The lost UX of music

UX of music? What the bloody hell am I gonna start blathering on about now? Well, anyone who knows me knows how much I bloody love music. I was in bands, wrote and recorded music, idolised artists, studied music documentaries… Well, you get the picture.

So, time for some UX context. Recently, I’ve been re-reading Jesse James Garrett’s “The Elements of User Experience” and at the start he mentions how everything has a user experience… Everyday things like tables, chairs, frogs (was that in there?), y’know, stuff like that. Well, what about my favourite art form — music? What is the user experience there? Can we learn anything from it?

My personal, and old skool, experience of music

Being a child of the 80’s, I have the memory of music before the digital age. In fact, I remember when seeing a music video was novel, let alone music TV channels. Excuse me while I head down memory lane…

Y’see, listening to music was a ritual that you immersed yourself in. The first album I bought on my own was Automatic For The People by REM in 1993. There was nothing like getting that tape home, popping it in the player and immersing yourself in the album. Then, there was the added treat of going through all the inlay artwork, photography, lyrics, credits etc etc. It was more than just a user experience — to me, it was an event of ground-shaking proportions.

Knowingly and happily ripped off

The moment I graduated from music lover to all-out geek was when I bought my first vinyl. It was a limited/collectors edition, see-through orange 12″ of REM’s Everybody Hurts. Considering it cost me £15 (that’s £27.60 in today’s money) with only four tracks, you could say the record store has the last laugh. But the whole experience was totally worth it…

Here let me user journey this out for you…

Items to cherish

Discovering new music was tough. With no internet you had to rely on friends, the music press and, of course, John Peel and Jools Holland. However, finding that random Orbital single that had that specific b-side I loved — that could be a nightmare.

BUT, making things harder to locate made you cherish it even more. You had to put REAL effort into finding music. Mainly because there was absolutely no guarantee your local record shop would have it available.

I once traipsed around 10 record shops across Essex over 3 months trying to find a rare Kula Shaker single. In another case, I waited a month to get a delivery of Oasis’ legendary interview disc Wibbling Rivalry. This time, through super-geeky music-lovers Bible Record Collector back in 1996. I had to ring a guy up north, who asked me to send a postal order to an address, which I did, then I waited. After a month, it arrived… The sound quality was/is TERRIBLE but I still have it. It’s mine, and nobody else I know has it.

Needless to say, I loved the whole rigmarole.

UX of Music — Reprise

Let’s take things back to user experience design. What can we learn from this trip down Nostaglia Avenue? I suppose what I take from it is we need to remember that an experience shouldn’t just be about the main thing — or minimum viable product (MVP). I know that in a lean way of working, designing with MVP in mind is important but it shouldn’t limit your design thinking and ambition.

Music clearly isn’t the entire reason why I treasure the tapes, CDs and vinyl I bought back then. There was the packaging, the discovery, the research, the purchase process, the travel — all those micro-experiences combined to make music special. In the same way, I use Uber not entirely because it’s cheap. There’s also the fact I can see where the nearest drivers are, my wife can keep track of where I am, I can hookup a Spotify playlist for the journey and also the customer service is responsive and helpful. The cheap ride is the hook, but those other things, they keep me going back.

“But Paul,”, I hear you say, “all this extra stuff isn’t in the scope of the project!” Of course, I understand that it’s super easy to scope creep on any project. But a thoughtful designer should always try to consider potential opportunities so the product can really open up in the future. Be generous with your thinking and the product will be all the better for it. Plus clients will appreciate you’re considering them and their product’s future too. At the end of the day, thinking of the user and business needs is what us UX designers should be doing.

Funny how recalling the past makes you think about the future doesn’t it?

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