SoundCloud Project Case Study
Case Study: SoundCloud (concept project)
A new way to engage with podcasts
Date & Duration: 2 weeks, Mar/Apr 2017
Team: Kevin Smith, Charles Newsam, Ronan Lachkar
My role: competitive analysis, user research, personas, design studio, prototyping, visual design, presentation
SoundCloud is a popular online audio distribution platform which has a lot of content. Unlike Spotify or other leading music platforms, its content is much more varied and user-generated.
Its existing mobile app doesn’t differentiate between music and non-music content, therefore users do not currently have a way of finding new podcast content which is effective and engaging.
This was done over a two-week design sprint covering initial research through to a hi-fidelity clickable prototype. Following the findings from our research, we designed a new way for users to edit and share clips from podcasts.
The resulting design would increase engagement with the podcast content and encourage discovery while maintaining SoundCloud's strong brand image.
Where to start? With a project canvas — essentially looking at the brief and breaking down all of the elements and factors the project will involve. For example, what are the goals? What are the constraints? Who are the users? And what is the scope of the project likely to be?
SoundCloud already houses a vast number of podcasts and sees an opportunity to leverage its expert user base by highlighting podcasts for its site visitors. Great, but why focus on podcasts now? They’ve been around for a while, haven’t they?
Some quick research told us that the number of people listening to podcasts weekly has almost doubled in the US in the last three years (Edison Research). More money being funnelled in, higher quality programmes and the success of the likes of Serial have contributed towards this boom in podcasts.
Also interesting but maybe not surprising, was that listeners now consume 71% of all podcasts on their phones, up from 42% just three years ago. With this is in mind, we decided to make a native mobile app.
To get an overview of the audio streaming landscape, we focussed on three types of competitor: music streaming; podcasts; and indirect competitors like Pitchfork and YouTube.
Findings that interested us were:
- podcasting apps seem to offer a lot less functionality than the music streaming ones.
- 'recommended’ sections, such as Spotify’s Discover Weekly, are clearly an important feature for music streaming platforms as a way to introduce or highlight quality content to users.
- all streaming services allow users to share content, underlining users’ desire to engage with the media.
After determining what services were available to users we wanted to know more about users’ streaming habits. What did they listen to and how?
Casting the net with a Screener Survey
To gain a quick view of streaming habits we sent out a screener survey and received 66 responses. Over half of respondents regularly listened to podcasts, and 83% used mobile devices to stream audio.
Although surprisingly high, the figures were consistent with the notion that podcasts are a) growing in popularity and b) that they are largely consumed on the go.
To dig deeper into the streaming habits and attitudes of users, we identified 10 individuals for 1:1 interviews, which we conducted over a 2-day period. We targeted regular podcast listeners, non-listeners and audio content creators to get the widest range of information.
The main takeaways were:
- The Apple Podcast app was used by most podcast listeners, but many users were unhappy with its lack of functionality: no playlists, no featured content, and badly organised.
- Sharing content online was a regular part of many interviewees’ weeks, or even, days, and was considered an important way to discover new audio content.
- Users relied on friends, family and trusted sources to discover new content and often felt overwhelmed by the amount online.
With so much data from nine interviews, we needed to begin narrowing our focus as we approached the define phase of the project. We needed to find the most important, compelling and solvable issues the users faced. We wanted to understand what the common themes were, the main frustrations and how and where people listen to podcasts.
An affinity diagram helped us achieve this. Although there were lots of interesting points about what makes a good podcast, that was outside our remit: it wouldn’t be possible for us to influence how a podcast was created and what its content was. Therefore, we centred on the findings that we could do something about:
- Users discover new content through friends, peers, trusted sources and through existing content, e.g. within a podcast.
- Users often want to listen offline — they don’t want to use up data and rely on wifi connection.
To establish what might be possible within the scope of the two-week project, we conducted a feature prioritisation exercise. Sharing content and commenting emerged as strong areas to focus on, whereas offline listening and exclusive content were discarded.
From our interviews we created three main personas, which covered our key users: non-podcast listener (the new user); the avid listener; and the content creator. Drawn from real data, these personas would represent the people engaging with our app and guide us in our design decisions.
Narrowing our focus even more, we concentrated on George as primary persona because he was closest to most of our interviewees and, as an avid podcast listener, we felt he would benefit most from our app.
Defining the problem
George is a creative, energetic guy who is active online, curious about the world and loves podcasts. So what’s the problem?
"George doesn’t share podcasts with his friends because he doesn’t know an interesting and effective way to do it."
He finds that when he does share one, his friend doesn’t get round to listening to it because they are long and it’s an investment of time. So, is there an easier way to engage with podcasts than to share the whole thing? That’s what we wanted to find out and come up with a solution for. We took George’s problem into the ideation phase with the aim of finding possible solutions.
Although we were creating a new app for SoundCloud, we wanted to develop it with their own design principles in mind. So for example, to achieve the principle of consistency across their products, we wanted to incorporate visual elements and conventions associated with the SoundCloud brand and identity.
Following a Design Studio, clip-making emerged as the most compelling idea because it a) allowed George to engage with podcasts by creating his own short clip, and b) allowed discovery of new podcasts through sharing.
We consulted some of the users we had previously interviewed and they responded positively, suggesting desirability, and their validation added credibility to our solution.
After refining these early ideas, we were then able to create a user flow and test it via a paper prototype with users.
The Iterative Process
Throughout the development phase we conducted 10 user tests, each time noting the results, analysing and iterating on the design.
It became evident that users didn’t understand how to make a clip from a podcast as the call to action button wasn’t findable or clear in its function on the Now Playing screen. So in the next iteration we added block colour and changed the icon to text, which users responded well to when we tested it.
Making it tactile
Although most users generally understood how to interact with the the clip making interface, we added thumb tabs to make it more tactile and ensure that the experience was memorable and satisfying.
More testing revealed issues with the category titles and thumbnails on the landing page: it wasn’t clear that the titles were clickable links to dedicated category screens. As we moved from low to mid fidelity wireframes, we added category buttons and labels to ensure findability in the user interface.
The outcome was an exciting new way for SoundCloud’s users to engage with and share podcasts they love. With an interface consistent with SoundCloud’s existing products and brand, it is at once familiar and creative, encouraging the discovery of content within the platform and externally on social media. Go ahead and take a look at our prototype below.
We would want to show the clip sharing journey end-to-end with the recipient receiving and listening to a clip outside of the SoundCloud app. It would also be beneficial to provide more functionality around clips made by the user, and to test ideas around the following: a clip collection section, clip message history, and how clips are displayed on the user’s profile screen.
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