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Improving Your App Design with User Testing: Soundwave's Story

Reiner Wendland  |  May 04, 2015

Today's guest post was written by Reiner Wendland, Head of Design at Soundwave. It originally appeared on Medium. Enjoy!


Soundwave is a music discovery app with over 1.4 million users worldwide. The app allows users to track their favorite songs, share tunes with friends, and discover great new music. Currently at Soundwave, we are working on some improvements for our existing Android app. As head of design, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how user testing has helped to inform the design of the app.

Getting started

When starting the project we established a clear set of objectives. We asked ourselves a few simple questions that would help us be mindful of both user and business expectations.

1. What is the goal of this project? We want to create a compelling experience for Soundwave users that facilitates engagement and that delivers real value to them in terms of music discovery. 2. Why are we doing this? Soundwave is already home to a strong community of Power Users, but it is our first time users and occasional users that are put off by the steep learning curve and level of understanding in the app. We want to solve this. 3. How will we achieve our goal? User testing will be used throughout the process at all available stages so that we can eliminate any friction or obstacle to the understanding of the app and to support user action for both new and existing users of Soundwave.

Understanding our users

Having set out our objectives, we kicked off the project by initiating a series of usability tests. These tests looked at both our existing Soundwave app and other competitor apps to gain a better understanding of the needs of our users.

Firstly, our research team conducted a series of interviews in-house with new and returning users. This gave us a clear understanding of the needs and habits of the target market as well as the existing Soundwave community! Our takeaways from this research has been invaluable and you can read more about here. We also spent some time developing our user personas and this helped us avoid self-referential design by keeping your users at the forefront of our minds. Check out our post on personas here.

Alongside this, we also made use of UserTesting. This tool allows us access to new users in our target market. After sending them a link to the prototype, we asked testers to complete a series of tasks and evaluate the app's designs rather than functionality. Within a few hours, we had over 10 videos of them speaking out loud while navigating around our prototype. This is great because it gave us a visual on how users could complete key journeys and tasks and we were immediately able to identify any stumbling blocks present.

Soundwave's test in the UserTesting dashboard

Reviewing a completed user test


As we chatted with our users and watched the user testing videos, clear patterns of behaviour began to emerge highlighting particular pain points and areas of friction in the app. Finally, we were able to identify a solid list of issues that we needed to tackle:

1. People don’t read.

Parachutes, coach marks and informative messages that explained features were skipped or misunderstood.

2. Screen blindness.

Users were bombarded with content and couldn’t find what was relevant to them.

3. Not always intuitive.

The information architecture and user experience were in places creating unnecessary obstacles for users to complete tasks.

4. Privacy issues.

Something that was being voiced again and again was that people wanted control over what information was shared or viewed to anyone other than themselves.

Improvements and validations

Equipped with the information from our research, we sketched and wire-framed design ideas for an improved app taking into consideration some of the above issues. We took our wireframes and mocked up some working web-based prototypes using Invision and Marvel and initiated our first round of user tests.

This worked really well as we could validate our improvements really quickly using real people! Additionally it provided an awesome way of showing the rest of the team the creative direction the app was taking and getting feedback from them.

Soundwave mobile interface

One of our prototypes. This one was created in Marvel.

Refine and retest

Having received invaluable feedback and answers to behavioural and UX questions, we started the process of refining and iterating the wireframes. Each iteration and integration to our prototype would bring more usability tests and feedback to incorporate.

On a side note, we also found that when we wanted to test user flows that had some more complex interactions (for example sending a message in a group) that are currently not available in the some of the other software. We needed to look at other prototyping tools such as Pixate and These tools offered a quick way of being able to present these interactions and worked brilliantly with Marvel.

Soundwave interactions

Creating interactions in Pixate.

Soundwave 3.0 coming soon to an app store near you…

Feeling confident that our newly designed product solves the issues raised at the beginning of this post, we have improved the quality of our wireframes to something more high-fidelity. This gives testers a much more realistic experience and expectation to the final product.

Adding these final touches to the prototype has really brought our ideas to life. It has allowed us to test the product as a whole, making sure it is smooth and consistent thorughout. This has also led to to some interesting and unexpected discoveries and highlighted new areas to innovate past our original scope.

Soundwave's current interface

Our design after testing

In conclusion, user testing is guaranteed to give you real insights into your product. By testing early and often, it will keep you on the right track to accomplish your objectives whether you’re a lone designer or a product design team.

We are very much looking forward to getting the new app out there and we hope you will enjoy using it as much as we are building it!

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About the author:

Reiner Wendland is a UI/UX designer based in Dublin, Ireland. He is the Head of Design at Soundwave.