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Designing on the Road and Finding Inspiration in New Markets

July 2019


Article credits
Petter Karlsson
Shamik Ray

With Spotify now available in 79 different markets, Petter Karlsson and Shamik Ray talk travel with their fellow designers and explain why local knowledge is everything when expanding into new markets.

In our work, it’s no good getting too settled. We’re one of the teams who help take Spotify to new markets all over the world, and we can’t do that if we’re always sitting at our desks at the HQ. Instead, we often pack our bags, get on a plane, and immerse ourselves in the community of music fans and creators we’re designing for. It’s a great way to build empathy, understand our audience, and find fresh inspiration.

Our colleague Linnea is currently testing a smaller, faster version of our app – which we’re trialling for those with older phones, expensive data plans, or issues with network connections. She and her team often use phones usually found amongst the respective audiences around the world. As issues with phones and data connection were more common in certain markets, it was vital to experience this firsthand. So off we all went.

Bright ideas borne out of Brazil

The team now takes time to travel to markets like Brazil and gain fascinating, unexpected insights. One thing that surprised Linnea was that she couldn’t see her phone screen properly in bright Brazilian sunlight – a problem she’d heard about, but never seen or struggled with herself. The experience made a huge, long-lasting difference to the way she designed from then on, and still informs many of her decisions regarding colour, contrast, and typography.

Trying to access networks in a park in Sao Paulo.
“It's both humbling and inspiring to really understand the people we design for.”

“It's both humbling and inspiring to really understand the people we design for,” says Linnea. “We’re determined to remove the difficulties and let everyone listen to the music they want throughout their day.”

Getting on the ground in India

This kind of immersive, ‘on the ground’ approach was also invaluable when it came to launching Spotify in India recently. As one of our designers, Annina, discovered, this launch entailed a unique set of challenges – not least the diversity of cultures and languages across the country and the expectation that music apps be language-aware too.

Spending time in India – and working with trusted local partners – was key to addressing the many challenges, understanding the market, and delivering a product with real, cross-cultural relevance. The team looked beyond ‘big data’ and mass generalisations – instead, getting to know the country and community firsthand and taking a personal, individualised approach to their research.

The many shades of Mumbai.
“There were more similarities than differences in the way we consume our music.”

“I hadn’t been to India before I started working on this project,” says Annina. “The first time I travelled there, everything felt so new to me. But when we met local college students, it was easy to connect by talking about music. There were more similarities than differences in the way we consume our music.”

Living like local music lovers

As well as conducting diary studies, in-depth interviews and many rounds of concept, and usability testing, the India launch team also immersed themselves in the everyday lives of listeners across the country – joining them on their commutes, at concerts, or at house parties. In this way, they pieced together exactly what Indian music lovers want from a streaming service, and how Spotify can best fit the bill.

Co-creation with music fans in India.

The team learned that many fans group all Western pop into the category of ‘Hollywood Music,’ or browse and find tunes differently due to the influence of Bollywood – often searching by an actor’s name, rather than an artist’s. They also identified a real desire in people to connect with the music of those around them, leading them to include ‘Sound of City’ playlists as a prominent feature on the Indian home page.

From Mumbai house parties to Jakartan karaoke

Our team has also gone local in places like Indonesia, Japan and Korea – delving into user needs, localising brand and design language, and gaining an in-depth understanding of the South and East Asian markets.

Experiencing singing culture in Indonesia.

We witnessed firsthand how music builds a community.

Again, it’s really eye-opening to be immersed in listeners’ lives – whether that means hanging out with K-pop fans, or getting deep into karaoke culture. Kristy, another one of our designers, remembers travelling to a remote Indonesian island, where the local minibus drivers – and the tunes they play at the wheel – are a key influence on their area’s music scene. “We witnessed firsthand how music builds a community,” she says. “And from these kinds of experiences, we can look at the world from a whole new perspective.”

User testing in Japan.

Of course, the lessons we learn in new markets often end up benefiting existing, more established markets too – making Spotify better for all of us, wherever we are. Designing on the road refreshes and enriches our design back home. And you can hear more from the team involved in a follow-up piece – Think Global, Act Local

You can also read the first article of this three-part series, "Bringing Spotify to India—and Beyond," by clicking here.


Petter Karlsson

Senior Design Manager

Petter spends most of his time figuring out how to make designers thrive or what Spotify needs to become. Otherwise, he is to be found tinkering in his bike shed.

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Shamik Ray

Associate Principal Product Designer

4 parts designer, 1 part philosopher with a garnish of musician on top.

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