Introducing Ax

The first music application of its kind.

Ax is a free and easy-to-use music streaming platform, the first of its kind. I, Nareg Hovasapian, designed this in in a upper-division usability and information architecture course along with classmates Rohan Chhabra and Sienna Thomas. We took our idea and combined it with several design features that we found appealing from various music streaming applications, put them all together, and came up with Ax.

Gathering Information

Music is a big part of the average college student’s life. Thus, we decided to begin by interviewing our fellow peers about their favorite music streaming app. We wanted to know what others did right and try and emulate that in our own design.

Below are the list of some of the questions we asked:

Main Interview Questions:

  1. What is your favorite app to use when listening to music?
  2. What makes that your favorite app?
  3. Are there certain parts of different apps that you prefer?
  4. What do you like about creating playlists?
  5. What don’t you like about creating playlists?
  6. What would you like to see added or taken away from the playlists?
  7. What factors do you consider when deleting a playlist,
  8. Do you have a playlist for different listening mediums (earphones, bluetooth speakers, etc)
  9. How do you discover playlists?
  10. What type of playlists do you have?
  11. How do you define a playlist, by situation, mood, etc?
  12. Do you ever use the predefined playlists on the music app?
  13. Do you like or have you tried merging playlists?
  14. How do you use the radio playlists/live playlists and how often?
  15. Which tab do you go to most often when you open the app?
  16. How do you like the images on albums/artists/playlists and does it help you discern the content?
  17. Would you rather the search bar be global or have its own page?

Design Process

There were several difficult decisions our group had to make as we completed our final project. After our thorough interviews, the scenarios, comparative analyses, and competitive analyses, we received helpful insights about our audience and thus created our own music platform.

Global Navigation and Total Layout:

The first thing we did was create the global navigation tabs. We wanted to have very clear and intuitive tabs at the bottom of our app to make sure the user understood exactly what function or property the specific pages offered them. We asked our interviewees what tabs they used the most on their respective favorite apps, and they overwhelmingly indicated it was the tab that contained their library. Therefore we decided to put the “Library” tab as the middle tab since it is the tab position that catches the user’s eye first.

Home:

The “Home” tab contains more of a personalized page based on the user’s follows and liked artists while the “Browse” page would take them to several different kinds of genres and categories. Although our site maps of more current music applications demonstrated a mixing of the “Home” and “Browse” pages, we thought it best to keep these functions segregated in order to satisfy our consumer. We found that the interviewees could not really distinguish what the functionality between “Home” and “Browse” on Spotify, as to them it seemed like they were both variations of a browsing feature. Therefore, we decided to split the “Home” and the “Browse” in a ways so that they would have extremely different functionalities. If the user is looking to see what new tracks their favorite artist released they would not want to have to scroll through the browse category or even search for their favorite artist. Instead, they would be able to see exactly what was produced by those they are following, conveniently displayed upon first opening the application at the “Home” tab.

Another critical aspect we added to our “Home” was the social component between listeners, artists, and fans. At first, we integrated the idea of the drop-down menu on the “home” tab that could specify what the user wanted to see: their followed artists tracks or their followed friends liked music (Figure 3). This satisfied our “Exploring songs from artists or other users I follow” scenario in that the user can now find playlists and songs through a stream from the people they follow. We also created an option in which the user is able organize their content at the click of a button. Then we decided to further these specifications to make our app even more of an interactive and social experience for our users that would allow listeners to speak their mind and connect with other followers. In this way we decided to add the like, comment, and share buttons. With these options a whole new dynamic of music listening and sharing as well as playlist creating and managing is born. Users can get a feel for the popularity of a song or artist as well as reading the exact views and opinions of other fans and critics.

Browse:

When creating the “Browse” tab, we decided on horizontally sliding sections rather than the normal vertical scrolling page. There were several reasons to add these horizontally moving music genres including spacing, ease of use, and intuitive operation. Firstly, the our interviewees informed us that they didn’t like that the lists, such as the genres, charts, etc., take up the whole page each so navigating from one to the other means that you have to go through an entire list before reaching another. For example, in our Spotify analysis we noticed that on the browse page there are two genres per line so the user has to scroll through an extensive list of genres at only two per line, which means if they want to go back to the top they have to scroll all the way back up the list. By creating the categories horizontally the user can see more of their options and each genre is optimally visible to entice the user to browse on. The user will easily be able to use both horizontal and vertical scrolling capabilities in order to observe all categories and genres without having to go back to the top or back track. We included a “Scroll Down for More” box on this page to give feedback to the user so that they know there is additional information on the page. In our comparative analysis of all the apps, none of them provided this feedback, even in instances when it was blatantly needed. Additionally, on the Browse page, our interviewees indicated that they felt the images on the squares were not that helpful and they only look at the word labels to help make their decisions about what option to click. Therefore, we stripped the non-album squares of all the images and only kept the labels. We kept it for the album covers since the interviewees said that they preferred it that way. Another hard decision on the “Browse” tab was the groupings of Genres and Mood. We saw in our sitemaps that only Spotify out of the three apps used “Mood” as a label to describe a type of genre or category. Spotify lumped in “Mood” with their “Genre” list in “Browse”, but we felt that “Mood” was a little ambiguous so we changed it to “Occasion” and split it from “Genre”. The browse tab seeked to accomplish many of the “Create a Playlist” scenarios, as it contains options under “By Occasion” for the car, parties, homework, beach, and sleep. The user can quickly pick what their occasion is from our list and find multiple curated playlists from there.

Library:

In the library page we created a simple layout of 7 buttons that can take the user to the segment of songs they want to see. We made this simple because our interviewees indicated that when they are driving, shopping, or doing physical chores in general, they don’t have time to search or browse for songs. Instead they go straight to their library page and select a song, playlist, album, etc., often times barely looking down at the phone when doing so because it distracts from the activity.

Radio:

For the radio tab, our comparative analysis found that very few apps emphasized live shows and radio anchors, unlike Apple Music which made that as one of their points of emphasis under “Beats 1 Show”. Our interviewees said that this was critical to their app experience as they don’t just want to have a medium through which to listen to music but also an immersive live experience to help them keep up with the latest trends. So to satisfy our “Listening to a live radio show” scenario we included two categories of “Radio Anchors” and “Live Shows” so that the user can browse radio through that as well. We decided to do it this way instead of just listing genres and having the anchors/live shows within the genres because we felt that our way presented a more direct path to the social and immersive aspect of the app rather than burying it in sub levels. Other than that we kept the scheme and layout of the page the same as the “Browse” page.

Search:

On the “Search” page we decided to include a section that says “Suggestions For You” because of our competitive analysis with SoundCloud and Spotify, which showed that the “Suggestions For You” might help the user discover something relevant or similar to what they were looking for without having to search for it extensively within the app. A hard decision was how many categories of suggestions to include. We arrived at just the main three categories of “Artists”, “Albums”, and “Playlists” because those are the three most often searched, as our interviewees informed us.

Playlists/Songs:

The last thing we did was curate the playlist view and the songs. On each of the pre-made playlist pages and personal playlists the “play”, “download”, “follow”, “share”, and “edit” buttons are all front and center in order to make sure the user is never confused. The interviewees indicated that in some apps, such as Spotify and Google Play Music, the buttons were too scattered, as shown in figure 4.

In design, simplicity is key. Simple designs are more pleasing aesthetically and more accessible. It makes the search process easier, faster, and more efficient. There’s no need to complicate it by providing more than what your target audience. This explains why we sorted the description of the song under read more. To the majority of users, the artist and song name are all that needs to be known. One may argue that creating a ‘Read more’ creates an extra tab that extends the navigation process. This is acceptable, however, when it is made for a secondary function, such as finding out song information in-depth.

Being able to add playlists to each other is another key function of our app. When it comes to managing playlists, we decided that it was important for our users to be able to combine playlists with each other with ease. As music libraries grow, they require constant updating. When users sort through their music, they may decide to group songs into a new playlist, merge playlists, or delete playlists in entirety. Therefore, we put a ‘Merge with another Playlist’ option in our overlay (available through three dots).

Another function our application supports is editing playlists. Users have the ability to add and delete songs to the playlists they have created. We inserted this option into our three dots icon. Upon selection, an overlay brings up the options:

-Add songs

-Delete songs

-Delete playlist

-Merge with another playlist

-Rename playlist

-Edit Visibility

-Copy Playlist

A simple selection of “delete songs” brings up a delete function which allows users to erase songs that they do not want anymore with a simple click, which makes for easy playlist manageability.

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