One passing comment about music player apps and a music applet from hell, and I ask you:
Are we living in the 1990's?
I believe design granularity to be very real. I believe that innovation can happen if we simply pull back and examine exactly what an audience is trying to do.
A music application is boring. It's a list. It's a text based bit of dribble.
An image browser is a stale misrepresentation of emotional experiences.
While there are contexts where purely scientific designs are far superior, such as within an industrial audiovisual pipeline environment, I ask you to consider the idea that for a vast percentage of audiences, images and music are emotional states. They are experiences.
They are bound to the subjective and tightly woven with high-level cognition.
Where We Are Now
We are stuck in list views. We are there because we have always done it that way. I need not provide you screenshots as you are well aware of the state of affairs.
This discussion hit fruition when Jay Sitter offered up a link from his past. I think it is on point in every respect. While discussing it, a comment of his lurked at the front of my brain.
"What innovations have we had over the last twenty years of music playing software? Horizontal hierarchy with browser panels? Cover Flow? Uh... lyrics? Auto-fetched album art? It's still a damn spreadsheet. We could change everything." -- Jay Sitter @ KilobitspersecondIndeed we could. In fact, I dare say that the brilliant and mind blowing innovation is already there sitting in front of us. It is camouflaged in extremely stale and inept art, design, and experiential choices.
Lyrics, Wikipedia, and other Emotional Stuff
When I first stumbled across a music player that pulled Wikipedia pages I was somewhat torn. On one hand I immediately realized that it was pure innovation. Brilliant really. But the drab "cram it into a web page tab box" was so utterly depressing I nearly cried.
The interconnected experience is upon us. We are living in a time where we can create dynamic content using all of the existing content provided to us. Some applications are already doing this, but they are doing it in a horrifically stale bread 1990's fashion.
How do we tackle this issue?
Defining an Audience
For this mental game, I'd like you to indulge the idea that we are designing a music playing application. Let's make some audience guidelines that will help steer the aesthetic:
- The audience for this application is a twenty-something viewer.
- The audience is a sophisticated Westernized cinematic language consumer. They are on the brink of a full second generation music video / commercial mind. They understand jump cuts and like language with the simplicity that their parents understood the cross cut.
- The audience has a diversity of music magazine mentality media upon them. SPIN, Rolling Stone, and MTV are now the aged grandparents of the music-wrapped vibes of contemporary sites such as Pitchfork and DrownedInSound. The language is well understood, after all, this is the second generation of digital ezines. It is the third in terms of visual music representations as innovated by MTV and other music-centric media giants.
What images pop into your minds when you read this? When you know an audience, do you get ideas or stimulus on how to present the data in a meaningful representation? Does defining the audience make design choices more clear or more irrelevant than prior to the definition? Does defining an audience present stale-avoid-the-allergic-reaction design or foster creative and innovative excitement through possibilities?
What does music mean to this audience? Is it, as Jay suggests, a spreadsheet or is it something more? Is it an emotional state?
Organizing the Data
How does our audience desire their data? Are they looking for an artist by the song title? Are they looking for the artist?
Or are they looking for a mood? Is the music tagged? Can we leverage Last.FM-like data libraries against their needs?
Is the music subjective? Was there an event that happened and the music gains more meaning through it? How does our application understand that? For the random playlist, does tangential circumstance such as weather play a role?
What does browsing emotion look like in the 21st century? It is a design problem that yields massive dividends to the group that provides an innovation solution.
Progressive Disclosure as Cinematic and Video Game Immersion
I wrote about the value of paying attention to adjacent industries quite a while ago. I stand by that argument.
Movies and video games hold the Holy Grail of what we seek. They have been doing it for years.
Make it emotionally compelling. Make it immersive.
What does our music application look like now?
What does browsing for an artist look like when we arrive at them? What does a song look like? Is it a stale-bread spreadsheet or cram-it-in-a-menu-itus?
What if now apply the existing concept of pulling dynamic content already present in other music applications but display it for our particular audience with the mindset laid out? What impact does our audience have on the aesthetic?
Images that flow. Gradual dissolves, zooms, and other transitions as you are browsing the content. Dynamic pull quotes drift across the interface as the audience browses their collection. Typographic explorations, as presented in those music magazines, reveal pull quotes and other interesting facts.
An explosion of deeply immersive and engaging mental resonance.
If you can take a screenshot of it, our design has failed as taking a still from a movie, a note from a song, or a sentence from a novel.
Unleash the Emotional Experiences Everywhere Like a Mind Bomb
In Libre culture, we are cycling over old ground. Again and again and again. Look at us. Look around us. Feel shame.
Archaic absolutist views on wallpaper designs. Emotionally vacuous icons that must-work-on-all-backgrounds-for-all-people-everywhere. Empty and callous interfaces.
That process of design has failed us miserably. It does not work. It is not usable. It is not useful. It is tripe peddled by snake oil salespeople. It is attempting to bake a cake that won't cause an allergic reaction in anyone.
We need to stop and break the cycle. Immediately.
Stop. Step back. Think.
Pick an audience. Design to it.
The innovation and brilliance is already there. It is sitting right there in front of us. We have sucked all of the emotion out of it, however, and it is hidden to all but the most astute eyes.
Someone will execute emotionally engaging and immersive design. Someone will be much lauded for the innovation and creativity of the presentation.
Some will ridicule the design for breaking from the past.
In the end however, it is only the future.
We never stopped to realize it was upon us.
Thank you all for reading. Our numbers grow...
 I firmly believe that opening up a given audience to new music also provides some much needed opportunity to provide optional monetization. If it meets a desire or need and provides potential monetization, it should be examined in light of the audience at hand. Audience first, always. But if the audience has a need that also happens to provide an avenue for monetization, it should at least be considered.