Spotify targets active user engagement with a new TikTok-like interface

Three iPhones, each with the Spotify app pulled up, showcasing the Spotify DJ AI feature, one showing a visual preview in the Music section of the app, and showing a visual preview in the Podcasts & Shows section of the app.
Image Credits: Spotify

At Spotify’s recent annual Stream On event, they announced a redesign to the app interface, which introduces a TikTok-like video feed to aid users in discovering new music (and podcast, audiobooks).

In the days after, skepticism spread across the internet. Music is, at its core, an activity that requires passive engagement. Press play and walk away. Spotify’s own advancements in personalization have helped boost this exact type of use of the Spotify app. Playlists and radio stations within Spotify customize the content for the user so that there is less need to actively search, sort, filter, and find.

At face value, it may seem at odds with this core passive function for Spotify to introduce a feature that pushes the user more toward active engagement.

But that all comes down to what Spotify sees as the main goal of the user. You may think, “that’s easy; it’s to listen to music!” But according to Spotify Co-President Gustav Söderström in a recent interview with The Verge’s Alex Heath, user research shows that people’s primary goal with Spotify is to discover music.

Refining the job to be done by the user as firstly music discovery has driven much of Spotify’s advancements in features, interface, and overall technology — which has culminated thus far in this newest rollout.

Spotify’s new music discovery interface.

So, how does it impact the experience?

In short, I think it’s a pretty cool way of meeting this core user need at the center of Spotify’s product model.

To dive in, let’s discuss some things that this feature IS, and those which it is Not.

It is NOT:

1. NOT an infinite scroll
The user is given a total of (by my count) 48 content cards to vertically scroll, each providing a horizontal gallery of song clips to browse with a finger tap.

This limited cap on content deviates from the endless doom scrolling of platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

2. NOT an intrusive experience
The previously existing utility and usability of Spotify remain at the forefront of the app experience. This new vertical feed does not even appear on the app homepage.

Instead, it’s relegated to the individual filtered views for Music, Podcasts & Shows, and Audiobooks. An average user may not even encounter this feature in their simple flow of searching for music or browsing existing playlists.

3. NOT a platform for content creators
Spotify’s new video feed has an intentionally designed utility. This is not a feed for stand-alone pieces of content.

Perhaps future iterations will allow artists to imprint further creativity on these snippets, such as the visuals that accompany song clips, but this is not a content distribution platform separate from Spotify’s general audio catalogue.

Photo of the Spotify app homepage.
Photo of the Spotify app Music section, with a This Is Oasis playlist showing with a large image card.
Photo of the Spotify app Music section, with a list of podcasts shown with large cover artwork.
Spotify’s new video feed lives within tabbed sections available from the Homepage.

It IS:

1.IS additive
As mentioned, this does not alter the existing Spotify experience. Instead, it adds to and elevates Spotify’s mission of music discovery beyond personalized playlists and song/artist radios.

If Spotify views their app as a tool — a power drill, let’s say — to help users accomplish the job of discovering music, then Spotify has handed the user another drill bit.

2. IS a skeuomorphic experience

Skeuomorphic design: “Interface objects that mimic their real-world counterparts in how they appear and/or how the user can interact with them.” — Interaction Design Foundation

Swiping and tapping my way through these visual music choices reminds me of flicking through racks of CDs or vinyl LPs at the record store. It reintroduces a sense of kineticism and visual engagement to the process of music choice and discovery.

3. IS engaging and joyful
Mimicking the real-world interaction of sifting through physical music seems to add a sense of wonder, excitement and curiosity that the previous text-heavy browsing experience doesn’t capture.

While I was initially pessimistic about Spotify’s pivot toward an emphasis on visuals, I find it to be a balance between encouraging engagement and preserving the core function of the app.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is an initial rollout of the feature, with iterations sure to come. However, there are some immediate frustrations I hope to see smoothed out sooner than later.

  1. I’m unsure why I’m being fed clips from my already established favorite bands or even my own custom-made playlists. This is the antithesis of discovery, or even rediscovery.
  2. There is no way (that I can tell) to save individual songs for revisiting. There is an ‘Add to Your Library’ option which saves the entire playlist of the content card. But what if only a couple songs caught my interest?
  3. Similarly, there is no way (that I can tell) to navigate directly to the song or artist from the preview. In current state, it seems that song previews link out to the Spotify-created playlist they’re part of, rather than directly to the content of interest.
A large image from the White Stripe’s Seven Nation Army video of a female drummer, overlayed by a Rock School playlist link.
Menu options for the Rock School Playlist, including Add to Your Library.
Cover photo for the Rock School Playlist of a young boy in sunglasses with his tongue out and rockstar fingers.
The user flow currently emphasizes playlist discovery, rather than individual songs.

I don’t know that I’m totally bought into music discovery outweighing music listening as a user goal to the extent that Gustav Söderström claims — and maybe it was just overstated for the sake of the topic at hand — but I see this latest iteration of Spotify’s interface as both a transformative change for music discovery, and an incremental change for the overall Spotify user experience.

With this discovery feed, Spotify seems to balance the user goal of music discovery while maintaining user familiarity with the interface and the overall Spotify experience. I look forward to seeing the evolution of this new feature, as well as my own engagement with it.

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