Wednesday, September 3, 2014

KEXP's Streaming Archive is simple and intuitive

KEXP is a Seattle, WA public radio station which broadcasts all over the world via its website and mobile app. Their format is consistent and brilliant - their DJs play a lot of the stuff I like including many new and old under the radar artists (Dum Dum Girls, Elbow, Adorable, Stone Roses). And they have weekly shows like Roadhouse (Wednesday night) which specializes in genres like Roots and Americana.

For those who miss any of the weekly programming, KEXP has a new feature - a 14 day streaming archive (currently in beta) where you can search the station's archive according to times, shows or hosts. This takes the place (if I recall) of an older archive feature which was difficult to use. KEXP, though publicly funded, seems to always be investing in the user experience of their listeners  - they recently redesigned their website with better usability and visual design and their iPad app is very engaging.

Overall, the streaming archive user experience is simple and intuitive. Navigating to it was easy - On Demand > Streaming Show Archive. And the options for searching the archive were very clear - by Time, Hosts or Shows and each of the sections has a uses a consistent interaction model. Select an item (for example, Hosts then Cheryl Waters) and it turns yellow indicating it's selected and it also expands to display additional options like show times where you can specify down to the minute where you want the stream to begin. And each level of detail you select also turns yellow so you can easily review what you've selected (yellow and black are part of their palette and they're used effectively). From there, you select a streaming quality and then click the Launch Player button which opens the player in another window.

The only areas for improvement would be...
  • The position of the Launch Player button  - I would suggest moving it to the right and the quality options to the left since that matches the work flow better (I select quality first and then launch the player) and
  • Reference the name of the host when I drill in via Time or Shows. For example, if I select a specific time for the Midday Show (hosted by Cheryl), I expect to see her name and avatar. If I navigate only via Time or Shows, see the host's name would help new listeners draw a connection between the host and the show/time and possibly encourage them to discover more programs for that host.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Merge's responsive design and adding items to a wish list

Merge Records is an independent record label based in North Carolina and started by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan of the band Superchunk in 1989. I got to see them live for the first time in September at the Hideout Block Party in Chicago (a great show) and may see them again in January at Metro.

Though I thought the last version of the label's site was good, the latest version is really clean and engaging - a lot of photography, large type and several ways to listen to music by way of Listen links and a Merge radio feature. And the site's built responsively which means it reacts and scales depending on your device's resolution - this makes for a consistent user experience from laptop to tablet to phone without having to download and install an app (although they already have a good mobile app).

Browsing and purchasing music on the site is also good. With browsing, the links to New Releases, Shop and a search box make it easy to find new stuff. In terms of purchasing (I pre-ordered Hospitality's Trouble), the overall flow is better than expected with plenty of feedback when items are added/removed from a cart, large buttons to proceed to checkout/continue shopping and a good step-by-step process.

The only area for improvement would be for wish lists. In order to add anything to a wish list, you must be logged in (sure being taken to a log in page interrupts the experience but I see why it's necessary) but when I wanted to add the upcoming reissue of Nixon's Lambchop, I was asked to log in but the album was not automatically added to the wish list. I had to start over (like the site forgot why I was logging in) and search for the album and go thru the process again.

Additionally, when I finally added Nixon to the wish list and continued browsing the site, it wasn't clear how to get back to my wish list later - there isn't any visible link to a wish list and i couldn't get there by going to the cart.

Aside from a few issues with the wish list, it's a very good site and I can't wait to see Superchunk later this month in Chicago.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Eton's FRX3 American Red Cross is intuitive, ergonomic

Who says a good UX can only come from digital music products? Eton's FRX3 American Red Cross is an award-winning radio which provides a laundry list of features in a very intuitive and ergonomic way.

Although the radio comes with a small instruction manual, I didn't need it very much (except for understanding battery life, charging options and Alert mode). For the most part, it's a 'walk up and use' experience, not needing any training for first time use. I was able to figure our most of the other features quickly and on my own.

As far as ergonomics, the device is comfortable and doesn't require a lot of physical effort. The knobs for volume and tuning are easy to rotate and large, with notches to make them non-slip in bad weather and in the perfect spot while holding the device with both hands (my index finger and thumb were naturally right there!). And the crank used to charge the FRX is accessible, simple to rotate with its handle on the end and lightweight without feeling cheap. It even has a cranking sound to give users some feedback that, yes, it's working. Other buttons for power, charging modes have large targets and are located on the front of the device.

I can't wait to use the FRX3 for our next camping trip or during a storm.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How iOS7 could fix playlist management

One of the things I love about Spotify's mobile app is how easy it is to create and manage song playlists. Users get several contextual options while listening to a song including 'Add to...' (below) which begins a quick playlist management flow.

So, what about iOS7 and music? Have you ever, while listening to a song on your iPhone, wanted to quickly create a playlist (say, workout, cookout) from it or add it to an existing playlist? You can't do it spontaneously, right on the fly, in the context of the song - you have to navigate away from the song, to Playlists and either create a brand new playlist or select an existing one, then click Songs, locate the song currently playing, click the Add icon, Done and then you click Now Playing to go back to the song playing again.

It just interrupts the user experience and doesn't match the model users have when it comes to playlist management. It's much more fun (and intuitive) to add a song to a playlist quickly, in the context, without leaving the screen - 'Hey, this MBV song would be perfect for that Thanksgiving party we're having!' Otherwise, without the contextual option, the song ends, the moment is gone and the party suffers.

I always thought this could be fixed by giving the users a fourth contextual option (see mockup) to add the song to a playlist, just like other contextual options (repeat, the seldom used Genius and shuffle) you find when you tap the middle of the screen.



That's right - Apple has always had other options for songs but decided to leave the Playlist option out of the equation. From here, users could quickly add a song to a playlist or create a new one, without the unnecessary navigation. I hope Apple adds this functionality soon - although the beta version of iOS7 doesn't address this. Until then, it can be done - just not very easily.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Slacker moves to a flat design

Slacker just made a major change to flat design (for the better!). Did they have a non-flat, skeumorphic look in the past? Well, it wasn't as bad as Apple's iPad newsstand or reel-to-reel podcast metaphor but they used plenty of gradients and even a speaker-grill texture (below) on both sides of the web app almost to suggest 'hey, this is a music app!'

Consumers don't need those cues designed to look like the real world anymore - they need a simple, clean design to communicate intended use of the product and that's where flat design comes in.






The new Slacker design achieves that - it's ditched the black and heavily-textured interface for a clean, white design with large, readable type and simple, pictogram-style iconography. Although, there are some drop shadows to give the UI depth, the overall look is well-organized and the flat design allows me to find things (like the Create Station and My Music features) quickly.

Not to mention the approach on the web is Mobile First providing only the most critical features on the surface. The user experience is tablet-friendly (large buttons and type which translate quickly to other resolutions) and simple. The mobile UI is so similar to the web that the experience across devices is not only visually cohesive but also leverages most of the ways you use the app on the web (similar controls, buttons, icons and type).