5.22.2018

micro-deets: eyes, hearts & spotify

I was told to be ruthless. Unforgiving. To harbor a vigilant eye. Arm my iris with piercing clarity. All for the sake of design.When I heard my instructors talking about how a lot of designers end up critical of everything, I didn't quite understand, nor did I have much desire to wind up a twenty-second century digital product curmudgeon.

That was weeks ago, when I was new. Fresh. Optimistic. A cotton candy machine waiting to be reconfigured as a design meat-grinder.A critical eye is a designer's greatest tool. Everything else comes second: memorize all the Adobe keyboard shortcuts you want, download every possible Sketch plugin you can find. Without the eyes, you won't get far.It takes a while. There are thousands, if not more, blog posts about The Design of Everyday Things (I even wrote one myself). Why? Because that book peels back the first layer.

The eyes of the everyday slob are roughly sophisticated after reading Don Norman's book. After approximately 150 hours of lectures and 250 hours of study, I finally noticed something. A micro-detail.These days, I squeeze my Chrome browser to mobile size on every new site I visit, just to explore its responsiveness. I open the Inspector from time to time, trying to wrap my head around how a developer executed something cool. I have screenshots of new apps and their on-boarding processes. When a favorite app of mine needs an update, I'll archive its soon-to-be-outdated UI so I can compare it to whatever comes next.

These are far from my inclinations before studying design, although I switched between Android and iOS with each of my triennial or quadrennial phone upgrades because I liked exploring the different interfaces, a curiosity I now take as a sign that I mesh well with this line of work.So I've been noticing the details, but it hasn't become second nature. I'm still inside the experience most of the time. I think excellent designers can move in and out with ease, like anyone who is expert at what they do: a screenwriter who can enjoy and analyze a film, or a musician who hears a variety of elements or techniques when she listens to a song. All of that changed last Saturday.

I was driving through the canyon towards the highway, taking the turns like a teenager and deciding what Spotify Daily Mix would soundtrack my commute to class. I selected a feel-good mix based on a few timeless artists: the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and Tom Petty.I was a few songs deep when a tune I had hitherto not yet heard arrived upon my eardrums. Fantastic, I thought. I am going to add this to my Library. So I pulled over to execute this interaction (wink-wink). And that's when I saw that Spotify had changed something.

I don't spend a ton of time in the Radio or Discover features on Spotify. I build playlists at a tectonic pace and I'll often listen to the same album for a week or two at a time (like all of Khruangbin's albums - stellar tunes!), so I'm not sure when they made this change.New song. I like. Add to Library via the plus-sign. Standard practice. But wait, I'm in a Daily Mix playlist. There is another feature, right? Yes, there is. A button beneath the plus sign and song progress bar, to the left of the Backward/Pause-Play/Forward buttons.And that's when I found myself tapping a "heart" icon outlined in the unmistakable Spotify green instead of a "thumbs-up," and I thought, "Wait a minute! That's new!"

There I was, driving to my design class, contemplating whether or not the heart really conveyed the purpose of its function. Then I looked at its opposite/complementary feature. The thumbs-down had been replaced by a "restricted" logo, the kind you usually see with a cigarette in the middle of it.

I added the song to my library (hence a a highlighted checkmark in place of the plus-sign), then noticed the heart, and tapped it just for gits and shiggles. But when you add a song to your library via the plus-sign, you get a notification, just like you would when de-select the checkmark and remove a song from you library:

So, returning to the first screenshot, I have to ask, "What's up with that micro-copy?" Because I already added Fat Man In The Bathtub to my Library. A few experiments later, I discovered that the new heart icon accomplishes the same action as the plus-sign: it adds the song to my library. Tricky, tricky. A bit repetitive. Also, somewhat misleading. And what about improving the accuracy/delight of the daily mix or radio station?I always assumed the thumbs-up meant, "Nice job Spotify, I do like this song and would enjoy hearing more songs like it," and I thought the thumbs represented that intention well. I may not love the song enough to add it to my library, but I like elements of it enough that Spotify should take it into consideration when it using its sorcery, witchcraft, and robot-brains to present me with other options on a station or playlist.Now, I guess I have to decide whether or not I love each song or if I am going to make it illegal for it to enter my ears ever again. That's quite a decision.On the bright side, at least I noticed. For better or worse, my designer's eye grows sharper.

✌️Last updated 
November 13, 2021