Getting ultraviolent about UltraViolet™

When I’m teaching my “So you think you want to be a UXer” class — there is one coming up in June — I try and define “user experience” for the audience. I always say it isn’t just about how something is designed, or how it behaves, but it is about how a digital service makes you feel. And whether it gives the user confidence. And delights and surprises them. And helps them get their task done.

A good UX can be hard to quantify, but you sure know when you are having a bad one. And over Christmas I stumbled over a really good example of a bad one.

Regular readers may have noticed that I quite like Doctor Who, and so of course Santa brought me the latest DVD box set for Christmas. It includes the new UltraViolet™ feature of making digital copies available to owners of the physical product.

The instructions come in a leaflet in the box, and I was eager to try it out. The first instruction is to go to So I typed into my browser as instructed, and immediately hit a “website not found” error. I tried some variations like or, but no joy. So I Googled it. And discovered that the website doesn’t work without having www. appended to the front of the URL.

User experience point #1: I immediately know that I am almost certainly going to be required to give some personal data to a business that cannot set up their server so that the website works without www. being included in the URL. And one that didn’t test this before printing their instruction leaflet. This does not fill me with confidence.

The leaflet in the DVD box-set includes a unique code for me, that is valid for three years. But the first thing I am asked to do when I get the website to appear is to specify which product it is that I am trying to stream or download.

BBC UltraViolet screenshot

User experience point #2: Why are you making me do work here? You have issued me with a unique code. How can that unique code not also know what product it applies to? This does not fill me with confidence.

Once I’ve chosen my product, and given the site my email address, I’m then taken to an entirely different website with different branding and a different URL, where I am asked to sign in.

User experience point #3: Why didn’t you send me directly to this service or a sub-domain on this service in the first place? I am suspicious of carrying out transactions involving personal data that shift me around various website domains and brands. That is what people warn me about when they talk about “phishing”. This does not fill me with confidence.

I’m given the choice of creating a Flixster account with an email address and a password, or of signing in with Facebook. I’ve nothing against Facebook — I’ve done a lot of work with them — and I’m fairly certain their algorithms will have already detected my affinity with Doctor Who, but having already been on two websites, I don’t see the need to involve a third one in this transaction that I have already paid for as part of my physical purchase.

So I enter my email address, and choose a password. And once I’ve entered my details, the website throws the error message that an account already exists for that email address, so please sign in with Facebook.

Flixster email error

What? You were offering me the chance to set-up an account, but if I already had one, now my only option is to sign in with Facebook?

It is possible I have previously connected Flixster and Facebook somewhere along the way, although I don’t use their service regularly, so I don’t recall. I go into my Gmail to search for to see if I can find any trace of a previous registration email. I can’t, but I can find quite a few emails from them, so I open one at random and click a link in it, hoping to see if I can find a way to reset my password or sign in to their main site.

The link I click 404s.

This does not fill me with confidence.

What should the user experience have been here? I reckon the user journey storyboard should have gone something like this:

  1. User goes to a website address given with physical product.
  2. User types in unique download code and gives an email address
  3. Download or streaming starts
  4. Later on, an email arrives, thanking the user for their purchase, checking there were no problems with the download, and offering the chance to finishing setting up an account which will help them retrieve their downloads if there is a problem later on.

But back to my user journey. After the 404 error I took control of the user experience myself. I Googled “Doctor Who S07E01 torrent”, and I very much doubt I’ll ever attempt to use UltraViolet™ again.

That probably isn’t the business goal they were hoping to achieve.

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