Your Guide to Connected TV Product Design

Watching television is an entirely different experience than it used to be. In the last decade, technology has turned it from a passive viewing experience into a much more interactive one. And while cable and paid television is trending downward, consumers are still consuming content on the big screen. In fact, 92 percent of all viewing among U.S. adults still takes place on the TV screen.

That’s a LARGE percentage! And these results run counter to the widespread perception that TV use is declining as mobile phone video consumption rises. 

But connectivity is still everything. Connected TVs (CTV) and cross-device functionality are becoming the norm for these user experiences. And designers and developers need to assess how to best meet the needs of their customers. They must consider how their mobile and web-based products can come to life within a CTV ecosystem. 

As you can imagine, designing products for television comes with unique challenges and opportunities, which we will explore in this article.

The amount of time users have spent on their connected TV (CTV) devices has increased by 81% year-over-year from 2019, which equates to around 4 billion hours per week.

Note: The examples provided come from our interview with Sean Murphy, Director of Product at iHeartMedia

Similarities and Differences Between CTV Design and Other Platforms

As with any digital product, you want to deliver great UX, serve your customers’ current needs and consider what they may need in the future. You also want to create a frictionless experience, so your customers stay engaged and return to your products. CTV is no different, but televisions are unlike tablets and phones. When it comes to product, there are nuances in design that differ from mobile or web-based platforms.

A “Lean-Back” vs. “Lean-In” Experience

When designing products for CTV, you need to consider that users will be “leaning back” at a distance from the screen. In contrast, users “lean in” close to their screens when they engage with mobile devices. 

The television experience occurs from much farther away, so legibility at a distance is critical. Designers must ensure that fonts and images are easily visible from greater distances when building their products.

The Communal Experience of CTV

A significant difference between CTV and other platforms is that television usage tends to be a more communal experience. Whereas mobile devices are typically used by a single person daily. CTV can be used by many people at once, but it can also have multiple family members or friends with profiles linked to one TV. With this communal experience in mind, designers need to consider the following:

  • How can a person effectively navigate someone else’s TV
  • How to switch easily between accounts or profiles
  • How to find specific or personalized content on your own or someone else’s TV
  • How to implement censorship for families

Getting Users Into the CTV Ecosystem

Many mobile and web-based apps rely on push notifications to bring a more personalized experience to their users. These notifications can help users get the most out of an app and direct them to relevant content based on previous behavior. But push notifications are more challenging to deploy successfully for CTV apps.

To compensate, CTV apps should rely on UX and search engines to help users to find the content they are looking for. Additionally, mobile app designers should do their best to implement push notifications that help users connect their mobile devices with a CTV.

For Example: 

The iHeartMedia mobile app notifies users when another device on their wifi network can play music. When users engage with this notification, with a CTV nearby, it can help them download the iHeartMedia app onto the CTV and authenticate their account. This creates a frictionless experience for users that want to listen to their favorite iHeartMedia music or podcasts on their CTV.

Using a Remote

Though some CTV apps can be controlled by a mobile device, many will require a dedicated TV remote to navigate properly. From a design standpoint, it’s important to ensure that users can easily use a variety of remotes. It’s also important to consider what a user can accomplish within the limitations of a remote.

Gaining Feedback and Validating CTV Features

In some cases, design teams can begin validating new CTV app features before they’re even developed. Through focus groups, researchers can elicit important information about how users typically engage with products, the pain points, and the features they would like implemented. This enables teams to form hypotheses about their products and validate them before jumping into development.

Another important way to validate features comes in the form of A/B testing. During A/B testing, one group of users will test existing product features. In contrast, the other group will be exposed to updated features. This allows teams to study the differences and make changes accordingly before fully rolling out a new feature. Simply watching people interact with a CTV product can shed helpful insight into what a user journey might look like.

It’s also vital to gather feedback from people that don’t work on CTV products. When someone isn’t familiar with a product, you get a much clearer picture of what works and doesn’t work in terms of product functionality. People that aren’t involved in the project will also give honest feedback since they’re not emotionally invested in the product’s outcome.

Getting Started in CTV Design

If you’re a product designer looking to get more involved with CTV, there are a few options you can consider. If your organization has opportunities to work on CTV, make it known that you’re interested in helping out. You could volunteer some of your time or even shadow the current CTV product manager to see what day-to-day tasks look like and where your current skills could be helpful to the CTV team. You could also volunteer to be part of focus groups or other product validation efforts to get a better feel for the dynamics of working on CTV.

Bringing CTV to Life

As apps and devices increase their level of connectivity, CTV will play an essential role for users everywhere. Users will be able to enjoy their favorite apps in a new way, sharing them in a more communal setting. These experiences, when delivered well, will create better engagement and more success for apps entering the CTV space.

For CTV to truly succeed, designers and developers need to consider various user habits and deliver a frictionless experience. CTV apps will need to be user-friendly, fit the needs of individuals and groups and create new user experiences.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please reach out and get in touch!

Sign up for Our Newsletter

Stay in the loop! Join our newsletter for monthly updates on industry news, company updates, recent work and job openings.


Let's Work Together

Get In Touch 😊