Since its launch in 2008, Spotify has changed the way we consume and digest music. Their mission was to give people access to all the music they want, all the time while combating music piracy while giving the creative artists the opportunity to live off their content.
All the noise aside — They have done just that.
(***Update, no they didn’t. 82% of Musicians Earn Less Than $270 a Year From Spotify and Other Streaming Music Platforms. Being that Spotify pays US $0.00348 per song, musicians are trying to unionize. Check out Audius for artist-owned streaming services.***)
In this article, I’ll be conducting an app critique, while weaving in some exploratory research and personal use cases as assumed insights to recommend places for further exploration. (For this crit, I’ll just be looking at the consumers/listeners, and not the artists contributing to the platform.)
Spotify targets two different types of consumers.
Primary Users — (Premium Subscribers) who are the music listeners who like to stream music and are interested in a subscription service. Unlike the free streaming accounts, Premium Subscribers can Download music — Listen anywhere, No ad interruptions -Enjoy nonstop music, Play any song -Even on mobile, Unlimited skips -Just hit next.
Secondary Users — Free streaming accounts that have reduced features and, of course, ads. They vary in terms of size, type, and user engagement different types run as banners, audio spots, branded playlists, to name a few.
“Music Artists” are not considered primary or secondary users. They have their own separate Spotify Artists page that is specifically for Artists, Managers, and Labels and is invite-only via a distributor that is approved by Spotify.
Discover, Manage & Share over 60 million tracks, including more than 1.5 million podcast titles, for free, or upgrade to Spotify Premium to access exclusive features for music including improved sound quality and an on-demand, offline, and ad-free listening experience.
“The right music or podcast for every moment.”
“Listening is everything.”
“Soundtrack your Life.”
Spotify users become prosumers by customizing and personalizing their experience to their own needs.
Spotify forges a deep and personalized relationship with the consumer as they progressively choose and discover music they truly love, follow their favorite artists while connecting and sharing this experience with their friends through social media. Consumers of Spotify are no longer part of a large group of other consumers but become active contributors on Spotify’s platform.
Spotify has a multi-sided business model, with two interdependent customer segments that are both needed in order to operate: music artists who supply music and consumers who stream it.
Their platform is as a pricing strategy uses the freemium model. This means that Spotify offers a free music streaming service, but that money is charged for additional features, such as downloading the music or being able to skip an unlimited amount of songs. Advertisers play a large part in the 46% conversion of Freemium users into Premium subscribers. With Spotify being able to offer the first 30 days of a free experience with all the perks of a paid subscription, then have the user lose them all if they don’t upgrade, it almost always ends up in a conversion.
The trade-off all the Spotify consumers must make for access to the Spotify database of music is that they can never own the songs that they listen to as they are not able to download the songs permanently.
Information Architecture aims at organizing content so that users would easily adjust to the functionality of the product and could find everything they need without big effort.
As you start the application, front and center, you’re prompted on the homepage with the most recent listens on your account as a card carousel, then immediately followed by a “Made For You,” section of daily mixes and recent releases from artists you follow.
With a vertical scroll, The Homepage continues with recommendations for you based on your listening experience. All of this keeps fresh, and new music for you to discover as well as fall back into a loop of your most played tracks, by week, month, season, and even each year.
Once you get through all of the primary info on your homepage, you’ll notice the bottom navigation contains Home, Search, and Library as icons with descriptive text underneath them. There’s also the ubiquitous Settings gear icon in the top right corner of the home screen.
Each screen is consistent and easy to digest. If the purpose of the app is to Discover, Manage & Share as much music as possible for every moment of your life — then they achieve that goal.
Hicks Law is definitely applied here, as space is pretty well balanced given the large amount of information you’re able to get. As well as the law of similarity — shape size and color are vital in disseminating the information. In terms of organizing and labeling, Albums and Playlists are repped as squares, vs. Artists being circles. Subtle, but a nice detail of visual separation.
I can’t speak to material design as I don’t have an Android device but I believe that it delivers through and though with iOS functionality. The system is clear and text is legible, icons are precise and functionality moves the design.
Streaming music. The reason we use the app. It’s straightforward, the interface uses horizontal and vertical scroll functions. Taps will get you around the long way and swipe functions can get you around pretty quickly.
One of the greatest examples of smooth scrolling is in your library. Artists and albums have a vertical scrolling function for lists. As you begin to scroll through your library’s saved selections, a vertical slider appears as a control knob with up/down arrows that move with your scroll. Once you grab that slider knob, a table view section index appears on the far right of the screen, allowing you to slide quickly through the alphabetized sections of your selections. Its’ a really wonderful way to navigate quickly through your artists and albums by name, especially if you have a lot to search through.
There also is a feedback vibration associated with each section of the index. So as you scroll, A,B,C,D, they each give you haptic feedback to further communicate to the user where they are on the page and create greater accessibility.
As I mentioned earlier, the app maintains design consistency through the Law of Similarity, regarding their shapes separating the albums vs artists. The utilization of the Gestalt Theory helps convey these complex elements as simple forms and reduces the user's cognitive load.
The Spotify color language is very calming and evokes rest. Green, White and Black, black being a bit towards grey so it has a matting effect, contributing to the rest vibes. Green is sparingly used compared to what it used to be, and I’d assume it to limit low contrast sensitivity issues and color blindness being next to white, or against black, enabling all users to comprehend the content quickly.
The negative space being dark really helps pop every element of the background, leaving interface elements to highlight important content and convey interactivity. Motion is fluid and crisp. There’s the use of depth thru translucent layers, drop shadows are not present, but I can’t see how they could make it better. I very much appreciate how mindful the design team has been with designing on a dark background — is very easy to lead someone to eye fatigue if you’re not careful.
- My home screen has a lot of curated options based on my past listening experiences and that’s dope and keeps me as the user very much involved in my past, present, and future listening choices. Though, for me, my algorithm has been ruined because I had my account logged in to our studio’s Sonos. So every intern, assistant and client, and employee that used it now contributed to the algorithms machine learning — and it's not curated for my ears anymore. It also has quite a bit of “pop” suggestions based on what’s overall popular, and that doesn’t vibe with my tastes either. I understand that is user error, but I’d love to wipe whatever told my suggestions to include Nicki Minaj…That being said, the new releases for your section have a couple of artists that I do listen to, and they’re quite niched so I’m impressed with seeing that still come out on top. Also on the home screen, I noticed a Spotify exclusive section for content. While that might be nice to have, my first reaction to this seems elitist, but that’s just my personal opinion.
- In terms of CTA and visual feedback, one gripe I have is the audio player screen lacks active state feedback on the play/pause button. If the volume is low, or I don’t have my headphones in, or I don’t have my glasses on, I can’t tell if it’s playing or I need to hit it to play. That’s a small accessibility issue, but it still causes me a bit of stress for a split second and I notice it every time. I might be misremembering, but I believe there used to be the Green CTA with a bevel to indicate the active state… I personally would like to see that implemented here. A bit of haptic feedback could help too — similar to the heart/like button I mentioned above.
- One thing to note is that the user's playlist is a bit more difficult to navigate through for the seasoned user. I’ve been using Spotify Pro since 2011–2012, meaning that I have many many playlists, sometimes named something recognizable, and sometimes not. I generally know what year I might have made each list in since I associate music with what I'm doing at the time, but scrolling back and forth endlessly looking for one playlist that had a specific song I liked and don’t remember is cumbersome — I generally never find what I’m looking for. I sometimes save tracks as if I can as they come on and I’d like to revisit them, but look — 905 liked songs, and don’t really use it because after it gets added here, it dies here.
I’ve always made playlists, (and this may not be the intended use) by taking a track that randomly comes on and I like, I’ll dump all of that artist’s albums in a playlist. Then, I’ll let that play as I’m doing my thing throughout the day, and if I really dig a standout track, I add it in my liked tracks. I’m usually too busy to do anything other than add it at the moment. When I go back to the liked tracks, I never remember what they as my mood has changed (since music is based on mood for me.) They just don’t register the same once I listen to them again. If there was a way to sort the playlists by date, month, or something, as well as sorting the tracks I liked, I might be able to further deepen my curated experience how I choose to. This might not be how everyone else uses it though…
What have we learned?
So all this being said, Spotify has really created something special and powerful for the user. They’ve come along way from 2011 when I first joined, and honestly, I’m quite happy with my overall experience with the product. I’m a big proponent of music all the time everywhere, every day. Maybe I’m a superuser, BUT…
I also believe in owning music. I’m a vinyl collector. I like to buy tracks and albums directly from the artists as well, so I use Discogs and Bandcamp every month for my music budget. (Spotify is under subscriptions in my Quickbooks and Mint App.) I go to local record stores (pre-COVID) to meet folks and chat about the local vinyl-only house and techno releases.
A big issue for me is silence in between tracks. Every song that switches breaks my concentration, as well as changes the mood and energy of the room. Not ideal when you and your team are working on a project and you need everyone in sync. My solution?
Soundcloud DJ sets… might that be my next app critique?
“On average, Spotify pays most artists between $.003 and $.005 for each stream, in the best possible scenario. The company also appealed against better royalty rates for songwriters in the US while the average yearly salary of a Spotify’s employee hit $132,301 in 2018 — more than double what it was in 2011.