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User Prioritization Through Customization: An Apple Music Case Study

Apple Music has come a long way since its early days. More than just music, it is now jam-packed with tons of different content: interviews, radio shows, playlists, lyric graphics, celebrity picks. Lots of options also means it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for. You can get trapped in a long scroll to the end of the page in search of that new music or interview.

When people like an artist, they want to hear more from them in content and songs so they can dive into that artist, but they can’t do that because they don’t know when new content is made and they don’t know where to find that new content.

Understanding the World of Apple Music

User Research

Through my user research, I found two distinct sets of users of Apple Music.

The Casual Listener. This user only uses Apple Music to download the music to their library. They prioritize the ability to listen to music offline, and they rarely venture outside their own library and playlist. They know exactly what they want and want to use the app as efficiently as possible.

The Fangirl. This user lives by Apple Music. They are constantly listening to music — to their libraries and new content. They track their favorite artists and watch new interviews as soon as they are released. When they find a new artist, they check out content on their “artist page” to get a feel for their work.

My task was to find the “sweet spot” to be able to design for both these listeners. I investigated what Apple Music’s competitors are doing to engage users with a wide range of content.

Market Research

YouTube. YouTube is a great app because of the variety that you can find on it. There is also a ton of interaction between comments and liking. However, you cannot queue up a video to play next, and there are also ad interruptions.

Spotify. Spotify has great playlist curation features to recommend new music. It also has podcasts offered in the app. A downside, though, is that Spotify is truly music-focused, and you will not find a wide breadth of content there.

Instagram. Maybe not traditionally though of as competition with Apple Music, Instagram is another way users connect with artist content. Instagram has a wide viewing audience and content spreads quickly. But, without a search function for videos, it can be difficult to find the exact content you are looking for.

Back to Apple Music

What I found is that Apple Music is in a league of its own. Unlike its competitors, it offers the full package inside one app. Users can find music, interviews, playlists, music videos, lyrics, and more, all within the walls of Apple Music. This is how the two users meet in the middle.

Apple Music is special because it offers something for everyone. With that, I took to brainstorm a solution for my diverse audience.

How Might We…

With the help of my friends Sammy and Lindsay (and about 200 sticky notes), I brainstormed some solutions to the problem at hand.

Brainstormed solution spaces

I focused on improvement in publicizing new content, customizing options, and testing new layouts. From here, I built upon the quick solutions and sketched out three ideas in low fidelity.

What You Missed. This feature is a pop up that provides a rundown of the new updates from users’ favorite artists. It helps users to track their favorite new content. But, it would be frustrating to close out of with each use, especially since the users value speed.

Artist Page Customization. This feature allows the user to shape their artist page to fit their needs. They can preference the order of featured content. When they want to explore their favorite artist or a new artist, they can view the content that matters to them.

Filter Function. This feature helps the user find more specific content in their library. Given that most users prefer to use the search function each time they use the app, this feature may not be used much.

Finalizing the Idea

After weighing the impact, feasability, and conducting a SWOT analysis of many solutions, I decided to pursue the Artist Page Customization. This had the best balance of impact and feasibility, was scalable to both types of users, and had the most room for some creativity and growth!

This feature was also the best fit for both users. The casual listener did not want their artist page cluttered with what they deemed “unnecessary”. The fangirl wanted a quicker route to the more exclusive interviews and radio sessions.

SWOT analysis of the artist customization page

Defining the Interactions

Once I narrowed in on the feature, I began to expand the design futher.

Entry Point

Exploring different entry points in medium fidelity

I tested three different entry points with users, and the feedback was overwhelmingly clear. No matter which page they were given, the user moved towards those classic three little dots.

Clearly, Apple has done a great job mapping three dots to mean “more options will be available to you here”. Though I worried the feature would be too hidden behind those dots, it was clear that (A) Edits Page was the best entry point for the feature.

Selecting Preferences

Exploring how to organize and select preferences in medium fidelity

The next interaction I wanted to cover was the selection of the features on the page. After conducting user testing, I found that showing all the categories at once overwhelmed users. Also, both types of users preferred the idea of “opting in” to categories, instead of eliminating those they do not want to see.

Because of this, I chose to continue with option (B) Add Artist Category. It did not overwhelm the user and allowed them to add the features they wanted.

Saving the Work

Exploring different ways of saving in medium fidelity

Another interaction I tested was the save feature. The users liked the option to customize the page for specific artists, all artists, or even just one time if they are looking for something specific.

After testing various prototypes, I found that users preferred the “preview” page to the “save” page. It was clear to users there were more steps to complete. So, I decided to continue with option (B) Preview Page.

Gettin’ Visual

After deciding on the interactions, I took on some high fidelity explorations to focus on the nitty gritty details.

Remove Feature

Exploring visual design of the organization page in high fidelity

I explored many variations of an organization page. Ultimately, I decided that usability of (C) Remove Buttons was the best visual exploration. The green add icon was consistent with other Apple apps, such as Shortcuts. The red remove icons were also consistent across many Apple apps. Though user testing, I found that those icons and placement were a clear and easy to use indication of removal.


Exploring visual design of the selections page in high fidelity

The selections page proved to be a fun design challenge. There were many ways to desgin the page, consistent with other Apple apps and Apple Music. The green buttons of (A), (B), and (D), while recognizable, did not feel as strongly in line with the Apple Music brand.

I played around with using checkmarks or numbers to indicate selection. The checkmarks were clear on the current page, but do not build a mental map for the next page. The numbers on the other hand would build a mental model. This helps the user properly use content on the next page.

I decided on (E) Pink Icon + Numbers because it mirrored other functions within the app. It also clearly designated the order in which the categories would appear on the next page. The pop of color in the numbers also makes it clear to the user that their selection was successful.

Putting it All Together

Final Flow

After explorations, user testing, some more explorations, and helpful critiques, I decided on a final flow for the artist page customization feature.

The full final flow

The Prototype

Here’s a video of the artist page customization feature in action!

Final prototype of feature


Ultimately, I learned that Apple Music listeners want to be in control of the content on their screen. They do not want to feel so overwhelmed by their options; they prefer a narrow but deep guide to a fully customized process.

Apple Music offers a space like no other platform. But sometimes that incredible amount of content gets lost on overwhelmed users. We prioritize the user by allowing them to reduce their page to only important features. They benefit whether they consume music casually or religiously.

After stepping through the whole design process, I learned a few things:

  1. Listen to your user. The words they say are important every step of the way. I thoroughly enjoyed stepping into the user’s shoes and digging into their thoughts and needs at every stage of the process.
  2. There’s always more to do. I found that even after I had done a bunch of explorations, I would always come up with more after taking a step back! I constantly found myself revising, revising, revising.
  3. …But sometimes you have to make a decision. Even though it’s important to iterate and improve, you also have to commit to a decision and stand behind your work. And I’m proud to stand behind this!

Want to learn more?

Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research — Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!




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Elizabeth Wardlow

Elizabeth Wardlow

Information Science @ Cornell

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