Why Spotify Went to the Dark Side

A great way to dive into the concept of User Experience Design is to hear a leader in the Use Experience Design field talk about what she does and what she thinks are the most vital parts of user experience design as a human-led craft, not a design-led craft. In a TED Talk by Rochelle King, the Global VP of User Experience and Design at the upcoming and popular music curation company Spotify, we listen to her explain the similarity and differences of interacting with data in the physical world and the digital world.

King explains the digital design process as a “constant cycle of experiment,” which touches on the iterative and cyclical process of experience design that implies the inclusion of user usability testing and modification. Additionally, King talks about data and design not as two separate entities but two related tools that combine to create the bigger concept of an “experience.” To further explain what she meant, she described two studies done at Spotify in which the designers were able to leverage data that has become the fabric of the problem solving space. The human-led component of crafting design is the part of the process that King forms the experience part of a “user experience.” While product designers may not be completely unanimous on this theory, she presents a strong case for it.

When Spotify’s interface changed from light to dark after harnessing data from user testing, the company saw an increase in music consumption; the designers examined when, how, and how much people used Spotify with a light interface versus a dark interface. They leveraged the data to find out that users consumed more music with a darker interface. Spotify improved as a business. Patterns like this are currently emerging that show design choices like using a dark interface instead of lighter ones might better showcase content. The emerging theory that simplicity is most critical is spreading. While data provides a lot of information, it is the humans that harness it and find inspiration within it to evolve interfaces.

While a lot of information can be harnessed to find patterns, might there be too much? This is a concept that King briefly but barely touched upon. She did explain that designers might be “tempted to deliver what [they] think people want,” even though customers should still be able to be autonomous in their use of Spotify. It is worth thinking about Mark S. Ackerman’s thoughts on the shortcomings of Computer Supported Cooperative Work trying to mimic social activity in the physical world. Because, as King says, there are so many digital capabilities and possibilities made possible by a combination of expansive data and human innovation. However, we must establish a fluidity and appropriate design for different situations. Ackerman brings up that technology is not necessarily apt to deal with exceptions; in the case of Spotify, how might it deal with someone being able to recall only lyrics of a song but not the title? This is a common occurrence in real life. King implies that all of the data might be usable, but is this necessarily true? Would she argue that more information could close this social-technical gap? Comment what you think below!

Citations:

Ackerman, M. S. (2000). The intellectual challenge of CSCW: the gap

between social requirements and technical feasibility. Human–Computer

Interaction, 15(2–3), 179–203.

Ted Institute (2014, December 23). Rochelle King: The complex relationship

between data and design in UX [Video file]. Retrieved October 14, 2016,

from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTRIeWI0EGQ

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