Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Freedom of Fast Iterations: How Netflix Designs a Winning Web Site

Benefits of fast iterations when designing websites ...

"We make a lot of this stuff up as we go along," the lead designer said. Everyone in the group laughed until he continued, "I'm serious. We don't assume anything works and we don't like to make predictions without real-world tests. Predictions color our thinking. So, we continually make this up as we go along, keeping what works and throwing away what doesn't. We've found that about 90% of it doesn't work."

We were talking with the design team at Netflix. Netflix.com is one of the most successful web sites in the world: the sole customer interaction point of their home DVD-rental business. Over the past 9 years, the site has grown from nothing to serving almost 6 million customers who use the site to prune their rental queues, rate movies, and handle any billing and transaction issues. The designers of Netflix.com have a smashing success on their hands, but we didn't find them resting on their laurels. They want to get even better, and for them that means iterate, iterate, iterate.

Netflix isn't the only company using a fast iterative design approach. Google has also gained attention for their unorthodox design methods, with many people complaining that they have a huge stable of products, but only a few they've designed well. Yet, Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for Search Products and User Experience, explains how trying out lots of ideas helped Google design a better toolbar:

"In the case of the Toolbar Beta, several of the key features (custom buttons, shared bookmarks) were prototyped in less than a week. In fact, during the brainstorming phase, we tried out about five times as many key features -- many of which we discarded after a week of prototyping. Since only 1 in every 5 to 10 ideas work out, the strategy of constraining how quickly ideas must be proven allows us to try out more ideas faster, increasing our odds of success."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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