Cindy Huang
May 9 · 7 min read

Spotify houses over 40 million songs to discover and fall in love with. Still, myself and many other users fall into the routine of listening to the same music on repeat.

There are so many ways Spotify attempts to suggest music to me. But, often browsing through hit-or-miss playlists and auto-generated suggestions makes the discovering music disorganized and time consuming. I would much rather find music from a source I can always trust. I’m sure lots of work goes into curating Spotify playlists or predicting users’ likes, but algorithms cannot always align with music tastes.

People want to discover music that fits their taste, but it is hard because:

Suggestions generated by algorithms cannot match our wide music tastes.

Suggestions take a long time to browse and decide if we like them.

To find out more, I dove into interviews with other music lovers.

Understanding How People Discover Music

In my interviews, I learned how users feel about Spotify’s main features and how they discover music.

Key responses from user interviews

Every user said that they discover new music the most through friends and word of mouth. But, there is still a disconnect between receiving a recommendation from another source and going into Spotify to listen to it.

People also feel the most pain points when features are too cluttered, variable, or broad.

Actual conversations between my friends and I about music recommendations!

I discovered that people are most likely to listen to a new song if recommended by a friend. They have the confidence that their friend knows their music taste well. But, when sending Spotify links or sharing music in person, they still either

  • forget about them, or
  • don’t feel like switching between messaging and music apps.

Making Music Discovery More Personal

Based what I learned, I sought to make music discovery more personal, trustworthy and enjoyable.

Brainstorming

My friends Clay, Emily, and I narrowed down our brainstorming to these potential solutions.

  • Social interactions: message inbox, feed, groups/communities
  • Customization: testing users to better determine taste
  • Organization of Spotify recommendations: “Listen to Later” feature

After taking a vote I decided to focus on the social solution space. How might we make music discovery more human and intimate?

How Social is Too Social?

At first, I went in the direction of a full-blown messaging inbox in Spotify. I thought that if people can have meaningful conversations and a way to easily send music to friends who share the same taste, they would find discovering new music easy and fun.

Sketches of inboxes and conversation screens

I continued with different variations ranging from message-heavy to no messaging at all.

Explorations for a messaging inbox (left) and chat (right) feature

Though I attempted to find a way to emphasize the music being shared rather than the chatting aspect, I realized that this solution was starting to stray from the People Problem about music discovery. It also may be too dramatic of a change and doesn’t align with Spotify’s mission of sharing music (not conversation). So, I tested three different prototypes with

  1. Typical chat-box conversations
  2. Stand-alone inbox but no messaging
  3. A smaller inbox built into existing “Made for You” page
Pros and cons of three different prototypes

User feedback reiterated my new hypothesis. People don’t want Spotify to become a social media, but still want more convenient sharing between friends.

Option C places emphasis on the songs themselves by displaying them front and center. This sacrifices some of the personal connection to a friend since the friend’s photo and name are less prominent. But, it takes up less space overall and prevents the app from becoming too much like social media. The feature placement also fits with the purpose of “Made for You” since it is a personalized collection curated by friends for the user.

Still, a few people liked how B incorporated groups and focused on the friends. I combined B and C from above to create B seen below. For A (below), I enlarged the images for visual consistency which created space for the sender’s name.

After these iterations, a majority of people still value the music over the friends who send it.

I chose A to focus on the music and content.

Merits of Option A:

  • Distanced from the typical inbox/chat format. You can send recommendations without needing to provide a message for context.
  • Suggestions are only one click away from “Your Library”.
  • Enlarging the image emphasizes the music and is consistent with Spotify’s formatting.

Trade-offs:

  • Less personal, since suggestions aren’t categorized by the friend who sent them.
  • Doesn’t allow group sharing

Now that I settled on a balance of social vs. music-centered discovery, I explored the sharing flow.

Sharing music quickly

Currently, sharing music from Spotify requires three steps before choosing the recipients.

Sharing music to social media takes 3+ steps

In deciding an entry point for in-app sharing, I considered three options.

  1. Adding an button on the main screen of the currently playing song (step 1)
  2. Adding another row in the options menu (step 2)
  3. Placing it with other social media platforms (step 3)

Even though people are used to the three-step process, I felt it was too hidden and hard to discover. I decided that option 1 would be the most convenient entry point to encourage use. It also makes sense to have an entry point separate from other social media platforms, since this feature is part of the app itself. So, I set out to create an icon to indicate in-app sharing without dominating the screen. In choosing this, I prioritized convenience over possibly making the feature too prominent.

The most prominent entry point which has less steps for the user

What information do users care about?

Finally, I addressed the essential content requirements for music discovery. Users can view the most important information in the main page. But what else might people want to know or do?

One merit of Spotify is that it is quite visual. But, a long horizontal scroll could be hard to look through and play. To solve this problem, I added two new features:

  • Displaying more detailed song info below each suggestion when pressing and holding on the image
  • A playlist view of all suggestions
Pressing and holding on a suggestion causes the genres to pop up below.

When songs and artists are completely new to you, you don’t always have time to listen to each song and figure out its genre. This way, users can get an idea of the song’s vibes without interrupting their scrolling. I considered adding a button to view the genres, it would be too small to click and add clutter.

Next, I created a playlist view of all the suggestions a user receives.

A view option modeled after the existing playlist design

This allows for:

  • playing the suggestions in order
  • condensing the suggestions in a list format
  • searching and sorting through suggestions.

Though the main inbox is not sorted by friend, users can still use the sorting feature native to other pages in “Your Library” to do so. The filter bar also can search by keywords.

The two different views allow for (1) a visual, at-a-glance inbox and (2) a more organized and condensed playlist.

Visual Design

Horizontal scrolling and playlists already exist in Spotify, so I stuck to the existing design and UI of Spotify for Android.

Final Interaction

My final prototype is (hopefully) an option to discover music as we would in real life, by word of mouth. I also hope it would help people to get excited to discover songs they will love, and to simply remember their friends’ recommendations.

Prototype for sharing flow
Prototype for the rest of the features described

Looking Forward

In the future I plan to work on sharing specific artists, albums, or playlists with this concept. It may need re-modeling of the sharing flow and visual design, but would be a valuable addition. Spotify is still my favorite way to discover music, but it can always improve, in more ways than what I designed.

This was my first UX case study, and it was a great learning experience. I hope to continue to improve on product design, especially in product thinking, more explorations, and more advanced prototyping. Special thanks to everyone who helped me with user research, brainstorming, and user tests, and to Cornell AppDev for the learning experience!


I am in no way affiliated with Spotify. This was a case study for Intro to Digital Product Design. I would love to hear any feedback, comments or critique!

Thanks to Mind Apivessa

Cindy Huang

Written by

learning @cornell 🌱

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