Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A site map for a music application

For the past several months, I've been working with the CHIRP Radio volunteer tech team to design a mobile solution that allows station DJs to plan out their weekly shows. At a high level, a DJ should be able to browse and select songs from a massive music library, and add them to one or more playlists, which can be used for their shows. The app also has functionality like the ability to read album reviews, view recent activity by DJs in the app, and review a DJ's profile.

A site map is an important artifact when designing any application or website. It shows how the overall navigation should be structured, can be used with end users to validate the taxonomy, and is helpful for developers as a companion to wireframes or mockups.

Below is a site map I recently created for the project. The highest level navigation options are lighter in color, while as the user navigates deeper, darker colors are used to represent those options. The coloring isn't necessarily a known best practice, but something I used to visually suggest the depth of the taxonomy. 

A next step in the process would be to create user flows, which illustrate the interaction between the users, the UI, and the system in the context of some of the major use cases for the app.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What made Rdio's UX so good?


On December 22, Rdio finally shut down its service, a beautiful, on-demand music streaming application, which didn’t do anything extraordinary when it came to functionality - they had discovery, sharing, playlist management, and a mobile offering just like their competitors. But it was the user experience that set it apart from others like Spotify and Apple Music. Simple, organized, intuitive, and mobile-first.

Clean, simple UI - Screen density is often an issue with music apps trying to cram every piece of recommended content and social function on the screen at once. Rdio's beautiful, simple design (with plenty of white space and good use of color and typography) makes for a clean interface so users don't get overwhelmed with all of the options and content being shown at any given time. Users notice important things like calls to action since they stand out so well.

Well-organized - Things are where you expect, including a small set of persistent navigation options on the left, making it easy to access stations, your favorites, what's trending, quickly and efficiently. Related content is also organized well. grouped together, and displayed cleanly.

Intuitive - The sharing music dialog leads the user through the flow, including all of the available options of copying a link, sharing to a social app, or emailing (with clear placeholder text) allowing the user to get the action done quickly. Users don't have to think about how the feature works.

Mobile-First - Sure, the UI collapses down to an iPad resolution very well but even in the web/desktop view, only the most important information and actions are displayed. For example, in Listening History, each row contains minimal metadata and all of the actions are bundled into an pulldown (since they're seldom used). 

Spotify and Apple, take note!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bandcamp's login link is in the wrong place

When an application is intuitive, it typically has features that are simple to understand. The user doesn't 'have to think' when performing an action, completing work or navigating here to there. Things are located and work as users expect - and this is based on their mental model that develops by way of experience with similar applications.

Bandcamp is a great site for artists and users. As I've written about here, it does a lot of things well including a great checkout process for users to purchase merch.

However, I recently found the login link hard to find. When I did a Google search for 'Bandcamp La Luz', I linked directly to the band's Bandcamp page and was able to add their latest album to my cart.  I then wanted to login to the site to see what albums I had purchased recently but I couldn't find the login link. I expected it (based on experience with other sites) to be located top right of the page and was surprised when I scrolled and found it at the very bottom near several unrelated footer links. Meanwhile, in another browser tab, I did a Google search for just 'Bandcamp', navigated to the Bandcamp home, and the login link was located top right, where I expected. Why is it located one place here and another place there?

The login link should always be consistently located top right. It's just where users expect it to be. By leveraging users' mental modal, you create an application that's intuitive, where users don't have to think about where things are or how things work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Apple Music UX - why navigation to settings is a challenge

In the first of a series of UX reviews of Apple Music, I focus on navigation, one of the most important UI aspects of any music app. When we talk about navigation, we're referring to a user's understanding where of they are and how they predictably and easily get to various areas or features of an app.

First of all, I really like Apple Music for several reasons: the pictures of artists and large album art, tighter integration with iTunes, improved playlist management on mobile, Beats 1, the potential of Connect and other things which I may write about later.

But when it comes to the navigation, the app suffers in a few ways. I've read (and heard) about some issues with the overall navigation model, that it's difficult to remember where you are and how to get back to where you were. I've experienced the same thing - but I'd like to focus on a few specific things I frequently use: a new option that allows a user to see only tracks downloaded to the phone, and general Music settings. The former is brilliantly highlighted by Jonny Evans in a recent article via Computer World.

For the new option (accessible when My Music is selected), it's really hard to find. I access and change this setting a lot - I like to download tracks right to my phone so it's important to quickly and easily get to that setting to display only what's on my phone. Not only is it difficult to find (it's located under the list view switcher for Albums, Artists, Songs) - it can take a lot of time to get there. Since it's located at the top of each alphabetical list, if I'm in Artists, say around Slowdive or The Smiths, there's no quick way to get back up to the switcher - I have to scroll all the way to the top each time. 

Another music setting I change frequently is in the general Music settings on the phone - it's EQ between Rock (when i have buds in) and Off (in the car since I let my car's EQ settings take over). Currently it's just too many steps to leave Music, navigate to Settings, make the change, go back to Music, etc. each time. It's a lot of work not to mention it's separated from other music settings in the app like the one mentioned above and additional account settings located under the avatar icon. That said, it just makes sense to organize all of the music settings together in one easy-to-find place.

Since Apple seems to be introducing more music options each release - I would recommend a Settings menu directly in the Music app. I would replace the avatar icon (top left) with a gear icon for settings, and combine the current Account options with other settings discussed above including all of the Music settings for the phone. It's basically about reorganizing things - a change like this would require small dev effort while benefitting the user in a big way, allowing him to predictably and easily get to these areas of the app. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

This Is My Jam - a well-designed, responsive web application

This Is My Jam is a music app that lets users share one song at a time with others. If there’s a song that you absolutely love right now and want to the world to know about it (which I often do), you can select the song, post it to your page and tell the world ‘this is my jam!’. Not only is the app’s value unique but the user experience is good, specifically when it comes to choosing a new jam. 

First of all, the app is responsive, slightly changing the layout of screens according to users’ device sizes. This is important because it delivers a consistent experience from web to mobile (without having to learn or download a separate native app) while the folks at This Is My Jam only have to maintain one web experience that adapts to users’ devices (that is, they don’t have to manage a web AND native mobile experience and all it entails). 

And this isn’t just some responsive web site where the content shifts around - this is a web application, folks, and it’s not easy to do. Web applications (compared to web sites) have a lot more functionality sometimes needing to support complex end to end processes, playlist management, purchasing things, etc. - much easier to achieve on a large screen. That’s why most of the articles about responsive out there tend to talk about it in the context of content and not actually having the user do too much work.

This Is My Jam does a great job of getting the user through a somewhat complex process - choosing a new jam, which has a lot of options along the way including search, multiple styling options, and previewing/sharing to a social feed. And it uses casual (not system-driven) language along the way (like a button labeled 'Yes, Looking Good') that resonates and fits well with the fun in posting a jam. Well done!