Spotify: App Critique

Flora 원선 Baik
Mar 28 · 6 min read

Spotify, the coveted music playing company, has been getting a lot of buzz in the last year by going public in an unconventional way. It has gathered many loyal fans (207M as of the end of 2018) and they’ve made Spotify as part of their daily routine during their work, workouts, parties, and even sleep time. Their value proposition is to give users access to millions of songs, and their mission statement is to

“To unlock the potential of human creativity — by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.”

Based on my journey with Spotify as a user, the company is very experimental and aren’t afraid to fail. They constantly experiment what it means to design simply with complexity, embodied by one of their design principles — lagom or “just the right amount” in Swedish. This principle has allowed them to continue testing what is too much and too little for the users to have a fantastic experience listening to music. I am a premium users, so I recognize that there is bias to begin with.

Target Audience

Spotify’s primary user is premium users who need music to be part of their daily routine. This group of people is constantly looking out for new songs, artists, and playlists that fit their context.

The secondary users are casual listeners who listen without a subscription who don’t mind ads or shuffle play. (Spotify has a separate app for artists and I will not focus on that on this article).

Value Proposition

When I read app reviews or talk to my friends who cannot live without Spotify, it boils down to 3 words: Listen, Discover, and Curate.

Spotify is a platform that can give quality recommendations to users based on other users who like similar music. A user keeps coming back for new-ness of recommended content weekly that they add to their personal playlists. I feel like everyone is building their own music kingdom.

Information Architecture

Information architecture helps users find information and complete tasks. Spotify has experimented what to put on the bottom navigation for awhile, and this is the current version with Home, Search, and Your Library. The bottom navigation and music player floats above the rest of the screen and is consistent throughout the pages. Thinking about the 3 value propositions of Spotify (Listen, Discover, and Curate), the bottom navigation captures all three words well.

One thing that I noticed that Spotify does well in organizing and labeling. Albums and playlists are squares and artists are circles which provide a nice distinction throughout the app.

Consistency in text (pink) and inconsistency in text type (yellow)

Spotify uses the Gestalt's Principle to group things together and be consistent across Playlists, Songs, and Artists. White font for the main title than a smaller, gray font underneath for supporting text.

One inconsistency I found (yellow) is in the Artist section. Playlists’ supporting texts have information about the number of songs and the maker of that playlist, and Songs’ supporting texts have information about the artist and album. Therefore, I believe Artists’ supporting text can be explored to bring value to the listener. One suggestion may be signifying which artists have new music out to help users discover from Artists they already follow. I am not quite sure why “songs” is capitalized.

I also explored how they ordered the list. The default sorting for Playlist is user customized, while for Songs it is in the order of most recently added and for Artists it is alphabetically sorted. The Songs page may seem like there is no specific order. It is uncertain if this inconsistency in sorting details have been explored more thoroughly.

Interaction Design

For the most part, Spotify uses scroll functions vertically and horizontally for lists. And the title of the page usually sticks at the top while the user is scrolling up and down. Swipe up functions are used for “more info” type of content like Behind the Lyrics.

User Interface (UI)

The dark interface is very fitting for Spotify. It really surrounds the experience of the users because most music concerts and entertainment events take place at night when it is dark. When implementing dark interfaces, it is very important to pay attention to negative space so that there is enough spacing between light texts/images to pop in the dark background. If there were a lot of texts and clutter, competing texts and images will be overwhelming. Spotify uses negative space well.

In terms of color, bold and neon-like green is fitting for Spotify. Green is associated with stress-relieving and calming and adding the brightness makes the brand be more vibrant and exciting. Spotify uses green very strategically in a few places to highlight the most important things.

Places that Spotify uses its brand green and numbered in level of significance
  1. Playing songs in the playlist is the most important function on this page (Listen)
  2. Utilizing the offline mode is important for premium users (Curate)
  3. Knowing which song is playing within that playlist is signified by green text (Listen)
  4. “Liking” the song adds it to your library (Curate)
  5. Seeing which songs have been downloaded is important (Curate)
  6. Cross-device experience is seamless for premium users (Listen)
  7. Following this specific playlist (Curate)

Places for Improvements

  1. Adding a new playlist to your library is not a difficult task. Two ways to do this by simply following someone else’s playlist or creating a new one. However, editing a specific playlist is not as easy as it seems. For example, in order to add a song from one playlist to another, the user has to click on the “more options” button, tap on “Add to Playlist” option, then tap on what playlist they want to add into... one by one. This three step process must be done individually if the user were to add multiple songs from Discoverly Weekly playlist into your own. Deleting a song from my own playlist is also a three-step process through “Edit” button or “More Options” button. The curation portion of creating personalized playlists is not as easy. Exploring adding/deleting songs from a particular playlist will help users curate faster and therefore keep their music kingdom just how they like it.
  2. Force touch or long-tap option is not being utilized at the moment. Long holds can be used to drag and drop a song into another playlist or to learn more about the song/artist/album. A user can potentially discover more information about a particular variable faster and empowering them to own their music.
  3. Swiping options are worth re-exploring. Currently, swipe left is “Like” and swipe right is “Add to Queue.” I think there are very specific contexts in which a user would utilize Add to Queue actively (think parties, workout sessions, etc.) Also, it is not very clear what the Like button does to the user. It is prompted with “Added to your library” but which library is it referring to — Songs or a playlist called “Liked” or downloaded?
  4. A designated place where only downloaded songs may be helpful for premium users. Currently, this can be accessed under Songs and filtered by Downloaded. Adding a canned playlist called Downloaded would be helpful for those who utilize often in places with finicky reception.
  5. Explore how to connect listeners to artists more intimately. There are a lot of opportunities for Spotify to really live out its mission statement of unleashing creativity. Especially for up and coming artists or smaller artists, connecting with listeners may benefit both the artists and listeners alike. Something as small as allowing the user to set up notifications for artists they follow when they are having a concert in their city may help aid the mission.

Overall, Spotify’s app is intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and even fun — which allowed premium users to stay loyal through the years. Categorizing each design decision to Listen, Discover, and Curate has helped me critique this app with more focus. If you have any recommendations or feedback, please don’t hesitate to share!

Flora 원선 Baik

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Crazy about design systems that impact personally, relationally, and systemically.