Hulu's Overrated Web Design

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People are nuts about Hulu’s design. Back in March 2008, BusinessWeek lauded:

It’s a sleek-looking, fun-to-use media service—and, no, it isn’t from Apple. In addition to heralding a sea change in media distribution—the ambitious project seems to have reconciled two once-vicious competitors, NBC and Fox, into working cooperatively online—the new Hulu is “also a prime example of Gen Y-oriented design.”

But bring up Hulu with a source involved in the site’s development, and he’ll scoff.

Hulu’s design not so great as everyone thinks, he tells us.

Bewildered — isn’t Hulu’s design the reason it’s so popular? — we challenged him to come up with 10 flaws in Hulu’s design. He did.

Click through to seem them.

The second navigation bar makes no sense

Even our source will agree that Hulu looks clean. What he hates is how hard it is to navigate around the site and find something to watch. The second tier horizontal nav bar doesn't help. Normal web users don't know thethe difference between 'collections' and 'spotlight.'

Hulu uses frames from the videos instead of TV show art

Hulu uses frames from the actual videos for its thumbnails. But these images do a terrible job quickly communicating to users what show they are from. Hulu should use TV show logos instead, like the scratchy-letterered 'Friends' logo with dots between each letters.

Hulu copies Apple's coverflow

We were surprised, but our source hates the big glossy slideshow Hulu uses at the top of its site. He likes the big image, but not the way users are expected to scroll through them to find stuff to watch. He think it's a ineffective way to promote TV shows and that it's a poor imitation of Apple's coverflow, which was a joke on the way Jukeboxes show album covers, anyway.

Hulu organizes by episode, not show

Hulu should organise its videos by show, not episodes, says our source. Users would find it easier to click on a show title and then click on which episode of that show they'd like to see. Anecdotally, we find that we always click on the hyperlinked show titles beneath a video's thumbnail to do just what our source said.

Hulu emphasises comments too much

The point of Hulu is to get users watching shows. Providing so many forums for commenting just creates a distraction, says our source.

Every Hulu show is rated between 4 and 5 stars

Look it up. Almost every show on Hulu that's been watched much at all has a rating between four and five stars. The user-ratings are a pointless, cluttering feature.

The four-column layout

Hulu's four column layout looks nice, but it isn't usable. 'It's too balanced and doesnt let us see what's important.'


Go into a Hulu channel and in the top right you'll find this little wonder of awkward design. Does Hulu expect users to say, 'Hey, I think I'll skip to page 473!' and go? Clutter.

Endless drop-down menus

No one uses drop down menus like the one Hulu makes its users scroll through to find the shows they want to watch. Hulu should just organise its front page by series instead of by episode.

Pointless channels

Our source hates the whole idea of 'channels' on Hulu. At the top of the site's front page, they crowd out Hulu's best design feature, it's very big picture. Within the site, on pages like 'most popular,' they make for a grey useless haze on the left margin. And for what? One of the channels is called 'Web.' Isn't the whole point that all these videos are on the Web?

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