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Spotify Blend: Designing for a Social Listening Experience

December 2021

Article

Rosie Maharjan
Jen Lamere

Blend is a personalized Spotify playlist that combines two users’ music tastes together, and facilitates an experience made for you... and your friend. So whether you’re keeping up with what your bestie’s listening to, or sharing your music with someone new, we’ve designed a positive shared experience that aims to consider everyone.

Your phone buzzes. In it, a bright notification lights up the screen: [Your friend] has invited you to join a Blend. 

When was the last time you heard from them? It must have been months, maybe even a year. It’s been hard to stay in touch. You’re both so busy and live hours away from each other.

You accept the invite and the first thing you see is your go-to karaoke duet, accompanied by both of your faces on the track. As you look at the rest of the playlist, it all comes rushing back to you: late nights at your favorite bar, dinner parties with your group of friends, and all the top hits you sang on road trips across the country. And just for a moment, as you soak in nostalgia, it feels like they’re right there next to you. That’s what Spotify Blend is all about.

Spotify Blend: a new era of social

Spotify Blend is a personalized playlist that automatically combines two users’ audio tastes together. It’s an effortless and effective way to stay connected — a reunion with an old friend, or an intimate introduction to someone new. It lets you share your music taste with others and gives you recommendations from loved ones. It’s true to who you are and how you listen. 

It was an interesting product to design because Spotify is at a unique vantage point when it comes to social listening. Through Blend, we’re able to facilitate sharing music without relying on user-generated content the same way that traditional social media platforms do. This gave us the space to design an experience that’s just… fun! 

Of course, we also had to focus on providing control and accommodating different tastes, but this was a product we were able to craft for user delight — sharing your music with someone simply because you want to.

Designing for user control

Music is inherently social and there’s a growing influence from other platforms, as we’ve seen from all the viral hits that have been topping the charts this year. Although we love to show off fun data points about how we listen, there’s still something very intimate and private about music that we want to preserve. When making the audio space social, there might be pressure to present yourself a certain way. We approached this thoughtfully, knowing that we typically curate what we share with the world.

In designing social experiences, we advocate for user control, which is how Blend works. It’s an easy opt-in, opt-out experience where you get to choose who you share your music data with. 

Building a personalized playlist for two

The algorithm for Blend took lots of iteration by lots of engineers. We spent a lot of time trying to uncover what the ideal playlist output should be. Creating a representative playlist becomes very complicated when you merge two users’ listening together, because some users have very compatible tastes, while others differ drastically in the music they listen to. We had to make sure we weren’t just improving the playlist experience for high compatibility, but also accommodating for lower taste matches. 

It takes a lot to design a coherent experience that’s aligned across different tastes, and build an algorithm that works well for everyone. For our team, it was a strong collaboration between design and engineering.

Blending skills together: the collaboration between design and engineering

Design and engineering work very closely together at Spotify, especially in the Personalization mission, where we focus on content programming. We have to think through sequencing of tracks, what happens after they hit play, how the user will experience the order of the playlist, and make sure there’s a holistic and unified flow to it all. Part of what made the collaboration between design and engineering so strong was empathy from both sides — having a team of user-centric engineers and technically-minded designers. 

We went through a lot of content quality tests to figure out what the algorithm’s recipe should be — to find the right balance of creating a cohesive playlist while also representing both users’ tastes accurately. Design and insights facilitated testing about how the listening experience could be improved, and engineers tweaked the algorithm based on feedback. We came together as a team to find opportunities to improve the experience.   

We always strive to strike a balance between user-centered experiences and buildable designs, and it takes a collaborative effort to determine exactly what that is. Design can identify the impact and user experience, and engineers can identify the effort and technical feasibility — put together, that’s really powerful. When we were creating shareable data points for the stories, design brought ideas backed by user research, and the engineers would identify whether it was a high-effort approach. If it was, they would suggest something similar that would lower the effort immensely. Working together like this is how the taste match scores and Blend stories came to be.

​​If you like getting into the finer details, check out this post about how our engineers pick out music for your Blend.

Branding Blend: the final package

The branding and packaging are what ultimately communicated the product to users and brought the intended vision of Blend to life. We created an abstract and minimal concept of literally “blending” two entities together. Our cover art, brought to life by our Editorial Design team, features a rotating suite of 12 different circles blending together. It ties back to our central theme: uniting people through music, and celebrating each other in an effortless, personalized playlist.

Communal listening will always be a part of the human experience, and Blend offers a low-pressure but intimate way to do that. You can catch up with an old friend or get to know a new one, find new recommendations or rediscover old songs from memories you’ve shared together. It’s like a simple, genuine “I’m thinking of you” message — that automatically updates with new tracks daily.

To try it out yourself, type “Blend” into the search bar of your Spotify mobile app, press the “+” button, and invite a friend!

Credits

Rosie Maharjan

Associate Product Designer

Rosie is a designer on the Personalization team. She is also an illustrator, cat-lover, and probably climbing some rocks right now.

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Jen Lamere

Senior Engineer

Jen is a Senior Engineer at Spotify, where she has worked on other products like Discover Weekly, Your Daily Drive, as well as podcast recommendations.

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