'People Are Inherently Lazy And Fickle' - The Development Of UX At Netflix

We sat down with Zachary Schendel, Director of UX Research at Netflix


Zachary Schendel is Director of UX Research at Netflix, having been with the company for over four years. In his role, Zachary leads the team tasked with product innovations for Netflix’s platforms, including mobile, web, TV, and tablet UIs, search and algorithms, as well as the KiDS experience. Netflix has almost 100 million subscribers, with a revenue of nearly $9 billion, and its user experience is often cited as one of the key reasons for its meteoric rise and eventual domination of the media streaming market.

As Director of UX Research, Zachary is responsible for pushing this already successful UX forward with solutions that are both innovative but sensitive to the demands of the current user base. Ahead of his presentation at the Digital Design and Web Innovation Summit this September 11 - 12 in San Francisco, we sat down with Zachary to talk all things UX.

How did you get started in your career?

Many years ago, when I was in high school I was fascinated with Elizabeth Loftus' eyewitness research. I ran my own experiment testing the accuracy of eyewitness memory. After clearing the premise with a few teachers I had one of my friends wear a ridiculous outfit and run into a class and steal something. The kids in the class then filled out an eyewitness questionnaire which ended up being ridiculously inaccurate. The project eventually turned into a Westinghouse semi-finalist and my love for research was born.

Why do you think UX is such a vital part of digital strategy?digital strategy?

People are inherently lazy and fickle. I liken it to that scene in Harold and Kumar go to White Castle when they are in a hallway about 5 steps from their apartment door when Kumar realizes he's forgotten his cellphone. ‘Wanna run back and get it.’….. ‘No, we've gone too far.’ Without UX to help identify and correct them, small, seemingly insignificant bumps can completely derail an otherwise amazing product.

Which areas of UX design excite you the most?

I am most excited about the synergy between UX research and design. I get excited when an unforeseen unmet consumer need or pain point is discovered that lays the groundwork for an elegant design solution that has a real impact on business metrics. I love getting in a room with designers and explaining the consumer need, throwing up some ideas on a white board, watching them humor me for an hour, and then go away before completely blowing me away with an extremely elegant and effective way to address the need.

What impact do you think emerging technologies like voice recognition will have on digital design?

For my house, the most obvious is in kids design. Young kids, obviously, can't read, spell, type, or use a PlayStation remote. But, they sure can talk. It would be a much simpler experience for a kid to interact with any device if that device could recognize who was talking, know about how old they were, and adjust the output accordingly. Perhaps the device pulls up experiences that are linked to a profile associated with that kid. Perhaps the device automatically changes the maturity settings for the output of the content, or requires passwords for certain commands. The possibilities of linking an experience to an individual are endless.

What can attendees expect from your presentation at the summit?

I want attendees to come away from the presentation with a more critical eye towards the way they or their business partners tackle meaty UX research questions. I want them to challenge their partners to be efficient only when efficiency is the right path and to not shy away from complexity when the best tool for the job is complex. I want researchers to challenge themselves to grow their research toolbox. And, I want non-researchers to level up the common ask of their research partners -- ‘I need another qual on…’ -- to allow for alternative approached -- ‘I have this question I need help answering.’

You can hear more from Zachary, along with other industry leading UX practitioners, at the Digital Design and Web Innovation Summit this September 11 - 12 in San Francisco. To see the full schedule, click here


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