Carlito2s.
Product Designer at Babylon

Helping songwriters on smartphones

March 2017

Product Designer

Spot the opportunity

As a music composer, I had the opportunity to work with some cool artists, mostly french and I find, regardless types of music, they all share the struggle of writing a song that their audience can relate on. But the way I saw them wrote in the studio didn’t feel completely right, tools didn’t suit properly, in my opinion. Everything was kind of messy and I wanted to do something better.

Understanding writers

I needed to investigate to back my intuitions, see things from their perspectives and quick informal interviews was the best thing to begin with. In result, I quickly noticed there were two main types of writers feeling things a little differently.

· Paper lover
They love to write on paper and feel a deep connexion with it. They are old fashion by choice and writing, crossing-out, comments are things they actually love in songwriting.

· Smartphone enthusiast
They naturally integrated smartphone in their process, it’s handy and they always have them unlike paper. On iOS, Notes is the default choice. Quick option to create notes but not really seen as the best option in songwriting context..

Defining the problem

Naturally refocusing on ‘smartphone enthusiast’ as the audience, I found out smartphones had constraints but weren't the problem as they still brought value. Frustrations comes from available solutions offering less fun, control, and flexibility than notebook and paper. They will do the job, just not in the best way.

How could I enhance the songwriting experience on smartphones ?

The songwriting process

Time to get into songwriting, observe and understand writer’s approach in order provide the best system. If everyone has his little creative process, I found three things worth having in mind with what they were doing.

Structure

The song form is as important as the words and the message carried. This blueprint relies on eight different sections writers can swap as wanted and use to tell their stories.

introverserefrainchorushookbridgebreak outro

Music inspiration

More than often, music will have an influence on the writing even if it changes through time or gets reworked. As a foundation, music can shape themes, words, rhythms, sections and more.

Creative flow

The creative process doesn’t live in one momentum. I rarely observed writers work in isolation start to end. Sometimes they will begin in the studio, record a verse, finish at home or in the public transportations.

What to build

Behond something more suitable, I didn’t explicitly set goals as I was exploring things at this point. I thought deeply about satisfaction and adoption anyway to help me strategize on what I had to build first.

I knew also based on research that to see great signals on those, the experience should bring enough comfort, flexibility, and support.

Few core features

Writing structure.
Means providing a list of all sections needed and a better way to write, organize and manipulate songs.

Music rewind.
It’s about letting users writing on music, have a direct control on it reducing breaks induced by constantly switching with music apps.

Offline.
Something all note apps doing well and I should do it too. Artists shouldn’t be penalized by any lack of connexion in spaces like studios where networks could be bad or inexistent.

Limit those features would help me control the experience and learn from feedbacks before going further but it was also a way to broke down my vision into achievable steps.

Designing the solution

Once I’ve set what I needed to built and why, it was time to decide how the interface will support the experience.
Also at this point, I thought interactions should include gestures and sleek animations for two main reasons:

· Add something special while making their process seamless.
· Communicate creativity and playfulness.

Testing ideas

With clear vision, things was simple enough to jump into my notebook, quickly sketch how features will be, how writers would navigate and which layouts will be more appropriate.

A visual system emphasizing lyrics

I needed something visually appealing, discrete enough when the focus will be on the content but never at the cost of the overall affordance.

I chose a sans-serif font to support readability and prevent errors in fast reading/recording context and San Francisco will do a great job.

Grids, colors, and icons were set to communicate sections, hierarchy, actions, and feedbacks.

Going further through prototypes

Working on prototypes helped me refine on how it should work but without a developer yet, they brought value when I needed to communicate my vision and had to know if this met the writers' expectations.

Song list · Writing · Going back on instrumentals

Eyes on the north star

There is a number of things I could already visualize being part of an even more polished and finalized version of the app. Things that will more reflate the level of care I would love to bring into this project.

Organize by projects

Songwriters can already attribute songs to projects but it’s only informative.
With this, they’ll be able to create them and add covers to personalize.

Manipulate instrumentals

In songwriting, of course, music manipulation goes beyond going backward.
Setting start and end points will define loops to help focus on some specific parts of the instrumental.

Switch to night mode

A lot of recording sessions happen during the night in studios, sometimes without so much light. This mode will support those who seek better eyes comfort in that context.

Early lessons learned

Research.
For sure, researchers would do a much better job than me but taking the time to first understand the problem behind the opportunity helped me avoid several misconceptions I had about writers' motivations.
There is truly no better way to find what people want than listening, observe and understand them.

Feedbacks.
Being only wasn’t easy. I had to constantly challenge myself and stay open about being wrong at every step. Critics and feedbacks from a dedicated team in a safe environment are invaluable, perhaps even the best way to get things right.

What's next

Working on this side project was a great journey so far. I didn’t find yet a developer to team up with, so I’m trying to figure it out how to build it. A great way to finally learn iOS development anyway.

If you liked it, you should definitely stay tuned for more.