Branding is Important. But the Real Showstopper is User Experience

May 02, 2022

Over the last few weeks, there has been a sizzling discussion about the rebranding of a local Puerto Rican cinema chain after years of sticking to its logo. Caribbean Cinemas‘ new brand has been receiving criticism by some as representing monotone minimalism, lack of creativity, inaccurate representation of their brand values, and in general, not appealing to their target market and main purpose: entertaining people.

But is that what really matters?  Color, logo, aesthetic? Is that what a brand really is?  And is it what brands like Caribbean Cinemas should be obsessing on?  We think not.  Here at our design and innovation practice at Wovenware, we believe that your brand is the experience your customer has, not just your logo. As for Caribbean Cinemas, this means the end-to-end experience: knowing what is playing, deciding on going, parking, purchasing tickets and popcorn, finding your seat, exiting the cinema and beyond.  And today, the digital experience you offer is a huge part of this relationship with customers.  

Take the digital experience offered by Caribbean Cinemas (CC).  Its mobile app made its debut about 8 years ago and its primary purpose was to be your “one-stop shop for all things CC,” enabling ticket purchases, event browsing, and even snack purchases. It has been updated and redesigned a few times in the last few years, but instead of improving the user experience, it’s gone in the opposite direction. 

Since there’s a mobile app for everything and today’s consumers expect one, the fact that Caribbean Cinemas’ app wasn’t doing it for consumers piqued our curiosity at Wovenware. To satisfy our curiosity  (and because we’re just really into this user experience stuff and always up for a challenge), we decided to take a look at Caribbean Cinemas’ app experience in a 4-Hour User Experience and Interaction sprint. Our challenge was to do some rapid research, read app reviews of CC  and one of its competitors, and analyze our findings and offer recommendations to improve the app’s user experience. Let’s take a look at how we believe CC could improve the mobile ticket-buying process by following design conventions that have been tested and proven to make for a pleasant and user-friendly journey.

THE PROCESS

Rapid Research

Since this was a fast, 4-hour exercise, we went directly to the core: What competitors are doing right and what successful points we could bring to Caribbean Cinemas’ app.

It appears that users of the app are typically looking to browse showtimes for specific movies and buy tickets before arriving at their preferred theater. This helps them avoid long lines and know that the show won’t be sold out when they arrive. Here are some additional immediate observations:

  • Fewer steps are users’ best friends. Not having a clear task flow, for example, to select a theater, a movie and showtime, and then complete their purchase might be creating frustration and confusion and might even cause users to uninstall the app from their phones. 
  • Being orthodox is not always a good thing. The normal or usual way of doing things isn’t always how users think. This is when user research comes in and helps rethink how a process that seems to be standard might not really be intuitive for your target users. CC might benefit from customizing the app’s user flows.
  • Make things easier even when you think they already are. Users love when technology makes their lives easier. Concepts like using location services to offer movie showtimes for theaters closer to the moviegoer could really help them feel the love.

Desk research revealed that apps like Fandango and Cinemark target these issues in an outstanding way. The next step as part of our rapid research was to superficially evaluate the experience of these apps and identify what else they are doing right.

Fandango is the #1 movie ticketing app across iOS and Android devices, and it lets users “catch the newest trailers, browse Rotten Tomatoes scores, find the latest showtimes, and buy tickets to the right movie at the right time…” for different theater chains. Fandango has a well thought-out flow for users to easily enable location services, select a movie and showtime, and buy tickets. 

As a chain-specific app, Cinemark aims for easy access to showtimes, movie tickets, and general info. It also has a very easy-to-follow flow: select a location, then a movie and showtime, and complete your ticket purchase. It offers guest checkout or sign-in/sign-up options at checkout to not break the fluidity of the journey or make users have to start from the top again.

 

Caribbean Cinemas Mobile App Review

The next step in our 4-hour sprint was to evaluate the Caribbean Cinemas’ mobile app against the competitive landscape. Although it was a quick and superficial review,  we were still able to identify major usability issues that could easily be improved and iterated, such as: the home tab, the specific movie screen, the theater’s tab, and some error messages that popped up along the way.

Our main challenge was to quickly identify usability issues that aligned with the insights revealed from our rapid user research, as well as those that concerned design conventions. Let’s discuss some important points: 

  • Users should be able to follow a specific flow. Having a lot of overlapping flows from where users can start could slow down the time they take to complete their primary task. Most users using the CC app are looking to find a movie and buy tickets, and if you add additional navigations or don’t have clear calls to action users might get confused and frustrated.
  • Finding a theater location shouldn’t be so difficult. It seems Caribbean Cinemas is not using to their advantage the technology they have available. Location services are not available on the app and it’s restricting users from quickly finding and selecting the theater close to home. Non user-friendly location pickers are also restricting users from finding their preferred theater as fast as it should be.
  • There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Design conventions are not visual design choices, but things that have been time-tested and proven to improve usability on a variety of digital products. This is the main reason why designers don’t usually break conventions. The Caribbean Cinemas’ app breaks an almost always used convention: the location of the primary navigation. Famous apps like Amazon and Facebook make use of this convention beautifully, placing their primary navigation (where we usually see our home, notifications, and settings tabs) on the bottom of the screen. The CC app breaks this, placing its primary navigation on the top.
The most notable findings revealed in the Caribbean Cinemas app while conducting our usability review.

Areas of Opportunity

Armed with clear approaches to improve the Caribbean Cinemas’ mobile app experience, and backed up with Nielsen Norman’s usability heuristics, we identified three areas of immediate opportunity:

  • Rethink the app’s flow. Research revealed that users use CC’s app for specific needs. These include browsing showtime options for specific movies and buying tickets for them. The app review we conducted showed that it doesn’t have a primary flow for users to complete this objective. Instead, it has overlapping flows that can definitely be simplified. (Heuristic #7: Flexibility and Efficiency of Use)
The as-is task flow for users to browse, select and buy movie tickets using the Caribbean Cinemas app.

Using the Fandango and Cinemark app reviews as a reference, the goal was to simplify the CC app flow and tailor it for users to browse, select and buy movie tickets in a more fluid way. Later on, we will show you what our suggested flow looks like on-screen. For now, let’s take a look at the rethought flow:

The suggested task flow for users to browse, select and buy movie tickets using the Caribbean Cinemas app.
  • Use design conventions. One of the first findings while reviewing the Caribbean Cinemas’ app was that it wasn’t really following established design conventions. In popular apps like Amazon or Facebook we see conventions that could have been replicated for users’ advantage –: the primary navigation. It’s usually on the bottom, but CC’s app has it on the top. (Heuristic #4: Consistency and Standards)
  • Simplify and refine components. As mentioned before, some components in the Caribbean Cinemas’ app are not presented in the most user-friendly way. The most noticeable: the theater picker inside the specific movie screen. Other areas that present issues with usability and visual design include the calls to action (they’re not shown in a primary-secondary fashion) and the iconography which is not consistent throughout the app. (Heuristic #8: Aesthetics and Minimalist Design)
A closer look at how famous apps like Amazon and Facebook are using design conventions vs. how the Caribbean Cinemas’ app is breaking them.

The Reveal

As part of the internal deliverables of our 4-hour sprint exercise, we went ahead and redesigned the screens of the Caribbean Cinemas app to conform to our suggested flow. They cover the three areas of opportunity: 1) rethinking the app’s flow, 2) using design conventions, and 3) simplifying and refining its components. 

Let’s take a look at the before and after of the screens that we targeted (the home screen, the specific movie screen, the selection of tickets and seats, and the shopping cart) and how we condensed the user flow to be concise, short and deliberate. 

Why it Matters

Caribbean Cinemas isn’t the first brand to do visual rebranding as a way to improve its offering, nor the first to get savagely critiqued by the social marketplace for doing so (remember the uproar over Instagram’s logo).  But more importantly, it isn’t the first company to focus on branding when maybe more effort could have been put into the experience. 

In the end, it’s experience that matters.  And not just digital experience but also all the other things our Wovenware Service Designers talk about – physical experiences as well, finding what you want, selecting, buying, after sale and on and on through the customer journey.  And just like any other entertainment brands, cinemas are in competition with not just other cinemas but with every other choice a customer has for entertainment.  That means they compete with Netflix and Chill, with the sports park, with going out to dinner and even with just sitting at home doing nothing.  Additionally, they are challenged with new concerns like pandemic safety (talking to several people in our office revealed many had not been in a theater since March of 2020). Cinemas are facing a challenging, changing marketplace with new customer expectations.

So if you want to compete in today’s digitally-driven marketplace you might want to start with the user experience before the logo. Are you having frustrations getting your mobile app used by your customers?  Reach out here or at 787-946-7412 to learn how we can help.

This blog was created by Angely, with contributions by Dana and Joan.

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