Inside The Redesign: Why Spotify Went Black

Spotify's new redesign makes it the movie theater of music apps. When the lights dim, the art becomes the experience. Michelle Kadir, director of product development at Spotify, walks us through its biggest redesign ever.

For devoted Spotify users, what the service offered in music selection, it lacked in the design department. The desktop client, especially, feels clunky, difficult, and overly complicated. There's way more clicking around than there has to be. But for the first time since its initial launch in 2006, Spotify has done a major design overhaul of its desktop and mobile clients, which will roll out to users starting today. It's a welcome change.

The most noticeable difference is how dark the service looks. Instead of varying shades of gray and white, the entire background is shades of black. The company is therefore appropriately billing the biggest redesign it's ever put out as "painting it black."

To get to this final aesthetic version, Spotify tested several distinct-looking creations among users, Michelle Kadir, director of product development at Spotify, explained to Fast Company. "We surveyed our users and asked them if they had a preference of any of these designs," she said. "We didn't know what to expect." Overwhelmingly, the test-users preferred the darker look.

"We believe that when you have music or art that’s very colorful and very artistic, and you have beautiful cover art for music, that it really shows more clearly visible in a product like this, when it's about entertainment," added Kadir. "Everything else settles in and isn't as much in the way when you have a white background," she added.

Kadir likened it to a movie theater experience. When the lights dim, the movie, not the theater, becomes the experience. Spotify believes listeners should feel like that when they listen to the service's music. A darker color scheme accentuates the cover art, photographs of artists, and the most important navigation buttons, like play.

Of course, there were other elements that users preferred, like simplicity, for example. "You will see [fewer] types of buttons," Kadir said. "If you look at the design now, it's more slick. We've scaled down on some of the design that was in the way."

One notable example of this type of change is the "favorite" star, which Spotify has nixed. In the old layout, users would click the star to automatically save a song to the favorites playlist. The star has been replaced with a plus, so it's more like adding a song to playlist than saving it as a favorite. "It's more subtle," Kadir explained, "a bit more modern in terms of design." It also matches the new monochromatic look. Goodbye, yellow.

The darker look and simpler layout also fit into Spotify's six distinct design principles:

  1. Content first: "Ultimately, that is what our users are coming to the service for. We want to represent the music in the best way possible," said Kadir. As explained before, the black look lets the music and the beautiful art that comes along with it shine.
  2. Be alive: "That's about Spotify never being stale or boring, but always having something new for you and always feeling refreshing," said Kadir. Again, Spotify hadn't overhauled its look in years. Much of the new app feels fresher and more modern.
  3. Get familiar: "That’s about that type of platform design that kind of works no matter if you're on your computer or on your phone. The design is so holistic on the different platforms."
  4. Do less: That’s very much about the user not needing to use much effort for what they want to do. It needs to be intuitive, it needs to be really slick, it needs to be simple, really getting the user to do what they want."
  5. Stay authentic: "We wanted to have a product that has a core identity and is really unique." Despite the new paint job, Spotify still looks familiar.
  6. "Lagom": It's a Swedish word that means that perfect balance of being not too much and not too little.

[Images courtesy of Spotify]

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11 Comments

  • Peter Bowles

    I love the new redesign and think the black look works well. My biggest grumble is that there's no way (from what I can tell) to really make the cover art go full size on your screen. The ideal for me would be a minimalist look, mostly a black background with the artwork going full size. So say I have a 27" mac in my living room, I could choose 'Vinyl size' for artwork and it would appear on the screen at 12", completely black surround and album covers would, in a very modern, subtle way fade in and out. This would give spotify a truly modern jukebox mode for people wishing to use it that way. Interestingly the Smart TV version does do artwork larger, but with a horrible green surround that does not adhere to the design principles in the desktop version.

  • Torgeir Hagland

    Good job on the new UI, you made it so bad I instantly cancelled my premium account.

  • Easily the worst (re)design by Spotify ever. No idea who the target was. I'm pretty sure Spotify users are functional people, they don't care much what the music player looks like that's in their pocket or in the background.

  • Jeremy Savage

    Removing the star feature was a huge mistake. Stars were used for a variety of reasons that the design team severely underestimated. The new + system not only lacks the functionality of starts but also takes more steps to actuate. Kadir, eliminating a feature is not making something more modern. Users have spent multiple hours of work staring there favorite songs on albums, now all the work is gone. Also if you stared a track you could then see the track stand out in the list of tracks, this too is gone. It was time for Spotify to implement an upgrade but they really miss understood one of their best features. There are 35 pages of valid complaints on the forum http://community.spotify.com/t5/Help-Desktop-Linux-Mac-and/What-happened-to-the-stars/m-p/709237

  • Edward Gamper

    Or just have skins with light and dark options like most media players have. Whilst the black is a nice change, I find it very overbearing and actually find white text on black harder to read and not as easy on the eye.

    It's all very well bangin' on about the cover art, but scrolling through a playlist makes your eyes go funny with all that white text blurring past on black. This issue seems like 'accessibility 101' to me, and bright text on dark backgrounds is often avoided on websites for this reason.

    As someone who has a been a spotify customer since the early days of the golden free ticket, to being a paid customer - I didn't get asked anything about the design.

  • the worst design !! BLACK???? What were thinking? Have you asked users before you make stupid design changes? We have been paying freaking money every month ... lowsy job by the product team ...

  • Do I still have to make an album a playlist to listen to the whole thing? Still my biggest issue with it.

    Beats doesn't do it for me either. I love Rdio and highly recommend it.

  • Joseph Szala

    Noticed the change today. Quite well done and much better to use experience-wise. I do wish the shuffle button was smaller or lower on the screen, but I can deal with it.

  • On mobile? So, you can rearrange playlists like this:

    1. Hit the (...) in the top right of playlist.
    2. Select (edit)
    3. Drag the (ヨ) part of the track name to move it.

    I hope that helps!