Music streaming app feature development
View a demo video of this prototype. Click me. Password: music
Expand the social functionality of a music streaming app (Rdio*) by enabling music lovers to simultaneously listen to songs with their close friends.
Music lovers who use online streaming websites and apps to listen to music and want to share this experience with their close friends.
The digital music market is moving from downloads towards streaming services across the world. It is seeing big gains in user and subscriber numbers. The huge growth of popularity in music streaming services — in which paying subscribers to subscription services grew from 8M in 2011 to 28M in 2014 — has proven that streaming and subscriptions are the mainstream models for the music apps business.
Music streaming allows users to listen to an unlimited amount of music — almost any song or album — for a flat monthly fee period. By count, the apps are copious; there are at least 10 subscription services around the world. Despite all the options, they are somewhat similar as customers need to pay around $10 USD per month.
Rdio, an online music-streaming service with ad-free subscriptions, has services in 85 countries. It is available in website and application across platforms.
Besides having content from the four major labels, Rdio offers social networking features for sharing music. Rdio is similar to other mainstream offerings like Spotify but one of the major differences is its strong integration with social networking tools. This adds another level of interaction and discovery of new music among networks by following others, sharing discoveries and collaborating on the playlists.
Research findings & analysis
Because many streaming apps offer the same basic set of functionality, it’s important to know what users feel is lacking from the overall streaming landscape. Are there any new features that would entice them to try one streaming app over another?
In order to offer effective design recommendations for a new streaming app feature set, I needed to better understand current user behavior. I wrote a research plan that asked users to explain their thoughts and behaviors when using music streaming apps — including which experiences are the most engaging for them.
I specifically wanted to understand how they currently share music with their close friends and if there is different functionality that would create a better experience.
After processing the data and materials, I pulled out some important quotes and facts to serve as key insights:
- Users are sometimes selective with whom they share their music playlists and listening history.
Although users are happy to share songs, the playlist is often regarded as personal and private. Those who do share a playlist are absolutely certain that their friends share a similar music taste to them.
There are two categories of music sharing. In one case, users share publicly for a special purpose like weddings, church events, or social gatherings. Other times, they share 1–2 songs on social networks with friends informing them about good or new songs.
Sharing is more likely to happen over Facebook or YouTube because it’s not always evident which streaming app a particular friend is using. Most users do not share playlists as they would like to have more privacy. Those who share it are sure that their group has the same music taste or have used that certain app.
2. Most users like the content offered by the music app and they explore new music albums rather than listen to the same songs over and over again.
Users also are interested in learning the songs their friends are playing. If they see their friends are listening to certain songs, curious users will likely check out those songs, too. This enhances the discovery of new content.
3. To keep users engaged, it’s essential to have good content and good UI.
Users prefer UIs with darker colors and ones that aren’t populated with too much color variety — creating a more sophisticated look. While some admit their current app’s interface might not be as good as that of others, the functions are pretty much the same.
Strategy and Initial User Testing
Music streaming apps are all very similar in their main functionality: they allow users to listen to music, favorite specific artists or albums, and create playlists.
The research made clear that users craved a greater social experience with their close friends, and I felt this was a way for Rdio to break apart from the competition. I created a high-fidelity prototype of a new feature set: one that enabled users to sync up with their close friends and listen to music simultaneously.
The new feature set included these components:
- A live, shared music listening experience
- Ability to see what friends are listening to, right now
- Collaborative playlists
- One-click sharing of songs, artists, or albums
I created a high-fidelity prototype to see how users responded to this new functionality; I’ve found from past experience that users have difficulty envisioning the final product from low-fidelity designs.
I found that users got confused by the wording. I didn’t provide enough threads for them to advance to next steps. And I also found that they wanted direct and clear options rather than hidden functionality. (For example, I originally had users long tap on a photo to activate music syncing, but they wanted a simple button to push instead.)
Sharing is an essential function that can be taken up to another level. Based on the user feedback I received, I wanted to create a feature that provided:
- Another way for friends to share a common bond and discover music from one another.
- The flexibility to listen simultaneously without messing up each other’s playlists.
- Enhanced ability to share via social media or send messages while listening together.
Since this is a proposed feature set rooted within an existing app, certain functions were kept so users won’t feel it’s a completely different app. I added my new feature — Music Connect — within the “YOUR MUSIC” category, directly under the “Playlist” option.
Know what your friends are listening to now: By tapping Music Connect, the user will see the current status of their friends. It provides an easy way to glance through who is listening and what the song and album are about. This way, the user is able to expand his or her music inventory and catch up on what’s hot among friends.
Users can also click a “Like” button as a direct reaction to support or agree what their friends are listening to. This was lacking in the original prototype, but added to enhance the interaction between friends.
Music Connect links you with friends live: Users click on the plug icon to invite their friends to sync music. Once the friends approve the invite, users are sent to the Music Connect space — where they are able to live stream and listen to the same song. This revision made it more intuitive to start the process, improving upon a previous design that had confused users.
Because users consider the playlist a very personal feature, this functionality was designed to not interfere with that. Instead, the space offers two choices. In the first choice, the person who initiates the invite has the option to add songs from a queue based on their friend’s musical taste.
The random queue, based on musical taste, encourages discovery of new music. And it allows the entrance into the Music Connect space to be more seamless; users can keep listening to similar music and not suddenly face a disturbing change of mood or tone.
Alternatively, participants are also able to drag songs from their own playlist to collaborate to the shared space: Tapping the participants’ photo shows individual playlists — allowing the flexibility to place songs wherever they’d like in the queue.
The top player helps to control the music status while users can also tap the disc to advance the selected song.
Should the participants like their collaborated playlist, they can save it by tapping the button next to the Music Connect title. This way, it creates freedom and flexibility in listening to music.
Listening to music together shows closeness: It is designed for a small group of friends rather than being open to the public. The participants can invite others.
The setting comes with a few functions that allow users to set the authority of the room. There are host or listen-only options that can be especially helpful when there are many participants in this space.
Share instantly when listening with friends: Double-clicking the disc icon will take users to the album. Here users are able to add to their own playlist, like it, leave a comment about it, and — most importantly — share it.
Users indicated in the research that they seldom share the whole album but rather only 1–2 songs directly on Facebook or Twitter. Friends who already use the app will get a notification — showing that a friend favored or recommended a song for them.
Darker background to reduce distraction: Based on the research findings, I learned that users prefer darker background than a white one. I tried to set the tone with different shades and opacity of black and gray with blue added, which is the original color of Rdio app.
Final User Testing Feedback
With designs complete, I brought another high-level prototype to potential users for their feedback. Here are some insights:
“I really like the interface as it’s intuitive and clean.”
“This gives me a direct way to know what my friends are listening now without listening to my own songs and me being lazy to find new songs.”
“…I shared it but they listened to when they had time; now with this app we can really listen together and we are able to see each other’s playlist in the real time. That’s cool.”
“I like the overall design and color. I find it interesting when I get into the Music Connect space and that made an impression on me and I can see my friend’s playlist.”
Everybody has their own habits when it comes to listening to music. Bringing different users onto this same platform and interacting with each other is a challenging task.
I wanted to ensure that users felt respected and comfortable with the features I was proposing. The feedback I gained from the first prototyping session was key in ensuring the designs remained user-centric. It is absolutely critical to incorporate users in the process — since a feature will ultimately only be successful if it meets their needs.
It’s unclear if this feature will make people listen to songs more, but I do believe it will increase the interactions users have with their friends and family. Whenever they feel like listening to music they have the option to no longer be alone.
* This was a test prompt for a portfolio project for a design class. I do not work for, nor represent, Rdio in any way.