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Refining User Experience & Improving Retention

spotify case study

by Eyal Talmon

Co-founder @muze - Senior product designer

What we did:

  • User experience design
  • current application diagnose
  • spot UX issues
  • design sprint
  • interactive mockup

I’ve been Spotify’s paid subscriber for the past couple years. I love this service but, like many others who use the Spotify mobile app, I often find myself confused by its user experience. I even had to google tips and tricks for working around the unsolvable mystery of some of its features.

And when I did, I stumbled into this WIRED article that compared finding a specific album or playlist on Spotify to doing your taxes:

"The reward can be sweet, but the journey is onerous"

That struck a chord.

I couldn’t help but start thinking about how to solve these issues with a better UX. What began as a mental exercise has grown into something bigger: an extracurricular project my colleagues and I did to showcase the process and methodology we use here at Muze.

Two main goals of the project were:



  • 1. To get a clean and frictionless user flow
  • 2. To improve retention

The second one is extra credit. Because who wouldn’t want to improve it, right? To remain one of the biggest music-streaming services in the world, you have to be obsessed with retention.





Problems

Before I dive into our process, let’s overview the issues we found in Spotify’s mobile UX:

1. What exactly is Your Library?

The answer is almost everything: your custom playlists, Spotify’s playlists, recently played songs, radio station you’ve followed, downloaded music, saved music. The logic behind what goes there is quite obscure.

Randomness and too much freedom in the UX is not a good thing. When the user doesn’t understand the logic, she doesn’t learn. And if she doesn’t learn, your service won’t feel native even after years of use.





2. Shifting buttons

Same two buttons that are used across the app, Like and Follow, keep changing their place, shape, size and color. Why? I have no answer.





3. But do I follow or do I like?

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you like or follow something on Spotify — it all goes to Your Library anyway. And when two different buttons lead to the same place, the user is immediately lost.

4. Search screen

Home and Search being two separate screens feels a little arbitrary. The genre suggestions are taking an excessive amount of space with no particular reason. Maybe we can merge these two pages?





5. Different kinds of playlists

In Spotify, you have two types of playlists: the ones that you’ve followed and the ones you created yourself. But it’s unnecessarily hard to indicate which is which.


Can you spot the difference?

To tell one thing from another, you will have to squint and read 10.5pt grey text. My eyes hurt even thinking about this design choice.



6. Liked songs

Now, the main reason why users even go to the library page is to find and listen to songs they’ve liked before. To do so, you will need to cut through the noise of Your Library that contains a lot of different stuff including artists you’ve followed and their songs as well. That’s already confusing, right?

7. Hidden treasure: Artist Radio

Artist Radio is an awesome feature that allows you to explore artists similar to the ones you love. I use it all the time, but getting there is quite a hike: you need to go to the artist page, tap on the button and then scroll down the pop-up menu. Could it be fixed without overwhelming the artist page?

8. Recently Played is all over the place

While some stuff is hard to find, other features Spotify trots out on every screen. That is the case with Recently Played: you have this section on the Home screen and also in Your Library. Which begs the question, does the Recently Played section really belong in Your Library? Maybe I put on a song by accident, I don’t need it in my library.





9. Where is My Profile?

After six months of using the app, I suddenly found My Profile. Yes, you have a profile page in the Spotify app. Are you surprised too?





10. Homeless podcasts

Everyone listens to podcasts, and there are so many of them — surely they deserve a separate screen. Right now podcasts go to Your Library (no surprise here) and mix up with your music. Apple dodged the bullet by offering a standalone app for podcasts, but can we effectively solve this issue within the same product?

Solution

At Muze, for brainstorming and sharing ideas, we use a tool called Design Sprint. It was invented at Google by Jake Knapp as an effective process for solving problems and testing new ideas. I highly recommend reading Knapp’s bestselling book Sprint!






All participants bring their ideas to the table, and together we pick the best ones. We also set our 2-year goal and narrow the focus of the product. Next, each of us presents mockups, and we choose the features we like the most. That’s how we usually get our initial concept.

In the case of Spotify, we defined the main objective as users creating more playlists. Personalized content — such as custom playlists — promotes retention because relevant experiences tend to hold our attention for longer.



In order for users to want to create more playlists, we have to make the app’s UX less confusing and more consistent.





New Navigation, New Story?

Here is how we changed the app’s navigation.

Instead of having a separate search screen, we moved the search bar and search suggestions to Explore and gave it prominent real estate at the top of the page. Also, Recently Played now can be found only in Explore.

The Playlists page is pretty much self-explanatory. We split it in half: your own playlists and playlist that you’ve followed, with a visible call to action in the middle for creating new playlists.

And finally, a dedicated page for all your podcasts that won’t muddle with music anymore. Here you have podcasts that you’ve subscribed to and podcast suggestions.



NB, While we were working on this, Spotify updated the app’s UX and separated Music and Podcasts into two tabs inside Your Library. It’s a good move and quite similar to what we are suggesting, too.

We also brought My Profile front and center — to the navigation bar. Here you can find songs, albums and artists you’ve liked as well as artists you’ve followed, all sorted.

And Some Other Tweaks

We unified the Follow and Like buttons and gave them the same spot in the middle of every relevant page. We don't want the user to look for it or even think about it.

For Artist Radio, we placed the icon at the top right corner of the Artist page.

Perfect Retention Feature

Now, the app is nice and clean, so let’s move to our retention goal.

A lot of inspiration for this project came from Nir Eyal’s book Hooked. Another great read about building habit-forming products.

We’ve been asking ourselves what can hook Spotify’s users. And how we can connect it with our objective of creating more playlists.

Here is the habit-forming map for an average Spotify user: The retention rate is expected to increase when more users start creating their custom playlists. If I already have all my playlists in place (for working out, for commuting, for the weekend, etc.), I’m not likely to abandon my music app without a good enough reason.

But the truth is most people don’t enjoy playlist making. This is tedious work, like organizing folders on your desktop or cleaning the house, and we only do it because we like thefinal result.

This insight gave us the idea of the feature that generates playlists for you, based on your taste and songs you’ve liked.



We present you with the:

Playlist Generator

Tap the Generate button and see the songs you’ve liked sorted by BPM: chill, sporty and so on. You can add batches to an existing matching playlist or create an entirely new one. As easy as it gets. The Playlist Generator can help users create more playlists, faster and easier, so they can build a truly personalized music library inside the app.



Bonus Feature:

Party Mode

And to wrap it up, I will show you another feature we came up with during our design sprint.

The Party Mode allows users to create and edit shared playlists. When the app is switched to this mode, the songs you select won’t play right away but will be added to the queue instead. Anyone who has access to the playlist can contribute and save it on their phones. A great shared experience for Spotify’s users, a powerful retention tool for the company’s stakeholders.



In many ways, this feature gives you the essence of Muze’s philosophy which I wanted to reflect in our fictional case study. We strive to design the most exciting and simple user experience while aligning it with our clients’ business goals.

summary

It was a lot of fun for us to redesign Spotify’s mobile application. Once again we’ve proved that every little tweak in the UX design matters: it can drastically change the user flow, help form habits (hence improve retention) and ultimately make a huge difference for your users.

I hope you enjoyed reading, stay tuned.

Eyal Talmon

Co-founder @muze - Senior product designer

Eyal has more than 10 years of experience to find the best solution for your product! has a B.des in Interacion Graphic Design from max stern yezreel valley college. Eyal has vast knowledge and experience in client side code, with that can bring a seemless collaboration with the RND and the product manager.

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