Jason São Bento is currently the lead user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designer on YouTube Live, where he has been working for almost four years. Prior to this role, he worked on Google Fiber, as a UX designer at pioneering design studio Teehan + Lax, and on projects like helping NASA scientists collaborate better. I talked to him about designing for user engagement, and the surprising aspects of working at scale.
How did you get into UX?
I stumbled into being a UX designer. I had studied to be an art director for advertising, then started working at a game company. They needed help with UI, so I started doing UX through that before really knowing what it was. Once I got into it, it automatically clicked for me. I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do, working on solving problems and helping users to meet their goals.’
What’s your current role on the YouTube Live team?
Right now, I’m the UX lead for YouTube Live, which means I look after all the creator and viewer experiences across the whole lifespan of YouTube Live experiences. We’re trying to make the whole live experience seamless across YouTube, for example making it easier for creators to go live, or develop new experiences for creators and viewers to interact with each other.
Live is a growth area for YouTube. When you look at watch time, which is a key metric we track, livestreams are increasing tenfold from the last three years. It’s been amazing to have been able to help shape that growth!
What are some of the challenges of designing at a global scale, and how do you approach them?
Designing at a scale like YouTube, with 1.9 billion monthly logged-in users can be a scary thing, but it’s also really exciting. For Live, we think about our users, the different types of livestream, and all of the content categories out there. It’s a lot to cover — we try to do our best to make it as seamless as possible.
We also think about three types of livestream. There’s the casual livestream, where someone turns on their camera and wants to talk about something or share something they have created.
The second type of livestream would be livestreaming your gameplay or similar. And then there’s temporal events, where a lot of people gather together for these giant moments, like a SpaceX launch.
With content categories, YouTube is really broad, so we are always trying to make sure it works as well for a fashion creator as a gamer — what’s a way for anyone to interact with our tools and feel good about it?
The challenge is to create tools that can flex across these different considerations. It can be a balancing act. How do you create tools that can move around for all these different use cases? You do have to compromise here and there and try to come up with the best possible solution.
Why does user engagement matter in UX?
Defining engagement depends on the type of things you’re trying to build. Engagement is core to Live in general, and for us it’s about how people engage with each other. Live is about the community created and about the people watching. By creating meaningful ways to engage your user you create a reason for them to come back. You do this in UX by creating a dialogue with the user, or by engaging them with a new part of your app. You have to have an experience that’s good enough to entice people to engage with your product.
A lot of UX designers try to force engagement, and that’s something we never want to do. We don’t want to create engagement that isn’t natural to the space of livestreaming.
Can you share some examples of UX that drives engagement?
With Live, part of the experience is being there in the moment, so we try to be strategic about how we send out notifications. We may do it because you subscribe to a creator’s channel, or because you asked to be notified of a livestream. The notifications give you the sense of urgency of engaging with a creator who is Live right now.