Spotify: The User Experience
As a continuation of our Swedish Design Series, we thought we’d take a deep dive into one of Stockholm’s most successful start-up tech companies: Spotify. Back in 2006, there was a huge problem hitting the music industry: pirating music, a.k.a downloading it illegally for personal consumption. This meant that music artists, both small and large, were earning less and less income from their music. So, they decided to create a platform that let consumers listen to music whilst artists earned money at the same time. By 2008, it went live and became what is now the largest subscription music streaming service with 172 million premium users worldwide.
Of course, we’ll be looking at Spotify from a user experience perspective, as that’s what we do best. We asked our team of UX experts to add their thoughts, feelings and opinions to bring you a UX overview of Spotify. They are known for their innovative features, and how these can change overnight. Recently, they were in the news after removing the automatic shuffle feature when listening to an album on the platform, after a request from Adele, who saw the automatic shuffle as undermining the art of purposeful tracklisting. This, plus the recent news of a TikTok-esque feature that may soon be released on the app, it’s clear that they put user design and innovation at the forefront of their service.
The way Spotify works is by licensing tracks from large and small record labels to build up an extensive music library. Those who own the rights to the songs are then paid by Spotify based on the number of times people listen to the track. They earn money through advertisements and those who pay for the premium version. However, let’s start to look at Spotify from a more UX-based perspective. It is well known for its constant innovation, with new features being added to the platform quite regularly, in order to keep listeners interested and loyal. These innovations tend to be grounded in personalisation – aiming to make Spotify feel like your own personal, unique platform that has been curated for and by yourself. Sirine (UX Consultant) mentions how they use AI to enhance the customer experience, with things such as customised playlists, artist recommendations, and yearly roundups that they call ‘Spotify Wrapped’. These are hugely popular, and have become something of a cultural phenomenon, with users all over the world looking forward to seeing their top artist, most-listened to song, and favourite album. They even embed features that allow users to easily share these graphics to their Instagram in order to share in the fun with their friends and followers. Shareability was also mentioned by Emilia (UX Consultant) as one of her favourite functions. She specifically cited the use of QR codes as particularly useful when wanting to share playlists with others who may enjoy them, and how it made it simple and easy.
Another positive aspect of the platform is its simple, easy design. Multiple UX consultants noted this as one of Spotify’s best features. Sirine mentioned how the easy and natural interface keeps the user experience uncomplicated. The intuitive interface is easy to navigate and absorb information from due to it’s uniform structure and simple categorization. Spotify themselves have noted how important these factors are when it comes to their design choices. In fact, in 2020 they changed their core design principles to: Relevant, Human, and Unified. Three principles to follow in order to abide by the Swedish concept of ‘Lagom’, which means ‘just the right amount’ when translated to English. In other words, keep it simple, balanced and suitable.
However, even though the app is very well designed with some great features, there are always some areas that have room for improvement (that will, no doubt, be solved by Spotify over time). One improvement mentioned by Emilia was to ‘have your own playlists more easily accessible, especially on desktop’, as they now take up only a small corner of the screen. She continues by stating that ‘if they took up more space or had a larger presence on the whole screen, you could easily dive into your most listened playlists’. The basic list of playlists seem to be in no particular order, which makes it difficult to locate what you are looking for. The playlists in this list could have more presence by, for example, ‘having them have their own card’ as Emilia pointed out. This would quickly give the user an overview of the playlists, supporting them in finding the right one. A similar point regarding playlists is that there are issues when going from the desktop to the mobile app in regards to the customised playlists. Compared to the computer version, the mobile app is a lot smaller and seems to minimise the information shown, which leads to that certain suggested playlists being harder to find, as the ‘normal’ navigation route does not work. If Spotify could find a way to sync the two platforms in a clearer way, it would alleviate this confusion. It would mean that a user would not have to go between laptop and phone in order to carry out a simple task.
We could also discuss the free version of Spotify. The free version limits the users in different ways, making the experience very different from the paid option. As Sirine pointed out, the user cannot choose to listen to any song they like, instead they are added to a playlist that you cannot skip through. Of course, this is a purposeful, clever design from Spotify, as it aims to persuade users to decide to pay for the service and get a more convenient user experience. However, it also leaves those using the free version with a lacklustre experience of the service. Limiting the skips, as well as the freedom of when/if the specific song can be played, only takes away the enjoyment from the user. Tech democratisation is a huge conversation to be had, but perhaps this could be added – should a user have basic functionality taken away from them (such as skip, play, replay) just because they cannot pay for the premium subscription? Does ‘good UX’ only matter for those paying for a superior service?
We recently saw that Spotify has introduced new features to the app, such as lyric slates – when listening to a song and opening the song window the user can scroll down and sing along to the tune. This inspired our consultants to think of some ideas of their own – we are a UX company after all! Sirine mentioned that there should be a shortcut between listening to a specific artist in a playlist and finding more songs from them. Perhaps the user can scroll down and find recommendations, or more songs from the artist can be just one click away.
Emilia wishes to redesign the navigation bar ‘and make the category names clearer’, to facilitate the navigation for the user. Instead of the home button being called ‘Home’, it could be called ‘Explore’, since that is more true to what it actually is. This page gives the user playlists and album recommendations, as well as customised playlists. If the user wishes to find their own playlists, albums or podcasts they have to click on ‘Your library’ and then filter out what they are looking for. This could be made easier by adding ‘Music’ and ‘Podcasts’ in the navigation bar. Sam (UX Consultant) noted how Spotify could begin to introduce some behaviour-specific features to improve the user experience, a step-further than their personalisation features they currently have running. Similar to the Netflix ‘still watching?’ prompt, Spotify could introduce a ‘still listening’ window that pauses the music when it pops up on screen. If the user doesn’t press ‘Yes’ within an allotted time frame, then it would know to not start the music again until they are prompted to do so.
With their 172 million premium subscribers around the world, Spotify is the world’s largest music streaming platform. The functionality of the app is a big part of the success, as it allows users to easily navigate through artists, albums, playlists and podcasts, as well as personalised playlists and recommendations. Spotify has made the user experience fun and simple, but as mentioned here, there is always room for more improvement and innovation along the way.
Maisie Carroll and Elin Forsslund, Writer
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