N crowd for netflix

Making movies a shared experience - even when streaming - Netflix has a prime opportunity to connect friends through shared recommendations and to help them choose from an overwhelming amount of options.


User Research
competitor research
User Flows
UI Design
Usability Testing



time frame

4 weeks


Known for pioneering movie-streaming, and for changing the entire entertainment industry, Netflix's main priority is increasingly engagement. Netflix's main priority is engagement. Users can cancel at any time, and the competitive landscape is increasingly crowded. And while Netflix has been successful in churning out popular content, the sheer glut of options for users can make it difficult - even daunting - to figure out what to invest their time in. The idea is to solve the Netflix problem of upping engagement, by addressing the user problem of choosing what to watch.


I hypothesized that users would like to be able to share recommendations on Netflix.  It would give them a shared experience to discuss, and would make choosing what to watch easier. In particular, a study has described the community and expression benefits that some women get out of being immersed in forums about this kind of content, and I see no reason to assume that men wouldn't benefit similarly. Another assumption was that people enjoy watching TV shows at the same pace as their friends, so that they can discuss the narrative progress and avoid spoilers.

Caveat: I'm a bit of a film geek.  I've been in the industry for ten years and have an MFA in filmmaking.  If ever the "average user" was likely to behave and think very differently from myself, this would be the time. So to stay focused on the "average user" I created one that represented my assumptions in designing this feature. Meet Kevin...


“When I watch something I really like, I I want everyone else to see it.  I know what my friends like, and I trust some  them - okay, some of them - to recommend what I should invest my time watching.”


  • Connecting with loved ones through shared experiences
  • Having loved ones enjoy themselves based on his suggestions


  • Wasting time on things he doesn't end up enjoying
  • Missing out on what everyone else is doing and talking about
  • Having to choose from too many options


What's every one else up to?

Before getting too deep into it, I wanted to see if any of Netflix's competition was doing something along these lines - or any - to affect engagement. The most direct competitors - Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Max - didn't have any social features at all. Once I expanded the scope of my research, however, I found a few more items worth looking at.

How it works:

Allows users to synchronize viewing remeotely with friends, with a text chat function to communicate live through out.


  • great pandemic appeal but maybe not much afterwards
  • probably good only on occasion because it requires coordinating schedules
  • users may generally prefer to focus on the content

How it works:

Allows users to synchronize viewing remotely with friends, with a video-conferencing function to communicate live through out.


  • great pandemic appeal but maybe not much afterwards
  • probably good only on occasion because it requires coordinating schedules
  • users may generally prefer to focus on the content

How it works:

Allows users to share film and TV recommendations with friends that they are connected to through the app.


  • incredibly unintuitive UX
  • does not inform users where the content may be viewed
  • can only recommend to friends that have this app

How it works:

Allows users to "follow" friends and influencers, see what they're listening to and when, and access playlists they make public.


  • listening habits as passive recommendations
  • recommendations in film and TV are riskier due to time investment
  • could be useful for keeping up with friends in watching a show

taking it in

Does Kevin really want the ability to communicate while watching something?  To me, that would be maddening... there's a time and place.

And would Kevin be cool with people knowing what he's watching and when? What if he wasn't answering his mother's phone calls, while his mother could clearly see that Kevin was "busy" watching Real Housewives of Orange County? Talk about drama!

user research

Time to test some assumptions.

 I interviewed 6 Netflix users with the aim of finding out:

  • how they choose what to watch
  • whether they enjoy discussing what they watch with friends
  • whether they and their friends watch shows at a similar pace so that they can discuss as they progress
  • whether they like to give and receive recommendations with friends
  • whether they feel Netflix's algorithm already does this job of giving solid recommendations
  • whether choosing what to watch is a problem

Of all the results, this one was really unexpected:

trusted sources for film and tv recommendations

specific people they know


media (podcasts, reviewers, etc.)


netflix's algorithm



*83% of these said this was a main source of recommendations

Obviously this is a small sample but these are some extreme percentages, so they can't all be outliers.

Here are the other main findings...

overwhelmed by the amount of viewing options

enjoy discussing movies and TV shows with friends

rate titles on netflix

try to watch movies at the same pace as friends

make recommendations to people they know

I also explored a couple of more specific questions related to the competitors...

Feelings about Netflixparty and synchronous viewing

Don't want others knowing what they're watching and when

key takeaways

  • Netflix's recommendations aren't cutting it - none of these users trust the algorithm to give good recommendations.
  • Some enjoy bonding over watching the same content, but the main benefit that recommendations provide is in deciding what to watch.
  • Giving and receiving recommendations for content is pretty standard - not just for us film geeks. That said, the users are particular with whose recommendations they trust.
  • Most users also look to other trusted sources for recommendations, like podcasts and publications.
  • Most people do not want people knowing what they watch and when - at least not automatically. So the Spotify approach might be problematic, but this isn't a real issue since another assumption also crashed and burned...
  • The vast majority don't watch shows at the same pace as friends. If something is bingeable, it seems that people want to just watch at their pace... and to not have their friends know that they got through all of Tiger King in a single day.


the flows

Now that I was a bit more confident about my assumptions, I created some task flows so that I could figure out what screens needed to be designed. I decided to account for:

  • inviting friends
  • accepting invitations
  • making recommendations to others
  • managing recommendations to others
  • accessing recommendations from friends

I used the name "Inner Circle" as a placeholder.

invite someone

respond to invitation

recommend title

browse recommendations



A lot of aesthetic choices were pretty clear based on existing Netflix patterns, so I skipped the wireframes and quickly mocked up what they actual screens might look like.

But first, the name. To make it fit in as seamlessly as possible, I used the Netflix N logo, and put the word "crowd" in their proprietary font. It's a clear play on the idea of an "in crowd" to appeal to the fact that interviewees only trusted select people to make recommendations:

the screens

inviting someone

From the N crowd main page click the white "Invite Someone" button. Then...

... enter their email address and click "Send invitation". Now you can add another address, or click "Close" to get back to the N crowd main page.

responding to an invitation

When you receive your invitation email, you accept by clicking the red button. Then...

...you'll arrive at your new N crowd main page where you can start making recommendations from your recent views. Or...

If you don't want to accept, you can click the grey "Start Your Own Crowd" button and be sent to the invitation page to get started.

browsing recommendations

From the N Crowd main page the user can see all of the recommendations they have received. If they want to get more specific...

...they can click on a friend's name and see everything they've recommended to each other.

making recommendations

Easy peasy!

testing it out

Now that the screens were done, I turned them into an interactive prototype using proto.io. I wanted to make sure that the tasks associated with "N Crowd" were intuitive and simple as designed. Namely, I wanted users to:

  • invite a friend
  • invite another friend
  • find a particular friend's recommendations
  • make a recommendation to all friends or a specific friend

Six tests were conducted and all users completed all tasks seamlessly. However, some brought up issues that they felt should be addressed:

1. Half wanted to be able to enter more than one email at a time when sending invitations

Agreed: Simple programming change in implementation

2. Half weren't sure if the content that was recommended was recommended specifically for them

Agreed: Simply added "for you" to the headings. "Movies your N crowd recommends for you", and "Movies Christia recommends for you."

3. One keen tester wanted some way to undo an accidental recommendation, and thought that the button for recommending to a user's entire "N crowd" should be more distinct.

Agreed and Agreed: Here's the improved recommendation UI:

4. None of the users mentioned this but I also made the "Delete Connection" button into a less prominent text link.  This isn't the place to remind Kevin about the fickleness of human relationships.

next steps

Aside from testing these changes for usability, the following would be next steps in further development:

  • Adding the ability to remove a recommendation. If users' feeds are full of recommendations that they have no interest in, the feature will get less engaging.
  • Adding the ability to discretely "silence" a friend. No one wants to hurt anyone's feelings, but what if there's a friend that's constantly sending recommendations and they're just not for you?
  • Feeds.  As the user interviews showed, most of the users look to many sources for movie recommendations.  The idea here would be to have such sources (reviewers, podcasters, filmmakers, etc.) create their own recommendation feeds that users can follow to access all of the available titles that source recommends. The screens might look something like these:

Main feeds page displaying featured and recommended feeds, and...

... the specific feed's page.

Some things I learned

  1. A fancy and sophisticated recommendation algorithm can go a long way.  In fact Netflix says that 80% of their users watch what's recommended. That said, this only proves the effectiveness of the algorithm, not necessarily of the user experience.
  2. Even for leisure activities, too much choice can be overwhelming and paralyzing... and that's not engaging.  Netflix says that a typical user looks through 40-50 titles before picking what to watch, which again proves the efficiency of the algorithm (after all there are thousands upon thousands of actual viewing options). However, 40-50 titles is still a lot of work for the user.
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