Spotify: A UX Case Study

The Spotify desktop app. Music has never looked so good.

I was a late-adopter of Spotify. My friends were using it back in 2015, but I was steadfast in my defense of a free alternative. Why should I pay for a music service when I am not a self-proclaimed audiophile, and when my main use for music is background noise for studying?

However, after a few years of spectating Spotify’s refined user interface, beautifully simple color palette and design system, and what I deem to be a seriously solid collection of songs to choose from, I finally convinced myself to pay for the premium service. Now, after 1.5 years of using the app, I am still not a self-proclaimed audiophile, though I now understand why so many people are willing to pay for the music service.

This short anecdote is my way of reaffirming that while the aim of this piece is to bring light to a feature that I wish Spotify would address, I continue to have immense respect for the designers and love for their work.


Spotify has received a number of critical facelifts over its nearly decade-long existence. From updating to sleeker icons and keeping up with the times:

“The icon style helped the new navigation feel lighter and simpler.” From Case Study on the Icon Suite found here.

to simply keeping up with the times:

Spotify, circa 2013. It looks like a simple file explorer at first glance, but I am definitely surprised by how many key features remain. Image Credit.

the company has made incredible strides to redefine the music listening and streaming experience for its users. Despite these improvements, there is still one key feature that bugs me about the user experience of the Spotify mobile app. That key feature is selecting multiple songs, to add them to a playlist in bulk, or to otherwise manipulate them. The ability to select multiple songs at a time is available to users of the desktop Spotify client, but even this is not entirely intutive. Bulk selecting items is an almost universal feature in apps that are of library/collection format, so I suspect this is a feature that Spotify designers are still researching a perfecting — for both Spotify mobile and desktop apps.

I have outlined a proposed solution for the mobile app below. For clarity and for the purposes of this case study, I operationalize the ability to select multiple songs to the context of selecting multiple songs to add to a playlist. Of course, there are many other reasons for selecting multiple songs, including removing songs or adding them to a song queue.

A Google search reveals that selecting multiple songs is indeed a common problem users have with Spotify.

Focusing on User Experience

The motivation behind this case study is an exploration into what Spotify could be with support for selecting multiple songs on mobile apps. Designing a multi-select interface and experience for mobile devices is quite the challenge as user input is, for the most part, limited to merely touch-based interactions with the phone screen. It makes sense that the issue of implementing multi-select on desktop clients was resolved first by Spotify — the combination of keyboard and trackpad inputs and a significantly larger display allows for more precise and accurate desktop actions that are simply not possible on mobile devices.

Here is a quick sketch of what the current experience of adding songs to a playlist looks like for Spotify on mobile devices:

In order to add a song to a playlist, the current Spotify mobile app requires the user to undergo a series of at least 3 screen interactions, and more if the user would like to create a new playlist at any time. This experience quickly becomes unwieldy as the number of songs increase.

My proposed fix to this problem involves reducing the number of screen interactions as much as possible. First, from a user perspective, screen interactions leave room for error. Although the magnitude of any possible user error—for example, tapping on the wrong button — is significantly smaller when working with songs one at a time, repeating this interaction task hundreds of times compounds the probability of a user misstep.

Another consideration in redesigning the playlist experience is properly identifying user purpose and motivation. After speaking with friends about their Spotify playlist and song-selecting experience, I learned that most are frustrated because they know exactly what they want to accomplish, but the steps along the way feel cumbersome and repetitive.

Below is a sketch is my proposal for a new interface and experience of selecting multiple songs on Spotify:

My proposal for a new app interaction and user experience involved selecting multiple songs

The result is simple, though it does provide an intuitive way of selecting multiple songs. The green circles serve to draw attention to an updated menu appearance, one that suggests a specific song is in the “selected” state. Utilizing a press and hold gesture to select multiple items is a typical interaction design choice nowadays thanks to widely used design languages like Material Design, which encourage design choice standardization across devices and platforms.

Does this solution resolve the issue of many unnecessary tap interactions? Well, with the proposed solution, you select all of the songs you would like to interact with, which are considered necessary interactions, and with just two more taps, move them to an existing playlist. This does cut the number of unnecessary tap interactions by approximately 2 interactions — that’s 2 screen refreshes — per song. Furthermore, as the number of songs being selected for manipulation increases, this press and hold gesture implementation leads to a a reduction of user-screen interaction approaching 66%.

Does the solution resolve the issue of the song selecting process feeling repetitive and cumbersome? I would say mostly, at the very least. As I suggest in the next section, the most substantial cognitive load task of the solution is simply the action of choosing the proper songs for multi-selection. For now, if the user would like to assume complete control over which songs appear in their playlists, the proposal may be one of the most plain and intuitive solutions.

What’s Next

Everything I have written above is from the perspective of design and user experience, and naturally, has room for iteration and growth. For example, I would like to address a more innovative approach to selecting the right songs for user-generated playlists. This could be a visual interface that suggests songs that are similar to the songs you have selected already.

Another avenue to continue my thoughts on this proposed solution for Spotify could be fully developing the sketches and wireframes into higher fidelity views, then having actual Spotify users test it out. Design choices should be guided by research and data primarily, so this seems like a reasonable next step to develop both my work and myself, as a user experience designer.

Finally, as a result of working on this project, I think it would be an enjoyable challenge to reimagine an alternative for the press and hold gesture for selecting multiple items in a file library. A creative alternative definitely, but one that does not affect usability or accessibility for mobile phone users.

Thank you so much for reading. I would love to discuss any comments that you may have!




Product Design | Duke University

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Kevin Tian

Kevin Tian

Product Design | Duke University

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