Emils Solmanis

let’s have that ux conversation again

I've long since argued that many problems (and solutions) around software (and often hardware) boil down to design and UX. I've talked about this during MetaBeers, I've pretty much shouted about it from the rooftops (or Twitter, same thing).

I've also long since been a proponent of putting my money where my mouth is and simply dropping services and products that are badly designed, consistently don't work, and have bad UX, provided there is some reasonable alternative.

As always, warning, this is a bit of a rant post, but you probably figured that out by now.

have you heard of spotify?

It's no secret that I'm big on music. The only reason my scrobbles for 2016 are significantly lower than previous years is that we 1) always have music on here at the towers and 2) I tend to do much of the DJing = I like what's on. Music is absolutely not an optional thing for me. I used to use Rdio to get that music, and I loved it, but then it went and died. Spotify seemed like the obvious choice, even if my experience with it had always been bad. I decided to try and make it work.

A couple of weeks ago, I'd had enough. My affair with Spotify had the best intentions. I really tried hard to make it work, even if I knew I'd always hated it. But as with iTunes, unless they start hiring and prioritising designers and engineers over having a mammoth marketing team, I don't see how it'll ever work. I'm now with Google Play and yet to find any significant issues.

from the top

Let's discuss some issues just to show you what I mean by horrendeous UX. As I said, we use Spotify to play music here at the MetaTowers. We do this by having Spotify open on a Mac Mini and controlling the client remotely. We have an office playlist just so stuff that we've already played gets persisted etc.

I've stopped counting how many times I'd get in, wipe the playlist, add some fresh music, press play… and have yesterday's playlist start playing. This doesn't go away in a couple of seconds either. The client clearly shows a playlist with all the stuff you've just added, on both my Mac and the Mini running Spotify. Yet when you press play on either of them, yesterday's playlist starts playing. Waiting alone doesn't fix the issue, unless you want to wait for about 20 minutes. I've learned that pressing a couple of tracks in random positions around the playlist tends to force a sync, but if you just keep trying to play the 1st track or pressing the green playlist's "play" button, it'll never actually work.

Rule #1: if you ship a feature, make sure you actually test it and it works. A frustrated user telling everyone they know how shit your app is is orders of magnitude worse than a user who doesn't have a feature they want.

On top of this, playlists stop playing after the initial playlist has played. I.e., if you have a playlist, start playing it, then add more tracks to it, the playlist stops after playing only the stuff you added initially and then you have to go and press play on some track in the middle. Who thought this was great design?!

the last drop

The day I snapped, it was caused by an age old issue. Spotify goes completely haywire on my Windows PC after waking from sleep. To the point where I can't even restart the app, because it keeps a bunch of zombie processes around, so I have to quit it, then go into Task Manager and hunt down the remaining ones — otherwise the app silently fails to start up. Took me a while to figure this procedure out.

This alone I'd managed to cope with thus far. But that one day I decided I'd be nice and file a bug report. Guess how that process works. Yup, it's a forum. You need to register, copy-paste a bunch of system info, etc. Everything they need could be gathered automatically via OS APIs, versions of anything they use, all the technical info. I'm logged into the app, they have my user. All they'd really need to provide is a text box to write in a description, maybe build some automagic search functionality into that to cut down on the duplicate reports.

Needless to say, I wasn't gonna create a forum account and manually gather up a bunch of technical info. My monthly renewal was up in 3 days, so I just cancelled my account and a quick search later settled on trying Google Play Music. The rest is history.

bottom line

I've only mentioned a couple of issues I've had with Spotify, in reality I can't remember a single day it hasn't made me swear at it. If you build something and it's not a quick prototype at a hackathon, make sure you make it stable before shipping.

Remember, great design isn't about adding more, it's almost always about taking things away until there is nothing left to remove without hurting the product.

It's also important to remember what metrics you should optimise for. In this case Spotify have clearly gone for user acquisition, but I think that's a stupid choice, at least the way they're doing it, given that

  1. they've sacrificed user retention for it
  2. and they're up against companies with WAY more money.

Both Google and Apple can afford to go slower, suffer some losses, and throw more manpower at it, if they come out on top in the end. To go against giants like those you have to build a superior product, which this clearly isn't.

Finally, if you're going to add a feature, make sure you have the resources to maintain it and make it work consistently on every platform you support. Something that only works some of the time is the best path to some seriously disgruntled users and a good bump in your churn rate.

What about you? Seen any atrocious design examples lately? Let us know in the comments!

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