The world is a pretty big place. It’s chock-full of meaningful ideas, inspiration, and information — but there can only be meaningful impact if content is understandable, navigable, and digestible. Aside from the prospect of marketing, what really sets one product apart from another is its usability.
There are plenty of products that offer important content but not all have had equal influence on its target users. This can be said for music streaming platforms. There exists a multitude of streaming options available for music lovers but Spotify has stood out among the rest. Many different components, like its “Freemium” business model or extensive catalog, have come together to build Spotify’s empire, but a critical factor in its success has been its alignment with usability heuristics. Here, we’ll go through a step by step analysis of one of music’s largest streaming platforms in the world (based on Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Principles for Interaction Design):
Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
Spotify’s main player interface provides clear and intuitive mapping with song markers moving left to right on a darker thread. This shows the user how far along they are into a song and how much longer they have until the end of it. Shuffle and repeat options are also highlighted green, signaling the user when they enter each respective mode.
Match between system and the real world
The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
Spotify meets the user where they’re at with their “Genre and Moods” (GAM) feature. Instead of limiting the music search engine to artists, song names, or traditional genres, it offers alternative descriptors to help users identify what they are looking for in a more intuitive approach. The UI offers a grid of options with simple labels and icons.
User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.
Spotify offers clear navigation signals throughout its interface. Users can use a back arrow in the top left corner to backtrack, find the primary toggles in the permanent menu bar on the bottom, and easily identify what page they have entered.
Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.
Spotify offers great consistency throughout it’s UI. When choosing genres, it offers similar grids and call-to-action buttons with distinguishing color schemes and labels. Users can then browse each genre section having confidence that each page follows the same process and can assume the green button clicks to radio station pertaining to its respective genre or mood.
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
Throughout the song selection process, Spotify offers clear re-direction options. If a user decides they chose the wrong track or wishes to hear a different track, they can access a drop down arrow in the top left to go back to their previous collection of choices. If they select this option, their current song will continue to play (visible on a collapsed bar above the menu) until they pause or click through to another track. They can keep backtracking (via another back arrow on the top left) or if they decide they want to continue listening to their current track, they can choose the up arrow in the collapsed track bar. All of these options allow the user to navigate different options while uninterrupted from their current activity.
Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.
Spotify offers comprehensive “Recently Played” and “Recent Searches” lists, eliminating the need for its users to retain memory of their music selections. The app also recognizes music selection patterns and offers playlists and suggestions based on listener history, allowing users to find similar selections more easily.
Flexibility and efficiency of use
Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.
The library option offers a quick shortcut to all user playlists, stations, songs, albums, artists, etc. Users can wander about the app and save their selections into each category in order to access their favorites with just a few quick clicks. Much faster than manually searching and browsing each and every time!
Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.
The interface offers enough information to produce clarity for the user but minimal enough to minimize distractions. For example, the mood and genre page displays simple icons with intuitive labels and white icon art while specific genre playlists (i.e. jazz) carry icons that display only a photo and label (followed by the same label and number of followers). The UI sets clear expectations for each action item throughout the browsing process.
Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.
(N/A — I have never encountered errors whilst using the Spotify app. Even while intentionally trying to create errors for the sake of this analysis, I couldn’t make an error significant enough to suggest recovery)
Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.
This last category was one the one that needed the most improvement. I could not find a clear help and documentation page via mobile device. Though as a user, I have never needed to utilize such a page due to the simple interface — but if one were to require task support, it would have to be found via the Spotify website. Usability could be improved in this area by providing in-app navigation to the website support page.
Spotify is able to successfully share meaningful content by offering an interface in which users can access, navigate, and easily intake a variety of music and streaming information. Its use of consistent design, flexible options, and error management culminates into an app that is both functional and delightful to use.