Soundcloud — Reshaping the Cloud (Part 1)

Show me the Music

As a musician and active music lover I often find myself in search of new music. Having played music myself for many years I like to keep up to date with new and upcoming music both locally and internationally. I often find myself scouring through mountains of music across the net trying to find the next Arctic Monkeys. With the rise of online sharing it has become increasingly easier to find and listen to music of any genre imaginable. Platforms like Youtube, Spotify and Deezer provide avenues to find and share not only your favourite well established superstars but also unsigned, unheard hidden gems.

A platform I like to use is Soundcloud. This online social sound platform provides music lovers with access to an abundance of hit artists, new music and remixes. Users are made up of listeners and content providers (E.g. musicians). The array of users is described by Soundcloud as “a vibrant group of individuals with different views, opinions and cultural backgrounds.” With an audience of 175 million unique listeners and content creators uploading 12 hours worth of audio every minute there’s always potential to stumble upon a hidden toe tapper or head banger.

That Vinyl is Scratched

Although hugely successful I often find myself hitting dead ends and getting frustrated when using Soundcloud to navigate the site and search for music. Their lack of structure, limited functionality and inconsistencies in design create a disjointed experience which has often lead me to hit exit and open my trusted Spotify (Especially when it comes to the the desktop experience compared to the mobile experience).

As a result I’ve decided to examine the platform to understand the current flow with the aim of identifying a way to improve the experience by focusing on social psychological factors such as cognitive load, emotion and perception, grouping forms elements that make up the information architecture, and exploring the use of a common design language and content layout that all contribute to the overall experience for a music enthusiast.

Unearth the Sound

After having a good dig around on both desktop and mobile I have identified a number of key areas that could be investigated further to heighten the Soundcloud experience. For the purpose of this project I have focused on the mobile application experience.

Search and Filter

One of the main issues I’ve found is trying to find and filter tracks. The search filters are very limited. After performing a search there is no way to further filter content meaning users are required to scroll endlessly unbeknown to what they will find. There seems to be no structure with the results shown or hierarchy of information. Hashtags are used to categorise music genres. The hashtag genres are quite generic or overarching which makes it difficult to zone in on a specific music type or discover something worth of interest.

Controls and layout

The waveform interface is visually compelling but is not very practical. Some interactions with the interface are unnecessary and break the flow when exploring. Basic controls for manipulating audio have been replaced with gesture based interactions such as fast forward and rewind. Although fun to play with, is dragging the timeline of a song more intuitive for fast forwarding and rewinding or should they just use tried and tested controls? There is a lack in consistency with these controls on desktop and mobile and there also seems to be an unnecessary large amount of space used for each song which limits the visibility of the content and forces the user scroll considerable more than is needed.

Feeds, profiles and customisation

There is room to explore the possibility of social activity feeds between users, commenting and sharing related to tracks and artists they like, and also the ability to customise playlists and improve editing tools.

What song is next?

In the next post I will take a look at information architecture and see how principles can be applied to improve the structure and layout of Soundcloud.