They say that product design is 30% design and 70% communication. We learnt how true that statement is during our efforts to bring Disney+ Hotstar’s most significant update Hotstar X to life.

Credit to Vishank Kumar for this video that captured the changes so well

Hotstar X didn’t start a few months or a year back, it started way back in 2018 when we put the idea of a new version of Hotstar in our organisation’s mind. We were aware that Hotstar had room for improving the customer experience, but in an organisation of this size, having the intention to bring change is not enough.

Hotstar in 2018 vs 2023

So let me tell you the story and the ingredients that made this redesign happen.

If you can’t envision the future, how do you build it?

We were a small team of 4 designers when we first got together to jam on what was then codenamed Hotstar 2.0 on a weekend in an office overlooking the Mumbai skyline and the Arabian Sea.

One of our brainstorming sessions during the weekend jam

The first version we explored was back in 2018. This vision was not set in stone, it evolved with new problems and opportunities we discovered along the way. As we uncovered new problems, we continued to explore and reached another version later in 2020.

Hotstar X explorations circa.2018

Ian Spalter on the show “Abstract” encouraged his team at Instagram to “fall off the cliff” to get to the most innovative idea which is brave and pushes the industry forward. To fall off the cliff, you have to find the cliff so our goal was to explore the boundaries at that point.

We had found the cliff somewhere around here probably

Whenever we explored what our future could be, Rahul Bhosale, our Motion chef at the time whipped up a beautiful video that we socialised with the wider group every chance we got but we slowly learnt that a few directions are not enough to spark change.

Hotstar X explorations in 2020

Disney+ Hotstar gives people access to some of the best stories out there. This meant that people opened the product to watch their favourite series even if they were not entirely happy with the experience so there were not obvious enough incentives for the product to improve. The obvious part is key because it was up to the design team to make it obvious why the product has to improve.

The explorations helped Gaurav Joshi, our design head, show the stakeholders what a possible future for the product could be, but we realised that the what was not enough. We needed a why and a how to help the stakeholders understand. We needed a story. A story that shows how customers feel about the product and how a new direction can achieve the business goals.

The story was told through a deck that was not afraid to be brutally honest or even exaggerate a bit, which did ruffle a few feathers but that was partly our goal- To light a fire about a new direction. The deck dug deep into every aspect we rethought to present a new frontier for the app.

That deck just started the first conversation of many more to come. We made a lot more similar decks to repeatedly tell/sell versions of the story. Selling the story is a repetitive effort where you have to consistently be on the lookout for an opportunity until the narrative solidifies in the key stakeholders’ minds.

The 70% where communication and collaboration happens is how real products get built. Amazing folks from Product, Engineering and Design must come together to bring a vision to life.

We were fortunate enough to find such partners in both product and engineering who were seeing our efforts and realised how Hotstar X could benefit product and engineering goals too. It doesn’t have to be many, just one or two great partners can move mountains.

Just some of the folks who worked on Hotstar X, one article is not enough to capture every partner

In the previous Hotstar app nicknamed Rocky internally, the business logic sat on the client side — meaning the app in your hand had to talk to multiple APIs, multiple times to give you the desired experience. This reduced the speed of the app, created management insanity and required extra effort from engineering for each platform. You can read more about it here in this article from Harsh about why engineering became a partner on Hotstar X.

Finding common goals with product and engineering helped us find partners that made Hotstar X the key project for the year.

These are the two very underrated values for folks working in a tech company.

When we first started the Hotstar X exploration (Hotstar 2.0 then) in 2018, we were overlooking the Arabian Sea from Mumbai. When we started designing the Hotstar X app (final final.figma) you see in your hands, a pandemic ensured that I was now near the same sea down south in Cochin and Gaurav was near the same sea in Goa. We didn’t have a research team in 2018 but Divya Chadha, our UX Research lead built one and brought valuable insights to the table over time. We were a team of 5 in 2018 and we had grown to a team of 19 while building Hotstar X. Also, we used to be Hotstar and now we have become Disney+ Hotstar.

It took us 5 years but we constantly used every opportunity available to pitch Hotstar X, used research to understand customers to build a tighter case, went back to the drawing board to help the vision evolve, and built relationships with product and engineering to find common goals and shipped whatever feature possible from Hotstar X whenever we could.

These efforts cumulated in our now bigger design team building the final designs for Hotstar X across 9 platforms in around 6 months in early 2021. It took us another 18 months to ship the product to 23+ countries with different nuances in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, and another 9 months to launch at scale in India.

If we had taken our eyes off the goal at any point, this would not have taken off. Many of our efforts didn’t see the light of the day but the perseverance to bring a better experience for customers kept us going.

The apparent part about grit and perseverance is that you can never give up on these values. We are only getting started at Disney+ Hotstar and the new platform with a scalable design system called Soul kickstarted by Vivek Kumar will only make us faster to face the new challenges in the market and industry.

In the next part, I will try to articulate why we even put ourselves through this in the first place.

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