By Darryn King 

A new version of the Spotify experience greets the user by name, plus a friendly "Hi!"

It is a simple touch befitting Spotify Kids, a version of the music-streaming app for children between the ages of 3 and 12 that is now being tested in the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. Spotify Technology SA describes the app, available for no additional fee to Spotify Premium Family members, as a "playground of sound."

To the grown-up observer, the most obvious change is visual rather than aural: Spotify's customary, hacker-chic dark interface has been significantly lightened up. Spotify Kids is full of bright, appealing colors and whimsical doodles, including an animated critter of the user's choosing that serves as an ever-present avatar. In fact, there are two modes within the app, one for younger users with softer pastel tones, and one for older users with more vivid colors and hipper, humorous graphics, like a T. rex wearing sunglasses.

Both versions boast a clean, stripped-down interface, with less text. It is appealing to children's eyes and sympathetic to their cognitive skills. It also is ergonomically kinder to children's hands: There are fewer features to fiddle with and the touch targets, or buttons, are significantly larger and hence easier for smaller thumbs and fingers to reach.

Children are Spotify's next generation of listeners, said Jessica Forbes, vice president of research and development at Spotify Premium, which has only been available to those ages 13 and up. "But we realized that there was nothing out there from a music standpoint, from an audio standpoint, that is designed just for kids."

The right user experiences are crucial for building relationships with customers, said Fura Johannesdottir, global chief design officer at Huge, a digital agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos.

Companies have to obsess about digital interactions with customers. "It isn't like it used to be where you would buy a product again and again because you liked it," she said. "Now people want more than that. They want a relationship with brands and they use digital interactions to do that."

User experience was traditionally considered part of the design process, but now it is considered integral to the success of the entire business, said Matt Olpinski, a UX designer who runs his own business, Matthew's Design Co., in Rochester, N.Y. "Without a great user experience, the product or business will have lower conversions, less engagement and ultimately fewer users."

Designing apps and websites for children puts that in stark relief.

Designers at PBS Kids once had to figure out the best way to display a stop button on a video app for users from 2 to 8 years old, said Sara DeWitt, vice president of PBS Kids Digital. "We got into focus groups and we discovered that younger members of the audience, when they were done watching, just got up and walked away," she said; they had no concept of stopping a video.

The designers also had to figure out how to let children watch videos full-screen without overcomplicating the controls. In the end, the app didn't make it an option: It automatically expanded videos if someone watched for 7 or 8 seconds without touching the screen, Ms. DeWitt said.

Companies need to pay more attention to the way children use digital products, Ms. DeWitt said. "It's an underappreciated area," she said.

Spotify, which also recently updated its main app for iPhone users to make some functions easier, could certainly benefit from hooking the next cohort of customers. It is the world's leading music-streaming service with nearly 35.5% of the global market in an estimate last year by MIDiA Research, a media research firm. The company said it had 271 million monthly users in the fourth quarter of 2019. But Spotify faces increasing competition from Apple Inc.'s Apple Music, which has more paid subscribers than Spotify in the U.S., as well as other major players such as YouTube Music from Alphabet Inc.'s Google; Amazon.com Inc.'s Amazon Prime Music; and Aspiro AB, doing business as Tidal.

While children's content is in no short supply on these services, Spotify Kids represents the first effort by a major streaming service to create an entirely new app intended for young users to interact with on their own, with little, if any, parental assistance.

Like any company setting out to design and develop a new app, Spotify was highly mindful of user experience -- the precise way the app looks, works and feels. Not only did Spotify Kids have to be easy and intuitive for a very specific target audience, it had to be fun and appealing too.

As for the music, Spotify Kids contains a wading pool of 6,000 songs instead of the adult version's 50 million or so. Humans keep out inappropriate content by manually choosing the songs on Spotify Kids, making playlists, and reviewing lyrics and album artwork.

Some changes are subtle. The app's playlists of liked songs is called "Your Favorites," as opposed to the grown-ups' utilitarian "Liked Songs."

The app will evolve based on beta test findings, with Spotify promising, for example, even more nuanced parental settings, including the ability to block certain artists. The company also plans to expand into stories, audiobooks and podcasts, none of which are currently available on the children's app.

There is another aspect of Spotify Kids that will benefit parents' experience, according to the company: Parents' automatically generated Spotify playlists won't be contaminated by their children's music tastes. "It's liberating parents' algorithms," Ms. Forbes said.

--Mr. King is a writer based in New York.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 02, 2020 12:14 ET (17:14 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Spotify Technology (NYSE:SPOT)
Historical Stock Chart
From Jul 2020 to Aug 2020 Click Here for more Spotify Technology Charts.
Spotify Technology (NYSE:SPOT)
Historical Stock Chart
From Aug 2019 to Aug 2020 Click Here for more Spotify Technology Charts.