The UX of choosing a Christmas movie

User Experience & Usability

With the nights getting colder and darker, there is nothing better on a winter’s evening than lighting the fire, grabbing a glass of mulled wine, and snuggling down to watch a film to get you in the festive spirit. Cue, the user experience of choosing a Christmas movie. I’ve been exploring what helps and hinders the process of browsing for, shortlisting, and eventually deciding on a family-friendly film to watch, on the leading video streaming service, Netflix.


In the first week of December, I was expecting to be bombarded with festive content on the Netflix homepage. Instead, I caught glimpses of santa hats, twinkling lights, and the word ‘Christmas’ scattered amongst other genres in the familiar rows for ‘Tending now’ and ‘Top 10 films in the UK Today’. If you’re a Netflix user, experience will tell you that the categories displayed on the homepage are personalised based on complex algorithms, regularly changing to push different titles. Instead of bingeing another series of Below Deck, I find myself scrolling down in anticipation of a row titled ‘Christmas films’. To no avail, I resort to searching the word ‘Christmas’ which returns a selection of mixed content alongside a few categories to click into.

UX Wins:

  • Netflix has developed a clear user interface that allows users to quickly scan different categories on the homepage and locate content that matches their preferences. Organising the thumbnails into rows creates satisfying symmetry and simple navigation as you can only move up, down, left, or right.
  • In addition to habitual scrolling, the options to search, or filter by genre from within the ‘Series’ or ‘Films’ pages offer different ways for users to navigate dependent on their preferences. This accommodates both the discovery of new content, as well as making it easy to locate specific things to watch, for those who have something in mind.

UX Wishes:

  • When browsing potential films, visual recognition is key to allow users to quickly identify what they have watched or noticed before, or whether options include a known actor or actress for example. I’ve noticed that Netflix restricts quick recognition by often using different imagery for the same film, as illustrated below. If you could grant me a Christmas wish, it would be for more consistency to promote recognition over recall and minimise cognitive load during browsing.

Screenshot of Netflix, showing three different images for the same movie, Family Switch


Whilst there are a few familiar favourites on the screen like The Grinch, I am confronted with numerous other films that I’ve never heard of (although to my surprise the progress bar that appears indicates I’ve apparently watched some of them before). Determined to discover something new, I set about narrowing down my options to find the next Klaus – a great Netflix original from 2019 if you’re after a recommendation! This results in 15 minutes spent scrolling, watching previews to get a taster, and looking at the release date and run times, whilst simultaneously trying to determine what I’m in the mood to watch, and keeping a list of potentials in my head.

UX Wins:

When hovering over a thumbnail, users are shown concise information to help them assess whether a film aligns with their preferences, including the content rating, duration, and genres for a film. The high contrast and restricted use of colour helps to draw attention to key details such as labels indicating when something is ‘New’ or in the ‘Top 10’, as well as the percentage match to the user’s profile, predicting their level of enjoyment.

Screenshot of Netflix, showing a selection of Christmas movies, with one highlighted showing the rating and genres

UX Wishes:

  • Undescriptive titles such as ‘Best Christmas Ever!’ and ‘Christmas as usual’ which are often accompanied by simple imagery, such as a person against a festive backdrop, provide little insight into what each film will be about. This increases the time to evaluate each option as users must read the synopsis or watch the preview for each film. It also contributes to isolation effect whereby similar items are more difficult to remember, and users will recall and gravitate towards films that appears different. I wish there were more descriptive and memorable titles and thumbnails to reduce the time taken to narrow down film choices, and help users recognise what they’ve seen before!
  • The average person can only hold 5-9 items in their working memory at a time (Miller’s law) with information diminishing within minutes if not rehearsed. My next wish is for a comparison feature on Netflix, where shortlisted content can be temporarily stored, rather than added to ‘My list’, removing some of the burden from our memory. This would also increase confidence around decision-making as options can be compared side-by-side, and remove the time taken to navigate back to thumbnails that have been lost.


The time taken for me to decide what to watch is increased by the number of films to choose from, reflecting a principle known as Hick’s law. As I invest more time, the final decision becomes more daunting as I’m afraid of picking something terrible, especially when there are external factors to consider like the fact the rest of my family are watching too! Can I really trust Netflix telling me a film is a 92% match? I end up going for the risk averse option and click play on The Holiday.

UX Wins:

  • The algorithms used to personalise and recommend content generally work well for users who use the platform frequently and reduce the need to look at film ratings on other sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. Categories with ‘trending’ and ‘top’ content also support those who like to keep up with the latest releases, whilst providing an easy fallback for those who try to be adventurous and inevitably end up back here (yes, this is me).

Screenshot of Netflix, showing the rows 'Top 10 films in the UK today' and 'We think you'll love these'

UX Wishes:

  • Whilst the choice on Netflix means you will never run out of things to watch; the number of films can be overwhelming for users and creates a paradox of choice. Users are left wondering whether they are missing out on a better option and the choice restricts rather than encourages freedom as many stick to something they know they will enjoy. My final Christmas wish is for a way to narrow down our options earlier, to make it easier to choose between films that all fit our desired criteria. Whilst there are category codes for specific genres (e.g. Christmas family animation) that can be used on web, these categories are difficult to find if you don’t know about them, leaving users to muddle their way through rows and rows of options.

To conclude

Whilst my Netflix subscription is staying on my wish list, the aesthetically pleasing design is hiding several usability problems on the platform. My experience of choosing a Christmas movie highlights the need for streamlined navigation, clearer distinctions between films, and reinforced decision-making for users. I’ll still be racking up viewing hours over the holidays but am intrigued to see what improvements lie in store for 2024.

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