Bringing Interactivity to YouTube (Ads)

Part of the consumer ads team at YouTube, I was responsible for designing  ads experiences across all of YouTube's surfaces.

I led  system-level UX strategy and the design for every consumer-facing performance ad product (Ad Format) on YouTube, taking a new product category from 0 to $XXB+ in 2 years. Led new formats influencing actions like App Installs, Shopping on YT, Website conversions, Lead generation, Store Visits, etc.

Project timeline

my contribution

May 2014 - Dec 2017

Interaction Designer

Our research has shown that users use YouTube as a more "lean-in" experience rather than a typical "lean-back" experience like long-form TV.

Embracing our users's engagement mindset, I worked on making YouTube Ads and videos more interactive and actionable, through various projects over 3+ years.

Venturing into Performance Ads

YouTube has traditionally been a brand advertising platform (similar to Cable TV). The goal of a Brand Advertiser is to generate brand awareness. With a video ad a brand wants to stay top-of-mind, but doesn't expect you to buy right from the ad. For example, Coca-Cola is a Brand Advertiser– they want you to remember the brand so next time you are in store you will buy their drink, but don't expect you to buy a Cola right from the ad.

In 2015, YouTube Ads started an effort to establish itself as a viable performance platform (Search style direct conversion formats). Performance ads are used by advertisers who want to drive a click directly from the ad and influence specific actions like install app, shop products, or visit to their website. 

Interactivity with InfoCards

This was the first interactivity built into YouTube ads and set the backbone of the Info Cards framework which enables a broad range of interactivity on YouTube videos (polls, donations, recommended videos and channels, merchandise, etc).

I led the ground up design of the v1 experience of InfoCards as an intern at YouTube in 2013. I defined the viewer experience on mobile and desktop and the creator experience of adding these cards to your video. I am a co-inventor on the patent for this framework – Generation and presentation of interactive information cards for a video.

Later in following years, as this framework evolved beyond ads to all YouTube videos, I consulted with the team that owned that effort, in terms of usage and patterns.

Storytelling with Infocards

Seamless experience on desktop and mobile

Shop the looks from YT videos

Actionable video

From views to clicks

As YouTube ads looked beyond just views as ad conversions to clicks, it was essential to build consistent and always available entry points for users if they wanted to interact and learn more about the product in the ad.

I established consistent UX strategy for performance formats, with interactivity components across formats and platforms:

  • Actionable companion for mobile portrait and desktop
  • Call-to-action flyout for mobile landscape and desktop
  • Endcap as a final hook for user who’s seen the entire ad— for mobile and desktop

Video Companion

Most video views start in the portrait mode, and pre-roll ads (which play before the video) play in a portrait orientation for a large % of time. The video companion on mobile has been a long standing component for ads to inform what ad is playing. I expanded the use of the companion to be more actionable than just informative.

This companion also scales to desktop and forms the foundation of all our performance ads (and other interactivity initiatives at YouTube).

Call to action (Landscape)

Since in landscape mode we don't have the Ad companion bar accessible any more, the landscape Call to action provides a consistent way to take action on the ad.

On desktop it has two components:

1. An in-player bar (which adapts a similar UX as mobile) and came out of our eye-tracking studies that users focus lies on the video player and the skip button (surprise, surprise!). So n entry point within the video player is important and drives most of the clicks.

2. A standalone ad entry point to the right hand side of the video. As per eye-tracking and data logs users don't interact with this unit as much during ad playback. But this is a valuable leave-behind for once the ad playback is over. If the user was engaged in the ad and was focussed on the fun creative, once the ad is over there needs to be an entry point where the user can learn more about the ad (since the in-player ad bar is no longer available).


The endcap shows the actionable CTA prominently on the video player for 5 seconds at the end of an ad playback. Only those users, who despite having the chance to skip continued to watch and stick around till the end of the ad see this. A small percentage of users see this, but those who do have a high conversion rate. The Endcap on average had a ~60% higher CTR compared to other entry points and led to an overall average increase of 10%.

App promotion

This was the first mobile ad format launched by YouTube in the performance ads space, to drive app downloads from YouTube.

I led UX design, deeply informed by UX Research. In order to study the impact of different visual and motion treatments of actionable components by testing 10s of variants, leveraging eye-tracking studies to study user focus patterns. It was a fine balance of being actionable and available but not distracting.

Being cognizant of the fact that Ads is a embedded bifurcating journey in a different core user journey (CUJ) of watching a video, I built the design principle that no ad should take the user out of YouTube and yank them out of their core user journey. We implemented Inline App Installs that let the user look at app info and install the app (both Android or iOS) from right within YouTube and the user never gets thrown out of YouTube to the Google Playstore/iOS App store. This way the user could install the app and resume their existing CUJ. (This was a win-win for the user, and YT watch metrics).

TrueView for Action

TrueView for Action video ads was an ad format to drive a specific call-to-action and site conversions. Over 60% of Google Search and Display ad spend on driving website conversions. Video advertisers had no method to do this and this feature opened up YouTube advertising for much broader market than just App developers.

Leaning towards building a design system, I adapted the design components and learnings from App Install to this new format. Though App Install was a mobile only format, TrueView for Action was Mobile and Desktop. I scaled the design components built for mobile to desktop, maintaining a consistent UX across the two.

These actionable components design for performance ads led to an increased Click-Through-Rate (CTR) by 150% vs. standard video ad campaigns on mobile and by 147% on desktop.

Shopping Ads

Product reviews, How-Tos and Unboxing videos or any video with a "shopping intent" are a big category of videos on YouTube.

I worked closely with my researcher to identify the user's shopping journey and at what point is YouTube a part of it.

This led to two Shopping Ad products:

1. Shopping Ads where advertisers can add links to multiple products in their catalogue that users can click through and shop.
2. Product Listing Ads, which smartly identified a "shoppable product"mentioned in the video, and if that product is available in the Google Shopping sponsored catalogue, then users see a carousel of products they can shop from (making the video actionable) and helps pay the creators.

Location Extensions

Shopping Ads enable E-Commerce opportunities, but as per market data 93% of commerce stills happened offline, in physical stores (as of 2017). Users visit neighborhood stores for in-store sales and promotions. Location Extension (LE) offers users nearby store info like address, open hours, contact information, store reviews inline on YouTube.

Integrated cross product journeys. This ad format previously existed on Google Search. I worked with the Search team to integrate learnings into our format on YouTube. We leveraged information from Google Maps and enabled users to navigate to the nearby store directly from the ad.

Lead Form Ads

This ad format enables users to request more information and for businesses to acquire customers via an inline form that auto-populates user's logged-in information (name, email, number).

Again, adhering to the principle of keeping users within YouTube and as close to their existing CUJ as possible, this format lets users express interest very quickly and get back to their video experience.

Creator Monetization

The two themes of my contributions at YouTube were: 

1. Enabling Interactivity on YouTube
2. New monetization formats

Working on the video ads team, the monetization efforts I worked on were focussed primarily on ads as a medium. But when a new effort got kicked off in 2017 to offer alternative monetization avenues for Creators, I jumped on it and volunteered my design efforts as a 20% designer on the team (at Google, who have the opportunity to take on 20% projects you are passionate about outside of your immediate product team). This was a brand new team, and for the first 6 months I was the only designer on the team who led the first 2 sets of projects: 

1. Creator Merchandise
2. Artist Tickets

I was able to leverage my experience on ads to drive an engaging and consistent experience.

Creator Merchandise

On researching alternate revenue streams that creators pursue on YouTube, merchandise was a common one where they would add links in description and call out in the video.

With this integration we offered a shoppable "Merch shelf" on their video page. I leveraged my experience working on YouTube Shopping ads, and utilized consistent patterns to enable this UX.

In early experiments, artists like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars used the shelf. In the first few months, revenue from Merch was already ~10% of their total revenue earned from YouTube.

Artist Tickets

I also designed the desktop and mobile experience for promoting Artist Concert tickets near the viewer.

This was a tie-up with Ticketmaster to pull a feed of concerts by this artist. My design promoted a single event which is geo-targeted to the viewer's current location, hence most relevant. Though the viewer had the option to browse other show on tour.

Average earnings in early experiments were ~15% of their YouTube revenue.

Engagement Framework

I identified the moment of a perfect storm with a growing number of use cases across ads and 2 other YouTube teams to surface contextual content related to a video and make the video actionable. I brought together these teams and spearheaded the effort to create a unified design system— Engagement Framework. A expandable UI on YT watch page to enable inline experiences.

I created a pitch deck and led a cross-team design sprint bringing together 4 teams - Video Ads, YT Main app, Creator Monetization, YT Movies and Shows– all of whom were looking to bring more engagement on the YouTube watch page.

I partnered with my researcher to run two studies to iterate through and validate design options, that would work for all the current and potential future use cases.

This framework improved overall consistency of ad formats and other non-ad experiences on the YouTube watch page. At the time when I left the team, 5 designers were using this framework to drive 9 ongoing projects across 3 teams.

Three years since inception, the framework still continues to be used across new features on the YouTube watch page. I recently noticed Donations on YouTube and COVID-19 info unit using the Engagement Framework for their respective features.