Case Study: Spotify iOS App

user research / Usability testing / Redesign



In this case study, I put the Spotify mission to test to see how effectively users are able to find new music and generally use the mobile application. To test the application out, 7 ‘moderate’ Spotify mobile users were selected from a survey and asked to complete a series of tasks related to the different ways Spotify allows users to find new music.

Findings from the usability test include confusing terminology, hidden features, and an opportunity to improve the information architecture.


The Challenge

From providing a road trip soundtrack to work-out motivation, Spotify is one of my most used apps on my phone. I create playlists and search for songs constantly...but not much more than that. After talking to a few friends, I realized that many of us aren't using Spotify to its full potential. 

Spotify's mission is to "make the right music...always at your fingertips". What differentiates Spotify from other steaming services is the level of personalization given to the user. Through a discover section, users can be introduced to a whole new set of music that doesn't stray to far from what they normally listen to.  

I challenged myself to dig deeper into the app and evaluate how effectively Spotify's user experience is supporting their mission. Does the current organization and navigation scheme of Spotify's iOS mobile app allow users to access the right music easily and efficiently? 

**Note: I do not work for Spotify, the test results and recommendations are my own. I do not have full access to the user data and research that inform the designs for Spotify services. Therefore, I am not suggesting that my case study is complete or accounts for all the necessary factors that go into an actual Spotify redesign. 


user research

To better understand how most people use this app, I interviewed 7 Spotify mobile users. At the time of this study, 72% of Spotify users are 'Millennials', or people born between the years of 1982 - 2004. With the resources I had access to, I decided to focus in on that demographic and interviewed college students at the University of Washington ages 18-25.

From the initial research, a survey was sent out to a group of students, from which 7 Spotify mobile users were picked.

How many hours/day do you use Spotify on your phone? 

  • 1 participants: 1-2 hours
  • 5 participants: 2-4 hours
  • 1 participant: 4+ hours

In what situations do you listen to music on your mobile device? (Select all that apply)

  • 4 participants: commuting by foot, bike, or car
  • 6 participants: studying, working
  • 2 participants: in a social setting

What features do you use on Spotify that you don't on other streaming services? (Select all that apply)

  • 3 participants: download music offline
  • 3 participants: flexibility in music order
  • 1 participants: following other people
  • 1 participants: sharing music with friends
  • 1 participants: access to mainstream artists

With an understanding of who the users are and what they valued about Spotify, it was time to put the app to the test. 


Usability Test Set up

The focus of these usability tests was the see how effectively Spotify's design allows users to find music they like, enjoy, and want more of. Testing sessions were held in a campus library workspace. The atmosphere of this space is generally sociable, easy to get to, and a common group study spot for students. 

There were a total of 6 tasks, ordered differently for each participant. Counterbalancing the tasks like this avoided a learning effect, where a participant might complete later tasks more easily because they got used to the app during the first few tasks. By changing the order for each person, the tasks stand alone and could be judged as such, without the influence of prior tasks. 

For the sake of brevity, only the major findings related to the Spotify mission are shown below. 


Social features

Sharing music between friends and following other people plays a big part in allowing new music to become more accessible to people. Spotify has these features, but participants had a difficult time finding and figuring out how to share and follow.  


Problem #1: Follow Friends

When asked to find and follow a friend, 3 participants tried searching for people in the search bar and 2 clicked through each item in the navigation menu before finding their personal profile where their friend list was located. Participants commented:

"I don't think I'm looking in the right place"
"No I wouldn't click there, that's my profile...I'm looking for other people"
To follow a friend, you have to go to your own profile

To follow a friend, you have to go to your own profile

After following a friend, 6/7 participants expressed that they expect to be notified in some way when their friends save a song or create a playlist. Most commented that they currently get notifications, but could not identify what the notifications contained. 

"I'm pretty sure I already get notified, but I don't really check them"
"I don't see a feed of my friends so I guess I wouldn't get notifications"
"If I'm following someone, I'm obviously into or interested in their music...shouldn't I see what they're listening to"
No recent activity is shown, despite the friend creating a new playlist

No recent activity is shown, despite the friend creating a new playlist


Problem #2: Terminology

When asked to add a friend to an already created playlist, 6/7 participants expressed frustration trying to find a way to add a friend. One participant gave up on the task, saying: 

"I can't figure this would you even add a friend to a playlist" 

When reaching the menu of options for playlists, participants showed confusion between the Make Collaborative and Share options. After clicking on the Share option, 4 people questioned the difference between Post To and Send To, thinking that the two options may have the same result. 

"[Make Collaborative] sounds is that different than sharing it"
"Sharing it would probably post on Facebook I guess"
Two confusing options to add a friends to a playlist

Two confusing options to add a friends to a playlist

Even after selecting 'Share', there are two more options to choose from

Even after selecting 'Share', there are two more options to choose from


Finding New Music

The Discover page, reachable through Browse, is the main area containing personalized recommended music (another main way to find new, different music!), but it proved to be difficult to get to.  


Problem #1: Browse and Discover

When tasked with finding a recommended song, 5 participants used the search bar to find a specific artist, while 2 others navigated to Your Music and User Profile first. No one found the Discover page right away and only reached the Browse page after being prompted to find new music. 

Once  on Browse, 3 participants ended up selecting a song situated on the top carousal and 2 clicked on every tab searching for the keyword "recommended". 

To find recommended songs, you have to go through 'Browse'

To find recommended songs, you have to go through 'Browse'



Problem #2: Recommended Music


After finally reaching the Discover page, participants were left confused once again between two categorizations of recommended music titled Because You Listened to <Artist Name> and Suggested for You Based on <Artist Name>. Participants were not able to provide a possible reason for how the two titles are different. 6/7 participants did not complete this task because they did not end up selecting a song to play. 

"I don't know if those are specific to me, are there other ways to get recommendations?"
"I didn't pay attention to the titles, I wanted to see what was suggested for me"