to just help us discover, but to give us the hard sell on original programming, the only crown jewel it has left.