During a 7.5 ECTS course (approximately 5 weeks) at Karlstad University I was given the opportunity to focus on a subject of my own choosing. The course was heavily constructed around creating a conceptual framework/analysis model. Therefore, considering my interest in both music and HCI related areas, I chose to venture into literature that regarded user experience in music systems. The completed conceptual framework is, in my opinion, adaptable to other areas (not just music systems) but is mostly focused around music UX literature. Considering the study was conducted within the constraints of a course setting there were unwanted (from the researcher’s point of view) proposals that had to be implemented in order to complete the course. Those proposals concerned the conceptual framework; more specifically the added attributes within the aesthetics (independent) variable or if aesthetics should be part of the usability variable as echoed by Nielsen (1995).
For full context of the study, please download the paper here. A brief conclusion and surrounding thoughts are presented in the coming sections.
Summary of study
The purpose of the study was to identify and describe user experience positives and flaws on Spotify’s desktop client. I did, during those weeks, conduct usability tests and had respondents answering an online questionnaire. In that regard, data was collected to see what users were doing and their accompanied time for completing tasks but also how the perception of the system was gathered.
The findings showed that the desktop client covers the need of most users and convey users of the fundamental features. However, more advanced features could be better communicated. The performance level (i.e. effectiveness and efficiency as defined by Rubin & Chisnell 2008) was positively perceived. Interestingly, multiple participants expressed that they disliked there is inconsistency to be found between the platforms (desktop client and mobile application). For instance, there are two different solutions to the different platforms as the desktop client shows history track by track whereas the mobile application presents latest played song in terms of what playlist the track was played in. One participant mentioned that both of these types have their advantages but that it did not make sense to have this type of diversity in history presentation between the platforms. Interestingly, within the context of inconsistency across multiple platforms, this was voiced by Spotify design director Wood (2016). Wood was concerned about the inconsistency and the nonalignment across Spotify’s platforms. Read the article for more context, as it’s really interesting.
As stated, this work was heavily constructed around creating a conceptual framework. Even though one of the independent variables (aesthetics) is vague and consists of attributes that were not valuable in the context of the study – but valuable for the grade – I still feel like it finds its place as an important factor in UX. I find my framework to be consistent with the words of Wilson (2009, p. 3-4) in his book:
In the years since this chapter was published, the phrase “user experience” has emerged as the successor to “usability.” User experience practitioners consider additional dimensions such as aesthetics, pleasure, and consistency with moral values, as important for the success of many products and services. These user experience dimensions, while important, still depend on a solid usability foundation. You can design an attractive product that is consistent with your moral values, but sales of that attractive product may suffer if it is hard to learn, not very efficient, and error prone.
Aesthetic can also be a “forgiving” factor as an aesthetically pleasing system would excuse not obeying user interface/usability guidelines. A paradox called Aesthetic-usability effect describes that people perceive more aesthetic design to be more intuitive than less aesthetically pleasing designs. Meyer (2017) states that users are more tolerant of minor usability flaws in a system if they find an interface visually appealing. Needless to say, one cannot just focus on the visuals of a system in order to create a usable system; but the visuals might forgive minor flaws. These are thoughts that can be traced back to 2000 by Tractinsky and Ikar in their paper What is beautiful is usable.
A last point to be made, seemingly a lot of studies I have come across disregard the aspect of usefulness (i.e. utility and usability) and focus solely on the aspect of usability. Utility of a system is if it provides the features that the user needs. Usability of a system is how easy and pleasant those features are to use. In combination those attributes make up for the factor of usefulness (Nielsen 2012). Multiple authors (e.g. Nielsen 2012; Wilson 2009; Albert & Tullis 2013) express the importance of evaluating the usefulness of a system.
This post focus is on a study I conducted a year ago which purpose was to evaluate the user experience of Spotify’s desktop client by laying out concrete factors and constructing a conceptual framework. By reflecting on this study, after reading multiple books and papers, I found connected thoughts/statements to what I logged in my paper.
Albert, W., & Tullis, T. (2013). Measuring the user experience: collecting, analyzing, and presenting usability metrics. Newnes.
Meyer, K. (2017). The Aesthetic-Usability Effect. Available: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/aesthetic-usability-effect/
Nielsen, J. (1995). 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. Available: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/
Nielsen, J. (2012). Usability 101: Introduction to Usability. Available: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/
Rubin, J., & Chisnell, D. (2008). Handbook of usability testing: how to plan, design and conduct effective tests. John Wiley & Sons.
Tractinsky, N., Katz, A. S., & Ikar, D. (2000). What is beautiful is usable. Interacting with computers, 13(2), 127-145.
Wilson, C. (2009). User Experience Re-Mastered: your guide to getting the right design. Morgan Kaufmann.
Wood, S. (2016). Design Doesn’t Scale. Available: https://medium.com/@hellostanley/design-doesnt-scale-4d81e12cbc3e