Spotify’s Interface Insanity


How not to design multi-platform

I’m a huge fan of Spotify, and love their product — it’s profoundly changed the way that I consume music. I use their product across a wide range of platforms however, and I’m constantly baffled by the lack of interface consistency.

Every different platform (see the images below) uses a different menu layout, slightly different iconography and unique labels —all without making use of any platform-specific interface options (like gestures). Although I’d like to believe it has to do with the different use cases of the different platforms, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Check it out and LMKWYT:

Spotify on the iPad — lovely start screen

Notice the layout of menu options. Playlists — which are the most important feature of the system — are buried near the bottom of the menu. And for good measure, when you first login, you get that nice, ugly, blank search screen (where the majority of the real estate isn’t devoted to search, but rather to telling us about how much of the world’s music is available). Also unique to the iPad version is a menu called “What’s New” that doesn’t exist in any other interface. At least settings is somewhere logical.

Now, take a look at the iPhone:

Spotify for iPhone: Now with Discover!

So in the iPhone version, we have a new feature called “Discover”, a new concept called “Me” (how existential), Search and Browse are together, Radio comes before Inbox and settings is not separate from the other menu options. Maddeningly, playlists are once again below search, discover and radio…as though Spotify on the iPhone isn’t about playing existing music, but rather about deep discovery.

Now, let’s look at the desktop (Mac) version’s menu:

Spotify on the Mac Desktop

Here, search is in a completely separate area, there’s a concept called follow, I can play a queue — and because it’s probably really important — one of the highest priority menu items is “(manage) devices”. For kicks in this interface, there’s a new concept of a “collection” that includes local files (even though local files are also available on every mobile device). Playlists here are conveniently shown at the bottom of the pane, “starred” is not a playlist (instead living in the collection area),and playlists are not ordered by any obvious/logical order.

Also unique to the desktop client interface, the mini player and play controls live in this left pane….not in the central area as they do on the apps.

Spotify Web Client

Answering all of my prayers, Spotify has also released a web client that runs in standard modern browsers — though it’s in beta. Although this app uses the same real estate as the downloadable client, they chose to follow the iPhone client interface…somewhat. Here, search and browse are separated again, playlists is where it “should” be (if you don’t actually care about usability) and all the social features appear to have been rolled into follow. Below this, settings is where I expect it, but the web client also appears to introduce a new set of options: my profile (the avatar), a music chat bubble and notification buttons. These options don’t exist in the top level nav of any of the other versions.

The web client is the cleanest and best-designed app, though I’m sure you’ll be as frustrated as I was when you discover that it’s not available directly by logging in at Spotify.com — you have to click a music link to actually launch it. I’m sure this feature will come in the future, but it’s just another example of the company’s current UI bipolar disorder.

Which Spotify is which? I have a lot of respect for the company, and their product is transformative. But as my quick tour of their apps illustrates, they are not approaching UI with a common vision — and I’d posit that they don’t really even understand how their users use the service (evidenced by how poorly Playlist nav is handled). A consistent experience from one platform to another would go a long way to raising usability and eliminating confusion.

And just for shits and giggles: if you are a Sonos user…have a gander at the Spotify navigation there. I know it’s under Sonos’ control, interestingly, it is the cleanest nav in my estimation. What do you think?

Spotify for Sonos — really consistent, huh?

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