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Designing the Web for Vertical Video (Short-Form Content)

February 10, 2023
February 15, 2023
Episode Number:

The most popular social media & video sharing websites out there now support (or are centered around) vertical video in the form of short-form content that commonly comes in under a minute in length. As the popularity of these short-form videos has taken off in recent years, we've seen this form factor escape smartphones, arriving on desktop computers and TVs. Unfortunately, this presents designers with a perplexing problem as vertical video (portrait aspect ratio) is not ideal for screens that are almost always landscape (widescreen). In this episode, Matt and Mike discuss the rise of vertical video (short-form content), discussing & debating on how it is shaping our user interfaces, and how it could even start shaping the hardware we use in the home.


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Show Notes

Topics & Timestamps

The Rise of Vertical Video & Short-Form Content | 00:01:40

  • Short-form content has taken off in recent years with the rise of TikTok
    - Has spawned competitors like Instagram Reels and YT Shorts
    - Short-form content has taken up a vertical aspect ratio (portrait) in these offerings
  • Max video length per service (as of writing)
    - YT Shorts | 60 seconds
    - Instagram Reels | 90 seconds
    - TikTok | 10 minutes
  • Predecessors (Services, communities, and features that we believe contributed to the rise of TikTok, Reels, and Shorts)
    - YouTube Haiku's & short videos
    - Stories (on Instagram...and then everything else)
    - Active communities for video memes and YouTube Haikus (ie on Reddit)
    - Vine (6 second videos)
    - StumbleUpon (shows random, or slightly guided, content from the web - including websites, videos, etc.)
  • Boiling down these predecessors to today
    - YouTube videos lend themselves more to longer form content and so the player is more cumbersome to “load up”
    - The 6 second limit of Vine was great for skits and comedy, but arguably any content of “more substance” (ie coding tutorials) couldn’t make the cut
    - StumbleUpon mastered the “For You” before we had a “For You” but sadly the internet speeds and website performance of the day put a damper on it’s instantaneity
    - Reddit is great for curating the sea of YouTube videos into one category (ie Haiku) but the instantaneity is hurt because you’re linking to outside services

Short-Form Content Features (as of today)| 00:15:26

  • Random & Direct
    - Feed the viewer new content indefinitely via an algorithm that delivers content the viewer will most likely want to see
    - Topics vary wildly from educational, video games, true crime, etc.
    - Does anyone use the "following" tab over the algorithmic feeds (ie For You)
    - Instagram's default feed went from people you followed, to adding "suggested" content you may like
    - Twitter has recently updated to a "For You" algorithmic feed and a "Following" feed
  • Use of Sound & Text
    - "moving memes" where the text accompanies a video (and not just a text + photo combo)
    - Recognizable sound bites from popular songs, or other media
  • Instant responses
    - Instantly respond with traditional text comments and/or video responses to clarify things, or address particular comments
  • Vertical Video
    - Smartphones are typically held in portrait form factor, so vertical video dominates
  • Swipe for more - one quick action!
    - No longer search a sea of videos to watch, then click into it and watch it, followed by backing out and searching the feed again
    - Videos play instantly, when you swipe another video is already playing immediately - this is a less cumbersome process and gets you into someone's content instantly rather than you making a decision on the YouTube home (for example) on what video you want to watch at that time
  • Structure & Recall
    - Stories were limited by time (ie 24 hours) and then they'd disappear, this made this content hard to save for later - or bring back up if you wanted to share it
    - Short-form content now has a lot of ways to share for later and multiple ways to share (ie download a TikTok video, bookmark videos and sort into different lists, liked feeds that show what you've liked, watch history feeds)

Escaping the Smartphone (Vertical Video/Short-Form Content on the Web) | 00:47:16

  • TikTok's website (
    - Plays content right away (even if not logged in)
    - Content auto plays as it comes into the viewport
    - Lots of whitespace around the video with the controls (like, bookmark, etc.) placed in this whitespace rather than overlayed over the video like it is on the phone
    - The lack of a fullscreen experience is a bit jarring for some, with a lot of the screen "wasted" since most monitors are landscape and not portrait
  • YouTube (
    - They still focus on their longer form content (shorts don't load straight away)
    - Easily accessible "Shorts" tab from the navigation menu
    - Opens and autoplays videos similar to TikTok's website
    - Videos do take up more space vertically (less whitespace) than TikTok in our experience
  • Instagram (
    - We get the impression that Instagram would prefer you use their mobile app
    - There is a web app offering and a Windows app, however
    - When you're not logged in you can view some content, before they want you to log in
    - When you're logged in, the web app becomes more fully-featured (can't upload content)

Debate on Short-Form/Vertical Video & The Web | 00:51:41

  • There's a lot of screen real estate left open on desktop monitors when watching short-form content
  • Will TV's start to adapt to vertical and horizontal videos (ie this niche Samsung TV)
  • Keeping content short and sweet for sales