We don't need to tell you that Spotify is a big deal. In fact … yeah, we thought so. You're listening to something on Spotify right now, aren't you?
It's cool, that's actually pretty good timing. We're going to talk about Spotify today, or more accurately, we're going to share with you a professional UX and UI (that's User Experience and User Interface, respectively) designer's thoughts on how Spotify is designed.
Xintong Liu is a veteran designer who has racked up credits with some of the most well-known and design-forward companies in the world: Microsoft and Apple, to be specific.
Oh yeah, and Liu has also done a whole bunch of pro bono work throughout the pandemic for minority-owned small businesses.
We recently asked Liu all about Spotify. We wanted to know what she thought about how the service is designed across its various iterations (browser version, app, desktop), and the results are fascinating.
If you're interested in design, this interview is for you. If you're only vaguely interested in design but you use Spotify a lot, this interview is also for you.
You'll learn more about design and also get some educated guesses about the reasoning behind specific design decisions.
No platform is perfect, of course, so Liu also shared some comments on specific areas where Spotify's design could be improved.
Thanks for joining us and enjoy the interview! Just keep scrolling down, you can't miss it.
Jam Addict (JA): We'd like you to give some opinions on the overall UI and UX of Spotify. What are your general impressions?
Xintong Liu (XL): Spotify’s application has a unique use scenario and requirements. It is one of the few applications that people use while they are multitasking. Each scenario requires a unique design.
For at-home use, Spotify’s application provides the most categorized information. All the information listed on the front page of the Spotify application are playlists, instead of individual songs. The designer believes that the best practice is to keep users engaged and on the application longer.
Once the user finishes a song, they tend to listen to other songs in a similar genre. For outdoor use, although the design is the same as at-home use, you can find evidence that the designer has thought about what the users need in this scenario. Users who use it outdoors are often walking or exercising. Their goal is to quickly find playlists that are similar to what they listen to while at home.
Therefore, in the search feature, instead of just focusing on the search bar, they have many recommendations, including “Your Top Genres.” It is a very convenient feature/design that users don’t have to think much while choosing a playlist because they know they'll like it, based on what they've listened to before.
Use while driving is very different. Driving is a task where users need maximum attention on the road. Side tasks, such as changing a song, could mean a life or death situation for users.
Therefore, Spotify’s design greatly simplifies its design and look for the driving mode and only lets users select their recently played songs.
All in all, Spotify’s designers have done a brilliant job on platform and feature design. They not only keep users in the app, but also care about each use case and scenario.
JA: Do you think navigation on Spotify is smooth?
XL: Simplicity is what makes Spotify stand out. The main nav bar of Spotify only has three tabs: Home, Search, and Your Library. The bottom navigation and music player floats above the rest of the screen and is consistent throughout the pages.
It helps reduce cognition load for users when they make a decision, and this makes it easy to navigate the functionality of the app. If you look at other music apps on the market, most of them have four or five tabs in the navigation bar, which adds more layers for users to choose from and makes the app more complicated.
JA: What about Spotify's color scheme? Do you think it aids UX overall?
XL: 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's dark.
When implementing dark interfaces, it's 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 was a lot of text and clutter, competing text and images would be overwhelming.
Spotify uses negative space well. In terms of color, bold, neon-like green is fitting for Spotify. Green is associated with stress relief, and adding brightness makes the brand more vibrant and exciting. Spotify uses green very strategically in a few places to highlight the most important things.
JA: What is one of the biggest things you would change about Spotify's UI?
XL: I would focus on improving user experience and community building. Currently, the Share function is limited. If you find a song you like and want to share with your friends, the app will direct you to third-party messaging or social media apps instead of letting you share within the app.
From a business and user experience perspective, the last thing you want to do is to send your users to other places. The music community is huge and it’s growing really fast. If Spotify can leverage the connection from the music community and let users connect and communicate with each other within the app, they will see more user retention and loyalty. Users will have a more unified and cohesive experience in one place and feel a sense of belonging.
JA: What do you think the top priorities should be when designing a music streaming app?
XL: Content first. When users open a music streaming app, their primary goal is very straightforward: listen to music. Therefore, when designing a music streaming app, the top priority should be to allow users to access the content easily and intuitively.
JA: What do you see as potential sources of frustration in Spotify's design?
XL: Adding a new playlist to your library is not a difficult task. However, editing a specific playlist is not as easy as it seems.
Right now, there is no function for users to edit or customize a specific playlist. The workaround is that users need to create their own list and add songs one by one. If I find a playlist I like and want to add a few more songs to that list, I don’t have the option to do that. Creating a "duplicate the playlist” feature could potentially help reduce user frustration.
JA: Do you think the mobile version of Spotify is better or worse to use than the desktop or browser versions?
XL: I think Spotify has done a great job to create a responsive design for their app. The UI design is consistent, which makes it easy for users to navigate when they hop to and from different devices.
Since the desktop and browser versions have more space than mobile, Spotify wisely uses that additional space for the features that they have to hide in mobile, such as more controls for the music player, friend activities, and playlists.
Note: Screen captures of Spotify included in this article have been altered slightly to protect the privacy of the journalist.
Hey there, welcome to the site. We're talking about how to market your music independently, which can be a real challenge.
We're going to lay out several key tips that should help you attract more attention to your music, even if you're starting out with zero fans, and hey, that's how we all get started.
Success doesn't come overnight, well, except for when it does. But most of the time, you'll really have to work to make a name for yourself in the music industry.
So let's get going, and if you want to read more about becoming a pro musician, we've got all kinds of great stuff here on the site.
Social media marketing is a massive topic, and there are entire companies that specialize in social media marketing at this point, but you don't need any funding or expertise to get started with it.
The very first step is to create some social media profiles, which is completely free. In fact, Instagram even lets users create business accounts for no charge, which gives extra metrics and some additional features that you'll probably find helpful down the road.
Right away, we need to talk about branding. You've probably heard the word a million times by now. Executing successful branding on social media could give you a huge boost.
With music especially, new fans want to know exactly what they're getting into. It would be great if everyone carefully listened to your entire catalog, but that's just not what happens most of the time.
Ask yourself this question: when you're looking at a new artist on Spotify or YouTube or Apple Music, how do you know whether or not you like what they're doing? How do you know whether you want to learn more about them?
Sure, you probably listen to a bit of their most popular songs, but other branding elements like photos and bio information probably catch your attention, too, and they affect how you perceive each artist.
You need some quality photos that capture the image you want to present to the world. You can have these done professionally or go for a more DIY look if that suits your branding better.
Similarly, your bio information should be bold and reflect the style of music you're creating.
Ok, you don't need to release an album every month or anything like that, but having some kind of catalog for listeners to dig into can be a big help, especially if your style has changed recently.
Releasing music even somewhat consistently gives listeners a roadmap of your style and how it's evolved over time.
New releases should also trigger notifications for people who are already following you, and in terms of attracting new listeners, your latest tracks will show up in some sort of recent releases category, depending on each platform, for other listeners to discover.
Also, releasing new music is kind of like Battleship: the more shots your fire, the better your chances are of getting a hit.
You never know when a particular track is really going to connect with people or go viral, which can then bring in a lot more people who want to check out your work.
Now, you shouldn't just release absolutely anything you have sitting around on your hard drive, but finishing tracks and entire albums is a good habit to create at the start.
Make friends? Is that really a marketing tip? Yeah, we know, it might sound more like social advice than career advice, but in music, these two things can definitely go together.
Wherever you are, there is a musical community in your area, and even though musicians are technically competing with each other, you'll probably find that a lot of musicians like hanging out with each other and maybe even working with each other.
Making musical friends is networking, on top of forming genuine friendships. A buddy might ask you to sit in on a studio session or come along and play for a few gigs.
Who knows? You might form a whole new band with some musical friends. There are so many possibilities to get your name out there and become creatively stimulated by what other artists are doing.
So get out there and make some friends!
One of the best analog ways to market yourself as an independent musician is through simple word-of-mouth.
This word-of-mouth might come from playing live shows, making those musical friends we were just talking about, or even just working as a studio musician, which pays well and also makes it easier to do some networking.
Musician Lio Mori, who describes himself as a nomad crypto-musician, producer, and composer, has created massively different kinds of music, including reggae, folk, hip-hop, and grindcore.
Always dedicated to following his musical instincts into new sonic territories, Mori knows exactly what it's like to be an indie musician trying to get his name out there.
He's been making music, sounds, and noise since the nineties, so he remembers when word-of-mouth was one of the only ways to promote yourself.
"Before the internet, word-of-mouth was the best way to market yourself. It's not the only option anymore, but it can definitely still help new artists get a reputation going."
All of the other tips we've talked about in this article can help to generate that word-of-mouth, but of course one of the best things you can do when people start saying good things about your music is to take advantage of that momentum.
When you're working in a creative field, especially at the start of your career, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to stay enthusiastic and motivated.
But whether you're making a name for yourself or still trying to get your first album off the ground, it's important to keep moving.
Stay dedicated to your music and never stop being your own biggest fan. When you present confidence in your musical vision, or during interactions with potential fans, people will take notice.
If you are making some headway and your fanbase is steadily growing, take some time to acknowledge your progress.
When you actively appreciate all the work you've done so far and what you've accomplished, it will be easier to stay motivated and keep working hard.
Of course, breaks are important, and over-working can cause many more problems than it solves, but if you prove that you're devoted to music, it can be very beneficial to your brand.
We hope that we've helped you out a bit with these tips, and we hope that you'll find the audience that your music has always deserved.
Music has a long history of contributing in some way to major social movements, and on a smaller scale, music can help listeners cope with difficult times and find strength through their favorite songs and artists.
But it's rare that the professionals working with musicians behind the scenes recognize this potential for positive social impact.
Paula Park, however, has always known that there were countless opportunities for artists and their music to make things better, even if only in a small way.
Park has found innovative and interesting ways to integrate positive social impact with her music industry work, including putting on pop-up shows that benefit nonprofits and having artists bring further awareness to organizations and causes they're genuinely passionate about.
Park's background is impressive, as she has worked in many different aspects of the music industry, supporting artists as an accounts executive, copyright analyst, artist development consultant, and marketing manager.
She has worked directly with Scooter Braun, Music Reports, Universal Music Brazil, and she is currently working with big-name recording artists like Lucy Park and Benjamin Carter.
You'll find our full interview with Park below.
Jam Addict (JA): You've mentioned your passion for social impact. Can you describe the relationship between music and social impact?
Paula Park (PP): There is so much to this, but to put it simply: in my opinion, social impact is driven and triggered by an intense emotional connection, and I really believe music and artists are key players in creating that effect.
For instance, try to think about a major social movement that isn’t accompanied by artists/music at the center of it all. I think music is uniquely efficient in carrying out a message whilst creating and deepening an emotional connection. It can inspire thought, trigger action, influence behavior, and thus, shape culture.
And as such, it is a powerful protest, advocacy, and social advancement tool. On top of that, in today’s digital age, the power of music is even greater as the artist-audience relationship adds another dimension to its potential social/cultural influence. I truly believe that artists are this generation’s ultimate influencers.
There’s an unmatched level of proximity, aspiration, and trust that fans have towards their favorite artists. And this aspirational aspect of artists combined with the emotional connection their music creates enables them to influence their audiences in a much more effective and continuous way than most leaders and activists.
All of this provides an immense opportunity for artists to utilize their craft and/or their platform to advocate for things they are passionate about and to call on social engagement like never before.
JA: When did you first start to acknowledge this connection?
PP: This is going to sound super cheesy, but I remember coming across “We are the World” on the internet when I was a kid, which is probably the most straightforward example someone could give of music and social impact working together.
But that was in fact probably the first time I saw artists collaborating to fundraise money for a very specific cause. Soon after, as a teenager, in my history classes, I learned more about how music helped lead changes in the world. I learned about the Civil Rights movement, the hippie movement here in the US, and about Brazilian artists who had to live in exile for years while Brazil was under a dictatorship regime because they were politically vocal.
I remember constantly reflecting on the weight and power that music has had throughout history and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I was absolutely fascinated by artists like Sam Cooke and Chico Buarque.
JA: How has this passion for social impact played a role in your work?
PP: To be honest, I always thought social impact and my career were going to be two separate worlds. Ever since I was 13, I started fundraising for causes and volunteering at nonprofits, yet I never found a way to integrate it into my work.
It wasn’t until I interned at Scooter Braun Projects, and then got to briefly assist on social impact projects under Shauna Nep that I saw these worlds colliding. It was one of those brain-exploding moments for sure.
One of the million things under Shauna’s department is to find philanthropic opportunities for artists on tour. This allows artists to expose their millions of fans to causes/issues that might have been flying under their radar and have a high call to action conversion.
For the past four years, I’ve worked with emerging and established artists at big companies and small startups in various departments. As a young professional in this industry, I have tried to take on as many opportunities as possible, and I am happy I got to explore different sectors of the industry.
But a shift happened recently. I feel like the experimental phase is over, and I am now more confident about my place in this industry. So I started being a lot more selective about the projects I get involved in. Being passionate about giving back and making this world better, being kind and empathetic, socially-driven and purpose-filled are game-changers for me.
This is because, at the end of the day, I am the person who will try to tie in a nonprofit partnership to any given project, and I want everybody’s heart to be in it, too. Creating a mission-driven project that speaks to my artists’ passion is 100% my favorite thing to do on the planet.
Propelling their careers whilst raising awareness, giving back, and putting amazing creative projects out there is truly what I want my legacy to be.
JA: Have you gotten to work with artists who share this passion?
PP: Yes, it took a while for me to find them, but thankfully, all the artists I currently work with share this passion. I will shout out two artists that have been openly active in the social impact space: Benjamin Carter and Lucy Park.
Ben is one of those artists who really deeply cares. He always welcomes social impact project ideas and takes initiative himself. His latest merch line was called “Inspired by Strong Black Women” and part of the proceeds went to benefit a nonprofit founded by two black women, called “STRETCH for Women” that advocates for mental health and gives away one month of free therapy sessions to women.
Another artist I am honored to work with is Lucy Park. As part of the After Dinner Records crew, Lucy headlined a series of summer pop-up concerts that benefited both Oxygen for India and the Red Cross this past summer.
JA: Do you think music has played an important role during the pandemic?
PP: Oh yes. At least for me, listening to music was instrumental in aiding my mental health and my ability to process how challenging things got during the pandemic.
Music got me through moments of feeling isolated, of hopelessness, of feeling like I hit rock bottom, of laziness to complete yet another one of those boring home workouts, and also of joy and memorable romantic dinners at home. And as the soundtrack to the most complicated year of my life, it helped move everything along.
JA: What has been one of the most inspiring projects you've worked on?
PP: The most inspiring project I have ever worked on was a short documentary called “Mud Refugees”. The project aimed to raise awareness and money to help victims of this environmental disaster that happened in Brazil: a mining dam collapsed, generating this tsunami of toxic mud that traveled for over 400 miles and buried three entire villages.
Through this project, we successfully raised enough money to cover basic expenses like utilities and food for all of the five main characters for the duration of one year. This whole project came about because I was approached to co-produce a song honoring the victims of this disaster, back when I was still running a music collective called Mais55.
During the production of the song, I felt so impacted by everything I had learned, I knew I had to help these people somehow. As I met with these victims, it was clear that they feared being silenced and forgotten. So “Mud Refugees” came about with the intention to raise awareness and provide them with a platform to use their voices and share their stories, though it ended up doing so much more than that. It's crazy to see how one musical project enabled so much change, even if it was just on a local level.
JA: Can you tell us about some of your current projects?
PP: There is a lot I can’t share because it would ruin my artists’ release plans and surprises, as we are all working on projects for 2022. But I will say that Benjamin Carter, Mirella Costa, Lucee, and Lucy Park are all about to release amazing projects, so stay tuned and go follow them or check them out if you haven’t yet!
Aside from that, I am working on a project that consists of monthly live stream benefit concerts to be launched in mid-2022.