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Showing posts from 2009

The selection model of Lala

Lala is an online music service that, among other things, lets you create a free collection of music matching the songs you have on your hard drive. That means you can play all of your own music wherever you have access to Lala. Although the site has a clean design with some great features, it is missing some important functionality which impacts the overall user experience.

The music player is fixed on the top of the screen so if if you're reading a long, scrolling bio page, the player controls are always visible. On the homepage, the call to action of searching for an artist is prominent and the search feature uses autocomplete, listing results really quickly.

But the site lacks important functionality. While looking at the new Flaming Lips album, The only way to add the 18 songs to my collection was by using an 'add' button on each row. The screen does not provide a way to multi-select songs or 'select all', an efficient way to add multiple songs. However, when br…

Google's music search results

Google has recently changed the way they list their music search results. Now, when you type in the name of an artist, the first result is a list of playable songs with links to purchase them and view artist details. The new feature is useful and engaging and gives users a preview of music without having to navigate to different sites. The 'Listen on' links took me where I expected including Pandora which brought me directly to the artist bio page. This is a great feature which improves the experience of searching for music.

Interactive learning at Experience Music Project

Experience Music Project is a music museum located in Seattle. A few steps from the Space Needle, visitors can learn about music history and instruments by way of well-designed, interactive exhibits.

The 'Northwest Passage' chronicles music in the Pacific Northwest from early jazz in the 30s to more recent artists Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Sleater-Kinney. Video interviews, concert footage and listening stations are available along the way.

The 'Jimi Hendrix Experience' has an interactive timeline, large monitors showing video, ipod listening stations (built into side tables at the edge of a couch) and a soundboard station where you can learn how to mix music (above). The station intuitively combines a touchscreen and hard buttons that make learning easy.

The 'Sound Lab' has a variety of real instruments kids and adults can play by way of audio and simple on-screen instruction and 'Spaced Out', a collection sci-fi album cover art also has a theremin you can p…

Modest Mouse focuses the user's attention

Modest Mouse has a new collection of B-sides from their past two releases (Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank). On their web site, you can listen to the tracks by clicking a very prominent 'Launch Player' link on the top of the homepage.
When I first used the Player, I had trouble accessing the songs but was quickly presented a popup indicating that the service was temporarily unavailable. What I liked is that when the popup opened, everything else in the window (behind the popup) became blurry. This method of focusing the user's attention on one window, though not revolutionary (it's used on both the Mac and Windows OS), is helpful and takes the cognitive burden off users.

Quickly finding music with Spotify

I don't make many predictions but I really think that Spotify will change music. Developed by a group of folks from Sweden, it is a P2P streaming music application with a library of some 6 million songs that you can listen to whenever you have the app running (desktop or mobile). With minimal advertising in the free version, think of it as Hulu for music. Later this year, it will be availble to users in the US (licensing issues) including an iPhone app which could really affect the whole notion of paying for music downloads.

Why is it so good? Well, you can listen to whatever you want, create playlists and even cache songs to listen to while you're not connected, but most importantly, the UI is clean and easy to use making the user experience great. Spotify has a good visual layout; screen density is low and navigation is inituitive and flexible helping users find music quickly. On the left side, for example, the Search box, recently saved searches and the album cover link eac…

Listening to Guy Garvey's Finest Hour

Guy Garvey is the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Elbow, and every Sunday, I make breakfast while listening to Guy Garvey's Finest Hour online at BBC's 6 Music. Effective screen layout and clear labeling make finding and listening to this weekly program a simple and great user experience.
From the BBC homepage, I navigated to the 6 Music site and program page easily. Overall, the site uses white space and orange links effectively to help listeners find what they're looking for and clear labels in the navigation menu (e.g. 'Presenters and Shows') guided me right to the program page. I selected the 'Sunday' link on the right side which launched a separate BBC Player application allowing me to listen to the show. The Player itself has main tabs including 'More Like This' which recommends other 6 Music programs like Guy's. Check it out whilst you make your breakfast.

The transactional flow of Sub Pop Records

Sub Pop is a legendary record label based in Seattle that has signed great bands like The Shins, The Postal Service and Nirvana. They recently celebrated their 2oth anniversary and they have a great site full of artist info, photography and a Listen feature which allows users to stream music. However, when purchasing music, the transactional flow of the site is confusing.

After adding an album (in MP3S format) by the Vaselines to the the shopping cart, I noticed several options including login, create an account, a delete icon, a link to the album and a checkout icon. However, a few of these items were unclear. I'm not sure why one would want to create an account (from the shopping cart) and there is no helpful information on the subsequent 'Sign Up' screen to explain the benefit or creating an account. The login and account options would be better placed outside the context of the shopping cart area or simply introduced at the beginning of the checkout process.
I finally …

Creating an account and backing up with Mozy

Mozy is an online data backup service perfect for those worried about losing their digital music library (like me). Users can get 2 GB of storage for no charge and unlimited storage for $4.95. Creating a new account and backing up data is very easy and, more importantly, the clear calls to action and simple workflow make for a great overall experience.

The cleanly designed homepage and prominent 'Sign up now!' button clearly tell users what they can do right from the start. Creating an account was very fast (about 3 minutes); I chose the monthly payment option, presented credit card information and quickly downloaded the application to my Mac. Once the setup was completed, I was able to configure my backup by checking boxes for each type of data (iTunes library, photos, etc.) and begin the backup process. Although the first backup can take several days, I'll sleep better knowing that my Smiths bootlegs are now safe and secure.

What's driving the Mini's audio system?

Two colleagues of mine (Naseem Hasan and Jared Jeffers) and I recently conducted an evaluation of the Mini Clubman's dashboard user interface. A good portion of the 'eval' focused on the Mini's powerful and feature-rich audio system. Most of the controls for the audio system and the car's computerized settings are situated near the oversized analog speedometer. Although most controls are well-labeled (including 'Audio' for switching modes and 'Main Menu' for navigation), the system suffers from an inefficient layout of controls and poor error recovery. The main selection dial for the audio system is located just below the FM tuner buttons and could be easily mistaken for the separate volume control, which sits below the CD player outside of the main area of interaction. This volume control seems disconnected from the rest of the audio system.The system has direct iPod and iPhone connectivity providing users versatility and flexibility with inputs for…

Watching music videos with Comcast On-Demand

Comcast provides bonus music video content and concert footage through their 'On-Demand' channel but the 'Music' section is difficult to navigate and lacks flexibility.
From the 'Music' link, there are 20 options including 'All Videos A-L' and 'MTV2' with all sorts of submenus but, without a breadcrumb, navigation is unclear. Once I found a video I liked (by Interpol), I couldn't remember how I found it.
After a video was done playing, I was immediately brought back to the previous menu but at the beginning of the alphabetical video list. I expected to be brought back to my previous location in the list to watch more videos by the same artist. I also wanted to be able to select multiple videos rather than selecting only one a time. This inflexibility causes frustration; breadcrumbs and multiple selection would make 'On-Demand' a better music user experience.