I did the following redesign for a design challenge as a part of Honey’s Product Design Intern application process. These are some experiences and thoughts I had while using Crunchyroll from an outsider’s perspective.
Crunchyroll is a video streaming platform that focuses primarily on Japanese animation also known as anime. Anime is aired weekly on Japanese television, and shows are structured into seasons, also less commonly known as cours. An anime show might air for one season, and then have a one or two year gap, before it airs for a second season. Seasonal anime generally coincides with the the seasons of the year, and can be, for example, referenced as “Winter 2019” or “Fall 2018”.
In Japan, it is straightforward for native viewers to follow their favorite anime that season — they just need to tune into their show on their TV every week. However, anime has a large and growing international audience. For these viewers, being able to follow along weekly with their favorite seasonal shows is more difficult.
Crunchyroll’s streaming platform connects international audiences with seasonal anime by licensing and distributing the shows in a variety of languages on the same day these shows air in Japan. These are referred to as either simulcasts(translated subtitles) or simuldubs(translated audio). As these seasonal shows air, each episode is added into Crunchyroll’s existing library of anime shows and films.
Oftentimes at the beginning of each season, viewers are unsure about when to check for new episodes. What happens is that a viewer might watch the first episode, and then after a few days, forget when they watched it. And so they would open the app to check if the next episode had been uploaded, realize it hadn’t, and then feel sad. This particular sequence of events might occur several times within the first several weeks, increasing depending upon how forgetful the user is.
Additionally seasonal anime watchers often use a variety of external resources like MyAnimeList or AniChart in order to keep track of which shows they’re following, as well as when these shows air. In some cases, they might just go to these sites if they forget when a new episode is scheduled to be released, which is not ideal.
That process might look something like this.
I find this experience pretty similar to going to a new school or starting a new semester. I often have to continuously reference my schedule and the campus map the first few weeks before I start to memorize when and where all my classes are.
I think ideally, a seasonal anime experience should look something like this.
For the purpose of this design challenge, I decided to constrain the scope of this case study to Crunchyroll’s mobile app.
My Favorite Feature: Updated Episodes
The feature of Crunchyroll’s app I find myself most often using is the “updated episodes” page. As the name suggests, the page lists the most recent episodes that have aired in cards. Each card gives information such as the name of the anime, the episode number, as well as a thumbnail image from a scene in the show. The episodes are organized by how recent the newest episode has arrived.
I think this page is an example of successful design in Crunchyroll’s mobile app. As a viewer following along weekly, I want to know which days of the week a new episode of my show will air. When Crunchyroll provides this information, it allows me to make a mental note on which days I can open the app, and expect a new episode. This helps reduce the amount of time I spend scrolling through the app to see if a new episode has been uploaded, or on external sites looking for my show’s broadcast information.
After seeing how Crunchyroll addressed the problem, I looked at how competitors approached it, to see if I could find insights pointing to a more successful solution.
Pictured above are screens from 9anime — an illegal streaming site specifically for simulcasts, as well as Funimation —one of Crunchyroll’s direct competitors. While there are a variety of other competitors to consider such as VRV, HIDIVE, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and a plethora of other illegal streaming sites, I found it particularly insightful the way these two approached this particular problem.
On the right side, we can see that Funimation offers timestamps down to the hour of when a new episode is released, as well as the x number of days passed. At first glance, both of these seem like useful pieces of information, but I would question how valuable either of these actually are. As a viewer, when a new episode is added, is it more valuable to —
- know the hour in the day or the day of the week?
- know the x number of days passed or the day of the week?
In both of these instances, I would suggest that the day of the week is still the most useful to the general viewer. It’s hard for me to imagine a majority of viewers watching a new episode within an hour of it’s release.
Regarding 9anime, I found their solution to the problem pretty fascinating.
When studying this page on 9anime, I started to wonder what information is actually valuable to viewers. They offer users so much information — the exact date and time each episode for all the seasonal shows is expected to be added on every day of the month. At first glance, I found it amazing how much detail this online streaming site went to provide this much information to viewers. However, the more I looked at it, the more I realized how much unnecessary information there is with their solution.
Week to week, each day had more or less the same exact schedule. I realized that if an episode was released at a particular time one week, then in most cases, viewers can assume the next episode will be be released at the same or a similar time the next week.
While, I think that Crunchyroll’s “updated episodes” page is the most useful feature of all three apps, I still think that all of these platforms fall short on establishing that initial mental connection between episode releases and days of the week. In Crunchyroll, I would sometimes forget when one of my show updates, so I end up scrolling through “updated episodes” to go back to last week’s broadcast and see what day it was on. It isn’t at a point where it’s frustrating, but it also isn’t an ideal experience.
Additionally, in conversation with users, it came up that information regarding any changes to a show’s release schedule(oftentimes due to holidays) would be valuable as well. I listened to disheartening stories of viewers excitedly waiting for the newest episode of their favorite series, only to find out that day that the release had been delayed by a week.
To my surprise, Crunchyroll actually provides this information in the show description pages.
On the left hand side is the standard view for a show description page, and on the right hand side is an instance where there are new alerts or information regarding the show. As a viewer, I appreciate this information, but I wish there was a way I could see or even be aware of the alert before going all the way to the show description page.
Here is where I think that there is an opportunity for really successful design. If Crunchyroll designed a way to inform users of alerts, and help them create an earlier mental connection of when their shows are updated each week, Crunchyroll’s app could become a seamless anime watching experience.
My Least Favorite Feature: The Home Screen
The first screen that a user is directed to when first opening the app is the “my queue” or home page. It essentially acts as a list that a user can add shows to, track their progress, and continue watching where they left off.
Most of the time, my queue is empty. To be honest, I’m not really sure why I don’t add shows to my queue anymore. Recently, when I use Crunchyroll, I either go directly to the “updated episodes” page for seasonal anime, or to the search bar for other shows. I know that at one point, I stopped trusting the feature. I think I had finished an episode for a particular show, and saw that the show description page updated to indicate that I had completed that episode, but in the queue, it didn’t update.
Aside from my personal experience, I asked a few of my friends who use Crunchyroll if they ever use the queue. Surprisingly, none of them use it. When I asked why, they gave me some interesting insights.
“I already know exactly what I’m looking for, so I don’t really feel the need to use it.”
“Depending on how many shows you add to it, it actually can make it harder to continue watching where you left off.”
“Sometimes I would tap it thinking it would go to that page with all the episodes, but instead it just started playing the wrong episode.”
It’s apparent that the queue was not providing enough value to warrant users adding shows to it. Even worse, it sometimes acted as an obstacle to users’ goals. From the conversations I had, I noticed that users had three main motivations when opening Crunchyroll.
Based on my user’s goals and their frustrations with the current home screen, as well as the opportunity to highlight alerts and episode update days, I brainstormed, sketched, and digitized the following wireframe.
Ideally, at this point, I would approach the user group to gain feedback on my initial wireframes, and then build low to mid-fidelity prototypes and have users interact with it. But, due to the time constrained nature of this challenge, I proceeded straight into building hi-fidelity mockups.
Throughout my design process, I try to keep in mind potential product limitations. For example, I tried to adopt as much of Crunchyroll’s existing design system as possible such as their show cards and dropdown menu. I also approached the design in a way that I thought could be easily implemented by developers. For this exercise, my goal wasn’t to change the architecture of the entire app, but to find a straightforward solution that would immediately bring more value to Crunchyroll users.
The new home screen now allows users to view seasonal shows they started and provides the day of the week each show updates. This is intended to constantly remind users in the hopes of creating that mental connection as early as possible. Additionally, there are now alerts that indicate any general news about the show or changes in the release of the next episode.
The core functionality of the original home screen design was preserved in the redesign. The original “My queue” allowed viewers to bookmark shows, as well as continue watching where they left off. I separated these two functionalities between the “continue watching” section and the “saved” tab. This allowed me to remove the “history” tab, since the “continue watching” section serves a second function as keeping a history of started shows. I could then move the bookmarking function of the original queue into a tab of its own called “saved”.
The queue didn’t bring enough value to users to warrant it being the home screen for the app, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for it. Many viewers still want to have a way to bookmark and save shows they are interested in, but didn’t want to start at that particular moment, and so that function was reimagined into the “saved” tab.
3 days in and I’m nearing the deadline for this design challenge. Given more time, there are a few things I would want to do:
- Conduct research into if viewers’ choice of what anime to watch is impacted by the studio that produced the show.
- Build a high-fidelity prototype to test with users.
- Approach other aspects of the app such as the video player and the “anime” tab.
I’ve loved watching anime for the majority of my life, and have used Crunchyroll for the past 8+ years. There are many parts of their product that I think have a lot of potential if shown just a little bit of love. With the rise of VRV(another streaming platform operated by Crunchyroll), it feels like less and less time and energy is going into their original product.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! As my first UX case study, I failed a lot, learned a lot, and began realizing the increasing importance of being able to validate my design decisions and communicate my process.
Hope you enjoyed reading!