Oct 11, 2015 · 7 min read

SoundCloud Curate

Project 3 came and went far faster than I had anticipated. For this project, I was grouped in a team of 3, tasked with creating a new feature for SoundCloud. Prior to this project, I had little exposure to the SoundCloud community and DJ culture, but with the help of my team, I quickly adapted and submerged myself into the world of mixes, transitions, and technical details of DJ-ing.

The Brief | Create a new feature within SoundCloud that allows DJ’s to collaborate live in an online setting that would be accessible on an iPad.

The Research | Our research was conducted mainly through 6 key user interviews with current DJ’s of varying skill level and mediums (ie: digital, vinyl, etc.), and current SoundCloud users.

We looked for users who were passionate about the DJ culture to ensure credible and quality responses, as we needed to gain a better understanding of how to define DJ-ing, as this definition varies from DJ to DJ:

“DJ-ing is telling a story, creating a narrative through a specific sequencing of tracks…”

“…but playing out a good transition fluently is a lot more interesting, and able to keep that flow going as well.”

“A DJ should be responsive to a crowd… and be able to take the mix up or down depending on the energy.”

“It would be a mix of a genres. It would be a conversation. One thing leads to another kind of thing.”

Conducting our User Interviews

Ultimately, we narrowed the term DJ-ing into three key components: (1) curating and/or story-telling through (2) sequencing tracks together, maintaining a special focus on transitions between songs, and also (3) understanding the audience by adapting to their behavior. Thus, we agreed upon the feature’s name of SoundCloud Curate.

From here, we carved out 4 personas or archetypes as a basis for our design:

The Content Curators/DJs

  • Zach, 33 yr-old | Show Stopper, has extensive DJ equipment and a large established fanbase — “I want an easy way to connect with my fans on a more personal level, and also collaborate with other DJs.”
  • Dave, 26 yr-old | BBQ DJ, uses his iPad to DJ and wants to mix with friends — “I want to mix with my friends, but I don’t have the equipment to do so.”

The Fans/Listeners

  • Jessica, 23 yr-old | Festival Enthusiast, is part of a core fanbase and attends as many shows as possible — “I want to go to the shows of all my favorite artists to show my support.”
  • Tim, 19 yr-old | Focused Student, passively listens to mixes out of convenience and has no vested interest in any particular artist — “I like to listen to music when I’m studying”

The Competitive Analysis | One competitor we focused our research on was Turntable FM, which sadly closed down in 2014. Turntable FM consisted of some key components we needed to implement into our feature:

  • live collaboration
  • sequencing of tracks
  • simulation of the audience, providing feedback for the curator

From here, we also identified why it might have failed to avoid recreating those issues in our SoundCloud feature. We found that Turntable FM had too many ads, had an overly literal translation of a DJ stage/audience, and a chaotic user interface, per the screenshot below:

Turntable.FM’s User Interface

The Design Opportunity | Finally, from the research conducted, we concluded that our main challenge was divided into two primary tasks that would need to be completed on an iPad’s digital setting:

  1. Functional DJ Platform: provide a way for DJ’s to collaborate and transition from song to song
  2. Listener Feedback: Allow for DJ’s to gain an immediate crowd response from their listeners

This opportunity was also particularly challenging as we were concerned with how we could translate a large and intricate DJ set onto a small iPad screen, without limiting the natural DJ experience.

We needed to be conscious of maintaining the capability to conduct the most important components of DJ-ing, while still respecting the freedom and creativity of the DJ to curate his/her mix as he/she pleased.

Designing the Interface | Working collaboratively on a team for the first time within UX was definitely a great learning experience. There were certainly a mix of ups-and-downs that always come along with working with others, especially coming from two past projects from which you were the sole owner of every step of the process. In this project, we were lucky enough to have one team member who was already well-versed in the DJ culture, which was invaluable in guiding us through our UX process.

The first DJ Interface

As mentioned above, our first challenge was in translating the physical DJ platform onto an iPad. On the left is our first DJ Interface sketched out, which we ultimately decided to scrap based on the quote below from our first DJ interview:

“On an iPad I lose the dynamic of being able to really control the knobs”

Because we agreed that regardless of how we designed the DJ interface, the DJ would have to lose some form of the DJ experience, we decided to move on to a more basic interface to allow for the DJ transitions, providing the user with a menu-bar approach.

Hashing out our ideas: the menu-bar approach for transitions seen on the bottom right corner
More snippets from our UX Process: Creating our “App Map” (on left), Sketching our first wireframes (on right)
User Flows and First Digital Wireframes

The Prototype | In creating our wireframes and prototype, we wanted to ensure some form of consistency between the DJ and Listener interfaces. The only difference between the two are in the DJ platform vs. comment platform.

The feedback portion of the interface (sitting below the “Session Name”), allows for both the DJ and the listeners in the session to see the crowd’s response in real-time. In the demo below, the DJ is choosing to apply and customize his/her fade transition into T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank”. The DJ is also able to immediately see when a listener has given him/her “Props” whenever they like a specific portion of the song or a transition, as in the demo below. When the listener clicks onto the heart under “Now Playing”, they are saving the current song to their playlist. Then, the DJ can also view the “Standing Room”, allowing him/her to see the crowd’s energy, as the brighter the orange colored dots are, the more positive feedback the mix is receiving. Finally, the listener can choose to maximize the live DJ video stream of whichever DJ they choose.

DJ Interface (on left), Fan Interface (on right)

The User Testing | We tested a total of 6 users — 3 per interface, and received mixed reviews. Some main callouts we received were in questioning the interface layout and in the functionality of the feedback and DJ platform. Even still, we also received equally positive results for those same features.

“I feel like the general info should be on the left side of the page.”

“Though I understand it, but the symbol for the visualizer is a little vague for its purpose.”

“I like that you included the feedback feature, so fans can interact with the DJ”

User Test (on left), Test Results (on right)

In the user testing above, a “Pass” was rated when the user completed the task on the first try, a “Partial Pass” was given when the user completed the task after one or two trial-and-errors, and a “Fail” was rated when the user was unable to complete the task requested.

The Second Iteration | To account for some of the confusion we received in our user tests, we rearranged the layout to make more sense for the user. We moved the “Session Name” section to the top left corner, reprioritized the location of the “Now Playing”, while also adding in song titles for both the current song and next song in the queue for clarity, and restructured the graph on the Pulsometer, as some users found the wave visualization to be confusing. We also updated the “Props” and “Boos” to “Dope” and “Nope” to avoid an overly critical environment.

Iteration 1 on left, Iteration 2 on right

Next Steps | This project was definitely the most creative and exciting project to have worked on so far. One key learning we had was in the difference between interface testing and flow testing, as SoundCloud Curate’s main focus was really in its interface, as opposed to its flow. As for next steps, we would certainly want to explore the following:

  1. Complete user testing on new iterations
  2. Implement more specific control functionality for the DJ interface, to allow them more freedom in their mixes; ie: controlling when a song begins/ends, add an “Activate Now” function for transitions
  3. Design a DJ interface for those who do not want to use the Curate interface, ie: for those “Show Stopper” personas who have their own extensive DJ set — this also presents a great business opportunity for SoundCloud to collaborate with companies such as Serato and Pioneer, who specialize in DJ equipment

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…dwell in possibility /

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