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Web Design for the Smart TV Experience

Smart TVs are faster, more connected and more versatile than ever before, and consumers are clearly interested in making them a bigger part of their connected experience. Yet, despite the growing trend of Internet-ready televisions, it seems like web design has quite a bit of catching up to do. The experience of viewing many websites through a large HD monitor seems to be still stuck in the Stone Age.

The Rise of Smart TV

No One Uses Smart TV Internet Because It Sucks

For the uninitiated, a “Smart” TV is nothing more than a television that has Internet and Internet application capabilities. Most televisions manufactured today fit under this category, giving users access to video streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, music streaming services like Pandora and video games, all seen through a Web browser. The trend is pushing traditional cable and satellite content providers like Cox, Comcast and DirectTV to find new ways to bring content to the masses.

Nearly 120 million TVs will be connected to the Internet by 2015 in the United States alone. That’s a rise of 51 percent from 2013, according to research group NPD’s findings. This will largely be due to the fact that more consumers are utilizing set top boxes or, more specifically, gaming consoles, that already have Internet functionality included. Gartner broadens the scope a bit, using current trends in TV manufacturing and user demand to estimate that 85 percent of all flat-panel TVs will be hooked up to the Internet by 2016.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if the user has an additional set top box or gaming console, because TVs themselves are being made with the technology already built in.

Your TV – Your Internet

Stop Watching and Start Experiencing: Web Enabled TV

A world where the Internet and television viewing becomes unified is nearly upon us. If a URL pops up in a commercial, the user might be able to push a button on the remote to have it pre-loaded on the television’s Web browser to check during a break. Or maybe a product placement in a show can lead the viewer directly to a website.

These types of experiences are absolutely possible, but first Web browsing on a television has to get up to speed. Users need to feel comfortable using the Internet on their television and frankly, web design itself has not kept up with the trend. In order to do that, some forward-thinking designers are going to need to lead the charge.

Designing Websites For TV

Designing For TV

This very issue is the focus of a recent Onbile article on the “Future of responsive web design.” The author reinforces the idea that while Web designers have been thinking smaller for smartphones, they should also be thinking bigger for televisions.

Smartphones and Smart TVs already share a symbiotic relationship. In some instances, smart phones are being utilized to program or control the TV. Increasing numbers of viewers are using their phones to provide a “second screen experience” where viewers can find more information about the TV programming on their second device.

In his article, “Web Design Revolution,” Treehouse Blog’s Nick Pettit gives a personal rundown of his experiences with set top boxes and Smart TVs that provide the same experiences without the need of an extra device. He argues that, while Smart TVs might not provide the ideal experience today, that doesn’t mean that Web designers shouldn’t plan for the future. Most designers, he opines, are just not really thinking about Web pages that sparkle on large digital TV screens. And it’s not purely web design that’s an issue. Poor execution between remotes and the user interface make Web browsing just as difficult. He suspects that a new killer app is just around the corner to bring about a revolution for HD TV.

Web Design For TV?

Developing for TV: Crossing the chasm between screens

So the stage has been set. Now all that needs to happen is for Internet-ready TVs to have the same easy-to-use Web design as a computer. TV-ready websites should be cleaner, feature bigger fonts and images, have fewer words and have easy-to-read layouts.

Nicolas Bry’s piece on Innovative Excellence overflows with helpful advice, including the need to:

  • Adapt to new input methods.
  • Adapt content for a viewer that’s 6 ft. away, rather than in front of the screen.
  • Make complex activities simple.

For more helpful Web design guidelines for large screen use, check out Royal Pingdom’s great set of guidelines, pinpointing 10 of the most important aspects Web designers should take into consideration when designing for a bigger screen with limited resolution. These include top-of-mind considerations, like shared functionality between devices, and support for social activities. It even mentions some less obvious considerations, like not depending on local storage, which can make the difference between a clean TV-based Internet browsing experience, or a muddled mess.

Smart TVs are here to stay. Now that more people are visiting their favorite websites like YouTube, Facebook and news sites through their televisions, it’s time Web design meets those needs with cleaner, more user-friendly offerings. It’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before consumers expect to go online in wide-screen fashion, from the comfort of a couch.

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