User Experience Design – (2015/16)

The research project focused on the art of user interface (UI) and experience design as a strategy to enhance the value of content in the ever-consolidating network of digital ecosystems. Key areas of research focused on ecosystems built on intuitive UI design features aligned with Artificial Intelligence (AI) (e.g., voice navigation, chatbots, IoT, self-driving cars), the blurring of software/hardware lines in new ecosystems (e.g., Amazon Echo + Alexa; Snapchat Spectacles; Pokėmon Go), as well as 360 immersive videos (e.g., Facebook’s Oculus vs. Facebook’s social VR) and the rise of curation to manage overabundance of choice. Specifically, DIT identified and analyzed core examples of user experience design at work, including Amazon’s video and gaming ecosystem, Facebook’s feed and virtual reality integration, as well as Apple’s hardware and services evolution.  


Content as Commerce – Amazon’s New Media Ecology by James Fleury

Over the past two decades, Amazon has built a billion-dollar business as the world’s premier virtual retailer. To think of Amazon as solely an e-commerce business, however, would be to ignore the company’s substantial portfolio of supporting subsidiaries, including interests in hardware (e.g., Fire TV; Kindle) and software (e.g., Amazon Studios; Amazon Game Studios; IMDb). From this perspective, Amazon has effectively become a media and entertainment company that controls the industry’s linear supply chain. Still, its primary goal has remained the same: to sustain and scale global user growth as a way to fuel e-commerce sales. To this end, the increasing investment in multimedia content essentially translates as a basic growth tactic. Amazon positions content as an added benefit for Amazon customers, especially paying Prime subscribers, who provide the lion’s share of the company’s revenue. Amazon’s media ecosystem is in service of bolstering the company’s subscriber base and growing its active audience. As such, Amazon remains a retail company that leverages media to maintain and grow its customer base. At the same time, as Amazon continues to emphasize the value of content in direct-to-consumer sales, the boundaries between consumption and spending are gradually fading away. Its media ecosystem functions as a one-stop-shop for the entire consumer journey, from content discovery to production, consumption and related product purchasing. Amazon’s content is not directly promoting products — rather, it establishes organic connections to Amazon’s retail database. The core element that structures and unites all of these content and product services is a comprehensive UI and UX strategy. serves as the company’s chief destination and flagship design feature. Every other Amazon experience platform reflects and connects to the core retail engine, some more directly (e.g., the Fire TV platform), others more indirectly (e.g., the streaming platform Twitch). Amazon’s key goal is to develop a set of interface features that leverage media and entertainment to drive e-commerce activity. Likewise, e-commerce fuels the ongoing interaction with content as consumers can rent, buy, and store media products at growing scale. In the near future, Amazon is likely to become a place where the distinction between media/entertainment and e-commerce no longer holds. The key to this new state of converging content and product is a complex logic of economic, technological, and stylistic synergy, realized through Amazon’s UI. This white paper features case studies focused on Fire TV and Twitch.


Apple’s Entertainment Ecosystem by Heather Lea Birdsall and Monica Sandler

Apple remains the only computer company to retain near absolute control over their technological ecosystem. Despite the blurring of these categories, however, robust debate remains over whether it is a hardware or a software company. Likewise, Apple has been called an “ecosystem company” and an “entertainment company.” These latter terms are more apt in describing an older computer company that is strategically pushing ever further into the entertainment content presentation and curation sphere by pushing both its hardware and software as a complete, closed, and controlled ecosystem. The launch of the iPod in 2001 began a shift in both the number and kinds of Apple products offered. Subsequent releases of the iPhone, Apple TV, iPad, and the Apple Watch are evidence of Apple’s increasing reach into the world of multiple screens and multiple platforms of content distribution and digital interaction. Complementing these new hardware forays have been Apple’s software, app, and services offerings. Apple’s software strategy is to reinforce control over their closed hardware ecosystem by offering their own apps and services (e.g., iTunes and Apple Music) and carefully curating outside offerings through the App Store (e.g. deals with Netflix, HBO, and Hulu). While the volatile streaming market and debates over fat and skinny bundles play out, the focus in the near future remains on control and curation. The aim is to provide ubiquitous content consumption platforms, which reinforces the cycle of purchasing Apple hardware. As Apple continues to diversify both its hardware and software offerings, UI design is the key that binds this Apple ecosystem together. While Apple has one of the strongest brand identities out there, their products are paradoxically designed not to be the main focus of the user, but rather to become indispensable tools in their lives. Apple does this by developing their technology to ever-more-seamlessly integrate into users’ lives. Achieving this, Apple is in a prime position to retain ultimate curatorial control over the content and services accessed through their devices. This paper features case studies focused on Apple’s integration with Disneyland and Apple.

The Social Video Machine:Facebook’s Virtual Ecosystem by Michael Reinhart and Daniel Zweifach

When Facebook launched, users primarily communicated via text. Today they mostly share photos, with videos as well as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the near future. In fact, the shift to video may already be occurring; watching a video is already the second most common user activity on Facebook (after hitting the “like” button), and Facebook has redesigned its user interfaces to emphasize video content and reduce referrals to Google-owned YouTube. Increasingly, video — and e-commerce — will take center stage on Facebook Messenger and the company’s WhatsApp service, as the buy button emerges as a new user touchpoint to drive the convergence of platform activity and commerce. Meanwhile, the consumer release of Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR device heralds the beginning of an immersive future for social media. Facebook’s growing video platform has served as a strategic way to garner more impressions and increase engagement in the social space, which remains one of the most valuable currencies in the digital economy. Facebook has invested in video to cater to a diverse set of stakeholders, from everyday users to online video creators, social media celebrities, as well as film, television, and music artists. For Facebook, video is the new lingua franca that connects content and commerce to consumers — it is the first phase in a new era of engagement. Essentially, the company is focused on long-term video, highlighting video-driven service design for the majority of its users and audience reach as well as production tools for dedicated creators. Facebook’s ongoing evolution is tied to the fact that video has emerged as the most valuable currency in the increasingly fragmented digital media economy. Even more pronounced is the rise of mobile video. Facebook has tapped into this market evolution by redesigning its platform capabilities with a focus on video as the core interface of all its user services. VR, meanwhile, represents the future foundation of this large-scale strategy. Facebook has developed a presence in this space early on and is now looking to reap its rewards and further extend its media ecosystem. Facebook is moving quickly to prepare its users for the eventual 3D experience which offers substantial industry opportunities beyond its platform in the AI-driven environment of the Internet of Things. This white paper explores Facebook’s video-centric user interface and experience strategy, with particular emphasis on recent transitions to mobile environments and VR. It also considers the distinct UX designs of the company’s Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp products, and how these may eventually impact the global structure of UI and UX. This paper features case studies focused on Facebook’s social video strategy and Oculus Rift.



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