SoundCloud iOS Redesign

Streaming not just for musicians, but for avid listeners and taste-makers

5 month personal project
Feb - Jun 2017
User Research, Content Strategy,
User Experience, Product Strategy
SoundCloud is a streaming platform for independent artists and listeners from all over the world. I wanted to explore reasons why people chose other streaming platforms over SoundCloud and what revisions could be made to make SoundCloud the app of choice.


Streaming music digitally is rising in the global market and becoming more competitive

In 2016, global recorded music market grew by 5.9% due to streaming. 59% of digital revenues that same year came from streaming alone. As one of the most popular streaming platforms, SoundCloud strongly emphasizes their community, recording 847 million electronic connections made in 2015. It boasts one of the largest grassroots digital community of electronic music estimated at over 10 million.

SoundCloud began competing against Spotify in 2016 after debuting their subscription service SoundCloud Go. After the press expressed less than satisfied opinions, SoundCloud responded by releasing a new tier called SoundCloud Go+ in 2017. As the platform struggled to win users over Spotify Premium, I was convinced that their declining user retention was more a matter of community and shifting audience.

Research I

What type of listening behaviors do pure music streamers exhibit?

I divided stakeholders into two categories: hobbyists and professionals. To address a need that everyone shared, I looked at their overarching role. Each stakeholder was ultimately a listener. In effect, I focused my questions around the habits of listeners and streamers.

My first quantitative survey had 23 participants who were between the ages of 18 and 28 years old. 82% were male and 80% were earning their bachelor degrees at a university. I conducted 5 interviews for qualitative data, each lasting about 30 minutes. I asked 20 questions about their roles as listeners: how they discovered new music, how SoundCloud aided their discoveries, and what their comments were on the SoundCloud community.

I formed the following hypotheses before entering my interviews:

  1. Music streaming and discovery is a very social activity
  2. Making playlists is crucial to one’s listening experience
  3. Discovering new music must be convenient

For users who are primarily
listeners, SoundCloud falls short

  • SoundCloud creates a bubble within which the user exists
There is a divide between the type of people who are more involved in the SoundCloud community as opposed to those who are not. Those already in it have built strong connections because their peers are using the same platform, seeing each other's activity, and supporting each other.

  • Rarely introduced to a sound different from current taste
Those who don't use it are thrown off by the ads; the inability to immediately play music and receive recommendations at the get go. They don't feel as if there's a novel experience, a new sound they'll be introduced to and that they'll like.

  • Music should be held to a standard of professionalism
Due to its population of independent artists, there should be lists compiled not based on their custom genre, but their official classification. These listeners are split between Apple Music and Spotify, where Apple Music plays closer attention to discography and Spotify to discovering new sounds, catering to their listening habits.

My assumptions were off, so I revised them to illustrate my data

I compiled my data into general feedback, pain points, and design critiques, finding that 100% of survey and interview participants listened to variations of electronic music. This included a wide breadth of sub-genres including trap, electronica, and pop. 60% of interviewees stated that they listened to podcasts, sets, or mixes, all of which could last between 30 minutes to 3 hours. I revisited my hypotheses:

        1. My interviews ultimately showed that music streaming and discovery are not heavily social activities, but personal explorations. Individual taste is extremely unique.

        2. Not everyone makes playlists because it takes much more effort than the average user can afford.

        3. The solution? Give listeners the music they never knew they wanted. Fact: humans are inherently lazy.

Comparative Analysis

Competitors honored the
evolution of the walkman

I skimmed through Apple Music's and Spotify's interface and architecture to glean similarities and differences. For the most part, their information designs were extremely similar. They relied more on the original model of a media player to engage listeners.


To better serve a user who is primarily a listener, I proposed a few solutions

After my first round of research, I looked at SoundCloud’s internal structure in its entirety. My first sitemap was much more broad in that it covered Home, Discover, Search, Library, and Now Playing. Looking over my participants’ interviews and revised hypotheses, I proposed the following solutions:

        1. A new page dedicated to Events and Mixes in Discover
        2. Organize and categorize collection of saved music
        3. A new page dedicated to Curators in Discover
        4. A separate module for popular reposted tracks
        5. Focus on community of electronic and dance music

Wireframes & Annotations

Pivot & Research II

Taking a step back: had the
audience I was targeting changed?

Before moving onto the second half of this project, I looked at how SoundCloud had changed since beginning my research. I reviewed the data I had collected a few months earlier and sifted through SoundCloud’s current activity.

Compiled through a series of articles, press releases, and research from NYTimes, Forbes, WMagazine, and more, I realized that the trend for hip-hop through SoundCloud had emerged in the last couple of years. 

Gathering more quantitative information

I made another survey that was more concise and focused on quantitative data. Consisting of four, multiple choice questions, I gathered responses from 167 participants. Generally, what is your age, what genre(s) do you listen to the most, what streaming application(s) do you use on your phone, and what do you use your streaming application(s) for?

Revising my proposals and restructuring the architecture

The following are the results: Electronic music and hip-hop tied for most-listened-to genre. Most music streamers ranged between the ages of 16 and 27, averaging at about 21 years of age. Spotify leads against SoundCloud as the most preferred, mobile, streaming platform. Streaming was considered the most important activity, then discovery, then making playlists. To revise my proposals:

        1. Organize and categorize collection of saved music
        2. A separate module for popular reposted tracks
        3. Focus on community of electronic, dance, and hip-hop
        4. Page Structures under Discover to mold to genres and community

Visual Design

Incorporating brand and visual identity

I reimagined SoundCloud's existing visual identity by creating covers to curated playlists. The following are visual assets I made to communicate SoundCloud's breadth of musical talent.

Interface Design II

Designing information and surfacing diversity in Discover

The Discover page of the first iteration focused more on breaking down SoundCloud by types such as tracks, playlists, and albums. What I noticed was that navigating through these items became repetitive (tracks, playlists, and albums would all have modules for hot, new, and suggested). There wasn’t a theme behind each menu item. 
To make the menu items less arbitrary, I revised the sitemap of Discover to fit SoundCloud’s age demographic of avid festival attendants. I also tried to maintain a level of flexibility to the modules featured on each page. Due to the different focuses of the project, I left out Charts when brainstorming features of Discover and emphasized Your Cloud, Around the World, Extended Play and Curated. SoundCloud’s newest addition to Discover is The Upload.

Categorizing personal collection
of music for accessibility

By creating sub-categories for the Library, it allows for easier access and identification of what is desired to be played next. It organizes types of music into groups. I reduced the size of profile photos and album covers to create less noise surrounding text and more white space. Here, iconography can play a role in decreasing the amount of time it takes to select and play specific music.

More content, more breathing room, more browsing

For SoundCloud iOS, Home’s purpose (and only purpose) is to show the activity of the people you follow. All posts are dumped into the feed in chronological order. The most salient elements of the feed are each post’s artwork and like and repost count. I created Popular in Your Feed as a way for listeners to see the activity of users they follow.

I took away the like and repost counts to lessen judgment and bias, believing that it would influence impulsive decisions. The icons on the right hand side categorize posts into types: stations, mixes, playlist, albums, or tracks. To focus on listening instead of appearance, Your Feed emphasizes title, artist, and type.

Optimizing search through movement and organization

Instead of using a horizontal scrolling bar to filter through music, I stuck to vertical scrolling (thought about hand movements). The redesign of Search optimizes results by finding the most relevant item as the Top Result and giving snippets of what type of results there are whether they're tracks, artists, or listeners.


Utilizing Principle and After Effects to elaborate on interaction design

Here I illustrated a few ideas of how a user would interact with the application, from receiving feedback when saving to their Library to exploring the Discover page. There are more that I have omitted, but can be viewed in my horrendously long → article.

  1. Spotlight feature for, "The Upload", SoundCloud’s recommended
  2. Viewing full album descriptions and hashtags
  3. Receiving feedback when adding or removing music from Library
  4. Scrolling interaction with profile and cover photo


Iteration upon iteration, design
isn’t a linear process

Initially my goal was to explore SoundCloud, but it gradually took on a bigger role for my personal and professional development. As a project primarily focused on the entire product design spectrum, I enjoyed working with a variety of softwares to bring my vision to life and learning that the business is just as important as the user.

Will definitely spend less time with research and have a solidified timeline for the next exploration I have in mind. Thanks to Andrew, Ryan, Lacey, Alan, Tien, Monique, Menglin, and David for being a part of this case study and sharing the same love for SoundCloud. Thanks for the designers out there who imparted wisdom.