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Ask Spotify Design 01

September 2020

Article

Spotify Design Team
Chris Owens

You asked, and we listened. Then we answered. Then we dressed up those answers with delightful portraits from a guest illustrator named Chris. It’s the inaugural Ask Spotify Design, a new series where the Spotify Design team offers their perspective on design dilemmas. Enjoy!

How do you start documenting the process you followed?

Documenting my own process doesn’t always come naturally to me. When I’m facilitating things like retros, planning, and vision sessions, I tend to operate a lot out of instinct, so in the moment it can feel like it’s all happening automatically. But my instinct is rooted in understanding the psychology and dynamics of teams and people; in observation and active listening; and in change and transformation management practices. 

So when I do take a moment to put down my thoughts — usually written on post-it notes — I realize the immense value of pausing and thinking through how we actually came to our approach. Because while it feels instinctual, there are a lot of intentional steps and decisions, and it can be helpful to look back and record why each decision was made. And we need a bit of space to do this. So one way to start documenting is to give yourself permission to stop working on the thing, and grant yourself the space and time for reflection.

–Kamdyn Moore, Lead Program Manager

How do you jump out of the little details to look at the bigger picture?

In the projects I’ve worked on, there’s always been a lot of opportunity for big-picture thinking, so my main challenge is to stop myself from getting bogged down in the details at the wrong time, as they can easily steal my attention.

To do this, I’ve had to build structure and discipline into my process. If I have a visual, behavior, or interaction in my head before a project starts, I’ll quickly mock it up to get it out of my system, as I don’t want the project to act as a conduit for those details. Once a project kicks off, I’ll try to stay in docs and conversations to zoom out, ask the right questions, and unpack the problem.

When exploring ideas, I’ll keep asking myself, “How else could this be done?” Or I’ll create placeholders to remind myself there is more to explore. And when it actually comes time to work on the details, I’ll ask myself, “Is this benefitting users and the business, or is it just for my own satisfaction?” as I want to make sure I’m still focusing on impact.

– Barton Smith, Associate Principal Product Designer

How do you bring the rest of Spotify along, including product, dev & leadership?

For me, getting everyone on the same page early is essential. There needs to be some consensus of the problem to be solved. I find that if this doesn’t happen, teams can interpret the requirements slightly differently or have their own ideas on how we should be solving the problem. Different expectations often lead to misalignment and disappointment. And what we’d rather create is magic and delight!

So I focus on the kickoff of a project, even if it seems like we’re spending a lot of time on explaining or scene-setting. I want to build a shared understanding of what the problem is, and an expectation for how we intend to solve it. Just letting everyone air their questions and concerns can be emotionally helpful, because there’s a sense that we’re starting from a point of transparency. If we can begin this way, it’s so much easier to bring everyone along, no matter what team they’re on. There will always be surprises along the way, but a strong start puts you a step ahead. 

– Chlöe Wood, Senior Product Designer

How long does it take to write good copy for a simple landing page?

In my professional estimation, it can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 years, depending. So that means the average time-to-completion value for good landing page copy is… don’t ask me, I write words, not numbers!

For real though: If we interpret “good” to mean “effective,” it really can take months or years, because we typically start with one message, try it out, see if people like it, see if people click or tap or buy or whatever, and then we change it to see if the new message works better for clicking or tapping or buying purposes. Then we change the message again and again, until, years later, we’re back at the original message. And we’re like, “Hey, this one was pretty good, why did we change it again???”

Another consideration is whether the content of that simple landing page already exists somewhere else in the Spotify galaxy. If it does exist elsewhere, we might start by reusing those exact words, turning it into your basic (and speedy!) copy-and-paste job. Or we might need to edit the words a bit because we’re taking something that was on a scrollable website and now it has to fit in a miniature box that pops up on a phone, next to like a billion other miniature boxes. 

And well, if you have to create the content from scratch, just multiply your time input by 7.28376. Remember, you’re never actually done with landing page copy. You just stop iterating on it when the product manager says, “Hey, we forgot to tell you, words are now obsolete.”

– Chris Diken, Senior UX Writer

Credits

Spotify Design Team

We're a cross-disciplinary team of people who love to create great experiences and make meaningful connections between listeners and creators.

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Chris Owens

Illustrator

Chris is the Creative Director of Canvas Creative in Salt Lake City, Utah. There, he and the team work hard to push the limits of tech and beautiful design.

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