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I Love You, Spotify … Now Change

by Lin Wang
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By running Spotify through a usability test, one avid user was able to find some relatively easy fixes that could make for a more intuitive and rewarding experience.

I’m a big indie music fan and Spotify provides my daily soundtrack. I use it happily all the time, but, as with any great product, there’s still room for improvement. As a quick usability test revealed, people run into critical issues using some Spotify features.

My Objective

Identify the pain points of finding, organizing, and sharing music within the Spotify web application on the desktop.

Spotify web app

Current Spotify web application landing page user interface (as of May 24th, 2014)

What: Spotify web app

Who: Eight existing Spotify users who listen to music everyday, though not necessarily using Spotify

Where: San Francisco

Participant Selection

I created a persona before I conducted my user tests and used the persona to screen my participants. For example, I posted on Craigslist with the criteria listed below. It helped me filter for the right participants. Meet my persona, Nick!

Spotify persona

Nick is an iOS developer who loves music

Test Tasks

  1. Create a personal playlist
  2. Add song(s) to the playlist
  3. Edit the playlist and share it
  4. Subscribe to (follow) artists

I determined these tasks based on the essential needs of using online music streaming services. I phrased the tasks as open-ended scenarios to avoid leading the participants to complete any task in a predetermined way.


The eight usability tests were recorded using QuickTime. I reviewed the recordings, took notes, and identified and prioritized usability issues.

Spotify pain points notes

Notes taken at each session with major pain points reflected from users

Spotify pain points bucketed

Pain points bucketed according to user actions

As you can see, there are a lot of issues going on here and I am not going to address them all here. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the focused changes that could make using Spotify a more enjoyable experience.

Issue 1: Search Results are Hard to Filter

Users expect to be able to customize their search results. As one of my users said, “The reason I don’t use Spotify is that it is so hard for me to find anything.”

By running @Spotify through a usability test, I found easy fixes that could make it more rewarding

The picture below demonstrates that the user wanted to find a song that contained “tourist” in the title. The user typed “tourist” into the search bar, but the results were impossible to sort or filter. The user could not find the intended song.

Spotify confusing search results

How about we try this?

Allow users to sort/filter song lists by artist or album or even date of release?

Spotify design suggestion filter

As talented and respected designer Daniel Burka pointed out, “… users aren’t trying to sort results better … they’re trying to filter the results.”

In the case of Spotify’s filtering system (shown below), there are filters—such as “Albums,” “Artists,” “Profiles,” “Playlists,” and “Songs”—but the way Spotify lays them out confuses users:  they are visually too similar.

Spotify confusing search

How about we try this?

There is an opportunity to subtly differentiate these kinds of results that I’ve detailed below.

Spotify design suggestion search

Issue 2: The Tooltips Are Confusing

Users expect the “+” to mean “add to,” instead of “save,” “follow,” or “blank,” and Spotify’s “+” was confusing to my users:

  • “By clicking on it, I thought it would add the song to my playlist. Where does it save to?”
  • “Gosh, this is confusing!”
  • “Why is there such a function?”

Every participant clicked the “+” sign to add their first song to their playlist. Half of the participants still accidentally clicked on it even after they realized that it was wrong. This icon also appears to be “follow” and “null” on different pages, as shown below. The inconsistency confused the participants.

Spotify confusing save

When moused over, the “+” says “save” but no one knew what this meant or where the song was saved to (As of May 21st, 2014)

Spotify confusing follow

Here, however, “+” means “Follow,” which is confusing because it previously meant “save”

Spotify no tool tip

On the playlist page, this button has no tool tip, which is obviously not helpful

How about we try this?

Give the “+” icon an “add to” function, which enables users to choose which playlist they want to “save” the song to.

Spotify design suggestion add to

Issue 3: Why Am I Following?

The “Follow” button confused all the participants. Each one thought the artists they followed should be listed under the “Follow” button on the left panel, but they are not.

  • “Where are my followed artists?”
  • “What does ‘following’ mean?”
  • “I’d still just use Search to find the artist instead of using this ‘following’ thing.”

The participants expected the “Follow” page to show them a list of the artists they are already following. Instead, the page has only the three options illustrated below.

Spotify follow options

The Follow button on the left panel actually takes users to a page to do the action “follow”

How about we try this?

Add the “followed artists” section into the “Follow” page. Show news feed, tour dates, and merchandise information as a clear option. A design recommendation is shown be-low.

Spotify design suggestion

There’s no doubt Spotify’s current design is clean, but is it informative enough? At this point, could replacing icons with named features benefit the UX without damaging the visual elegance? As Burka reminds us: “Having to hover over a button to deduce its purpose is poor UI even if it’s super compact.”

I did additional user interviews around this concept and found a few problematic organizational problems in the navigation panel.

Spotify navigation

The original Spotify navigation panel

I also think the big buttons are more appropriate for the touch-screen devices, and a more traditional desktop application (e.g., iTunes) approach would make it easier for users to understand on desktops.

So in an attempt to bring more information to the surface of the interface , I made some design suggestions as shown below:

Spotify design suggestions


The goal of user research is to understand the target user’s needs and motivations so that we can develop products that they truly love. By running one of my favorite apps through a usability test, I was able to find some relatively easy fixes that could make Spotify even more rewarding for users. (The suggestions still need more validation and testing).

Do you have any suggestions for changes that could improve the Spotify experience? Have you ever run a usability test on one of your favorite products? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

post authorLin Wang

Lin Wang, Lin Wang is a full-stack designer and front-end development enthusiast who is passionate about technology. She loves creating user expereinces that make people's lives more enjoyable. She lives in San Francisco.

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