A New Strategy For Curating Playlists Emerges
I’ve always been musical. From the time I was 3 years old I have been immersed in music. I’ve harmonized along to The Traveling Wilburys from the carseat in my Dad’s ’86 Volvo Sedan while cruising high above the cliffs of Big Sur, sung The Beach Boys from atop a balancing boogie board in my elementary school talent show, written songs on my old beat-up Casio keyboard for my pirate radio show that I had when I was 7, spun records to make a few bucks on the weekends in my early 20’s, worked at a record store owed by a wild and crazy 60-year-old white-haired cult guru, and produced shows for hundreds of incredible bands in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. Throughout this time, I made many playlists. A few titles of playlists past include “Summer Sadness,” “For Merging Onto The 405” “Alone in South Dakota,” “New Mexico Sunset,” “Las Rancheras,” and “Truck Driver Songs.” I’ve had many years of practice in the art of curating playlists: I have one for the movie I’ll write someday, for my future wedding, for my funeral, for nights I know I’ll be alone on the road and want to remember some beautiful summer night from long, long ago. I even have one that reminds me of my Dad (which is appropriately titled, “Steely Dad”).
Though I’ve been making playlists for over 20 years, I’ve never made one for someone else while applying design thinking to my process. I wanted to craft a new kind of playlist; one entirely for someone else and not based on my own memories, nostalgia, or interpretations of what music means to me. The only way to do this was to effectively apply design thinking to my next playlist project.
I began the first stage of my design process by applying standard user experience research methodologies to the discovery phase. First, I had to identify my user. Who was I making this playlist for, and what were their specific goals and needs?
My end-user just happened to be my partner in love and life, Chris. While I could have made him a playlist of songs I assumed he might like or might need, I prepared an unbiased, non-judgmental user interview comprised of 20 initial questions to seek to understand and empathize with what he might want from a playlist. (Hint to other UX Designers: this is also a great relationship-building exercise).
Some of my questions included, “is there any type of music you’d like to listen to more?” “what kind of playlists do you like?” “What types of activities might you need a playlist for?” “What is your favorite part about listening to music?” “What is your favorite song?” “What makes you happy?” “Tell me about a time that a song changed your life.” “Tell me about a favorite memory.” “What’s the most important part of a playlist?” “What are your music listening habits?”
During my interview process, Chris brought up the fact that he has Synesthesia (a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway), and he experiences music differently than most other people. He has two types of Synesthesia, one of them being Chromesthesia, in which he perceives color while listening to music. I began to ask an un-planned series of questions which related specifically to him disclosing this information, and discovered that every musical key had a specific color associated with it. He enjoys having this sensation, as it adds a deeper richness to how he experiences music. Since this sensation is specific to my user, I would need to take this into consideration when crafting a playlist, and possibly explore it further during the ideation and testing phases.