Alum Shapes User Experience for Comcast's First Smart TV

November 12, 2021

As televisions get smarter and more complicated, Martin Highley BFA '07 (Graphic Design) hopes Comcast's XClass television—the cable TV and technology company's first foray into consumer TVs—simplifies things. Highley, an associate creative director at Comcast, led the team that developed the project's user-experience platform. 

Launched in mid-October, the new TVs are produced through a partnership with Hisense and are available as 43- and 50-inch models at select Walmart locations and online through Comcast bills the new sets as a way for anyone to access its entertainment platform, whether they live within its coverage area or not. 

Highley's approach considered how many streaming services the average TV watcher subscribes to and how frustrating it can be to remember where their favorite content lives. Endless scrolling through Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime can result in serious click fatigue, he said.  

"It's: Launch that app, look in that silo, launch this app, look in that silo. It's a very fragmented experience," Highley said of the typical content streaming interface. "You have an hour window, and you've wasted 20 minutes trying to find that thing to watch."

To combat that, Highley's plan for the XClass TVs was to deliver a content-forward experience instead of focusing primarily on applications. He explained that a central home screen provides users with a clear view of what free content is available to them, instead of static rows of icons for them to explore. He and his team employed rigorous testing, including bringing people into faux living rooms to use the TVs and gather feedback from audiences of diverse backgrounds. Highley added that the October launch was successful, but as the TVs garner good reviews and positive press, he's already envisioning their next evolution. 

The TVs are the culmination of Highley's work to support user experience and streaming strategy at Comcast, where he has worked since 2014. Earlier, he helped bring Netflix to Comcast's more traditional cable boxes and was instrumental in developing Xfinity Flex, a streaming device the company debuted in 2018. 

His experiences at UArts inform all of his work at Comcast, Highley says, where he studied under design leaders such as Christine Zelinsky, Inge Druckrey, Hans-Ulrich Allemann and Joe Rapone BFA '78 (Graphic Design) MA '03 (Art Education). Rapone introduced him to user interfaces and interactive prototypes, sparking an interest in exploring the intersection of design and technology. Following graduation, Highley launched his career at a tech startup before finding his way to Comcast.

"The precision and craft I learned from the program, as well as a focus on the underlying meaning of a design and not just output, is something I continue to bring to projects and instill in my team," Highley said in an email. "I was way out of my comfort zone throughout this whole project, but the foundation [UArts] and other educators provided meant that I was prepared."