How to design a Media player?

As users are increasingly consuming entertainment on the go, it is of no doubt that designing a good media player ensures a good user experience. In this article, we explore the history of media players over time and our recommendations to design a good media player.

Hari Nallan & Mohita Jaiswal

Remember the time when you run DVD/CD media players at home to watch your favourite movies or songs? Media players were originally considered to be boxes which you could connect to your television to play digital audio and video files. But with the turn of the decade, media players transgressed to become software applications as computers became a personal home commodity. Streaming media wasn’t yet so reliable, as internet speeds were low and downloading took time.

Fast-forward to modern times and you have access to streaming video services right at your fingertips. Crystal-clear, hi-res video can be watched on any screen, at all times, with on-demand digital media players, for people to watch as and when they please. Videos as media is expected to grow 14x within five years and account for 70% of mobile network traffic.

Streaming video is so popular today that it is defining and evolving the experience of what media players brought to its user, to a whole new level.


Old and New

Netflix counted more than 137 million subscribers this year, according to the BBC, and new digital streaming services are being created all the time, with Disney among the major players set to launch their own service.

Back just 10 years ago, however, YouTube would have been the largest video streaming network on the planet. Now we have dozens of options located all around the globe, each with their own custom player. 

Even the offline media players(Like VLC, quicktime(mac), window media player, MX player, realtime) can stream video URLs in real-time, and can play all standard media types, including CDs, DVDs, and most popular video formats like MP4, AVI, and MKV, without needing to download, install, and fiddle with codecs.

Nowadays, streaming media providers need to give their users a good viewing experience in addition to carrying the content they desire. We can see this effect at work with the rapid decline of the cable companies’ set-top boxes, as well as their clunky user interfaces, accentuating the need for good media player UX.


10 tips to get your media player UX right

1. Focus on Playing the content

Don’t “sell past the close” – Once a user has chosen their content to watch, the UI recedes back as much as possible. Getting in the way, or distracting from the actual content, could risk you losing your viewers’ attention. Functional elements(eg. Play/Pause, Forward/Backwards) and interaction usage patterns which are prevalent should suffice.

2. Give users space to time travel: 

Seek bar timelines and speed changing options are features of the past. Popular player UX includes allowing users to skip seconds of viewing, backward or forward with touch- one touch skipping 10s, two 20s and so forth. It is of value for the UX to allow users to change the episode or seasons, skip introductions and without going out of the player. Although the functionalities need to be differentially applied as per the content too, as for live player, series and movie content.

3. Allow flexibility to choose picture quality

Streaming media comes with a constraint of data and connectivity services available. When users can set screen resolutions as per their device usage and data package available, we garner for best viewing experience and convenience.

4. Make content understanding complete

Overlaying of subtitles as per selected language and choice of audio option from different languages allows for ensuring content is accessible and comprehensible to many.  For informational and educational media, videos require more of users’ time than an equivalent piece of text, because they don’t support rapid scanning for information, which is how most users interact with informational web content. Allowing for the availability of transcripts adds to a more comprehensive solutioning.

5. Create user opportunities to multitask

A time- starved digital audience is constantly on the lookout to exploring multiple things at the same time. When player UX allows them to carry forth other digital engagements while watching media it is a cherry on the top. Options for changing the screen ratio and rise in picture in picture UX options are evident to this.

6. Support user in quick decision making

Choosing what to watch can be eased through preview thumbnails which show estimated watching time, credible content ratings, viewer age, genre etc. Content thumbnails are the only info users have with which to make a viewing or buying decision, so give them as much room as possible on the small screen, also giving a flavor to providing a personalized suggestive experience to viewers.

7. Build to minimize in-playing wanderings

Have you ever stopped a streaming media to check out some interesting fact or character details on another window? Features like Xray are overlapping the imdb info, names of characters on screen, on the content to keep users inside the app during, ‘where do I know him from’ moments

8. Retain through post- play hooks

Interactive design can allow suggested content to pop, on interacting with the player interface in a certain way, ensuring  no back and forth needed to get out of the app. Post play hooks people as the credits are still rolling, encouraging “One more…” –  swipe, episode, minute, etc. Design for smooth moving between content – the “peekaboo” or masonry style presentation of visual tiles also keeps users constantly scrolling to see the next movie or show in their curated lists.

9. Allow for social evangelism

People like to appreciate and review back the content they liked. Elements like, sharing, liking and adding/saving to playlists should be intuitive to the player UI. 

10. Create Opportunities to innovate

There’s so much video content available, and the paradox of choice is always overwhelming – so there’s a huge opportunity to innovate around how that ocean of content can be distilled down into content which the user might need to watch, on any of her selected devices.

Working on building the UX of a player requires designers to continually assess the changing needs of the user and vision of the product to ascertain which elements could be best incorporated or created. While as technology matures and player design becomes more sophisticated, the future might herald consumers and viewers to soon becoming editors themselves. Play it on!
Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a Design leader, Speaker and Educator. With a master's from NID and in the capacity of a founder, Hari has influenced, led and delivered several experience driven transformations across industries. As the CEO of Think Design, Hari is the architect of Think Design's approach and design centered practices and the company's strategic initiatives.

Mohita Jaiswal

Mohita Jaiswal

Research, Strategy and Content consultant. With a master's from IIT Delhi, Mohita has diverse experience across domains of technical research, big data, leadership development and arts in education. Having a keen interest in the science of human behavior, she looks at enabling holistic learning experiences, working at the intersection of technology, design, and human psychology.


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