An in-depth retrospective

Building SoundCloud

Inheriting Legacy

Like most mobile applications during the early days of iOS and Android, the mobile product was treated and positioned primarily as a companion application to the main product: web. Most features were designed and built for desktop first and later integrated into the iPhone application.

Features and functionality had been prioritised over focus and clarity, and iOS had evolved from a fairly simple foundation into an extremely comprehensive application, serving usage, well beyond what most users were doing in the product. As SoundCloud’s userbase evolved from just creators to creators and listeners, it became increasingly unclear who the iOS product was for. The patterns of use didn’t correlate with how the app had been designed; people were using the app in ways it wasn’t at all optimized for.

  • Player
  • Stream
  • Profile
  • The previous SoundCloud iPhone Application.

    All about The Listener

    Moving forward, instead of catering to the needs of both creators and listeners in a single app, we realized that making SoundCloud accessible for an increasingly mainstream listener audience was a huge undertaking given it’s creator-focused roots, unique content, and unique feature set. We had to find that one clear profile that we were primarily designing for. A solid definition of who was at the core of the product.

    We decided to completely focus the project on listeners with the aim of building dedicated mobile creator experiences down the road. And after years of building features and functionality catering to both creators and listeners — we put the listener in the front seat.

    Identifying the Experiences

    For every experience, feature, detail, we were asking ourselves: “Does it really need to be there?” And if so: “Why?”. When looking at some of the main experiences with the listener as the main focus we saw that:

    Stream required a fair amount of engagement and understanding. Not being populated without followers, it required users to not only understand the concept of having to follow other users to see updates, but it also required them to understand the difference between tracks and playlists, uploads and reposts. Things like statistics on tracks and playlists further added to this complexity.

    You had the exact same design as public profiles, but was being used in very different ways. While profiles were primarily about discovery and finding uploaded tracks by creators, You was about reconsumption and finding your way back to content you had already engaged with through likes and playlists. Even with this huge difference in usage, both pages shared the exact same design.

    The Activity Feed was another remnant from SoundCloud’s creator-focus. It’s main value comes in informing creators about interactions happening on their content. For listeners, the only info they would generally see is when they were followed by someone. The data showed that despite placement at the top level of our navigation structure, a minimal percentage of the userbase even viewed this page and even less were interacting with the content.

    Record was another creator-centric feature that didn’t have a clear role in a listener-optimized product. While it had some very passionate users, when compared to the main usage patterns of the product, it was completely unused by the vast majority of users. In usability testing, Record also seemed to confuse users about what SoundCloud was for, giving an impression of a service primarily about recording sounds instead of listening to produced music. Given these points and many other considerations, we took the stance that Record didn’t make sense in an app focused on listening and would be best served by a separate, dedicated experience.

    Taking our understanding of the existing product, we decided to strip it down to it’s very core, orienting the entire product around some of it’s most used features:

    These experiences formed our base for rebuilding the information architecture and making sure the most important features were always obvious and emphasized.