Soundswap is a mobile app that allows musicians to securely rent audio gear from other local musicians with just a few clicks. This project was inspired by a friend’s need to rent a Moog Sub Phatty for a gig, only to find it unavailable at any Austin music store. I am collaborating with mobile developer Tom Yu to launch this app in the Google Play store later this summer.
Our challenge: create a safe and convenient mobile service for musicians to share their equipment with one another.
Understanding musicians (and their gear)
We interviewed ten gear-savvy musicians to learn more about their experiences with researching, buying, selling, and renting gear. From our conversations, we defined three themes:
People want to feel safe about lending their gear to others. Many musicians have gotten into disputes with acquaintances who claimed “no responsibility” for damaging their borrowed gear. If people are going to lend their equipment out to strangers, they need a guarantee that their gear will come back safely or they will be refunded for any damages.
Beyond simply trusting people to care for their equipment, musicians want to meet other likeminded people and try out rare pieces of audio gear. Exploring new tools and new collaborations are sources of inspiration for many musicians.
Creating music is more than just a leisurely activity; for many musicians it is about accomplishing a significant goal, such as releasing a new EP, or going on tour with a band.
Two Personas were created from our user interviews and Affinity Map, which would be used to make informed design decisions.
Alfred (The Tinkerer)
Alfred has a creative itch and loves to dabble with music, graphics, and video. On his current budget, Alfred can’t justify purchasing a bunch of expensive hardware gear. He wants to make more musician friends in Austin so he can trade/borrow their stuff without having to buy it.
Paul (The Collector)
Paul is a veteran when it comes to audio gear. Like a true expert, he researches gear extensively and buys when the price is at its lowest. He has purchased some “lemon” pieces of gear online, and will no longer buy anything without renting it first. He has a love affair with modular synthesis and combines instruments using his Eurorack to explore new frontiers for his sound and composition.
Early on, we set a goal to figure out how the service might generate revenue, so we could potentially raise money from an investor and grow our team. We already knew that we could charge rental transaction fees similar to Airbnb, but the canvas helped us realize that we could sell ad space on the app too. People often rent a piece of gear before they buy it, so a music retailer like Guitar Center could be the perfect partner for displaying re-targeted product ads on Soundswap.
Designing a platform for musiciansINITIAL SKETCHES
Our user interviews and workshop activities gave us enough information to begin sketching some initial ideas for the app. We worked alone to sketch the most important features, then critiqued them as a group and picked the winning sketches for further development.
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Before committing our wireframe sketches to prototypes, I worked with my developer to make sure our main user flows were logical; a bit of extra planning at this stage would save us development time later on. We created authentication and request/confirmation flows that served as frameworks for creating medium-fidelity prototypes.PROTOTYPING INSIGHTS
From our top voted sketches we created an interactive prototype in InVision and tested it with 6 first time users. We told users that the prototype was a “local audio gear app” and asked them to to try uploading an item, requesting to rent an item, and confirming a rental request. Testing the prototype with users revealed a few significant usability flaws.
Rentals + Messages = Notifications
Our first prototype featured separate functionality for ‘rentals’ and ‘messages’. Users did not understand why they needed to receive both a rental and a message notification when someone requested to rent a piece of equipment from them, which helped us realize that we could integrate the rental request directly into the chat feature. This would make it easier for users to accept or deny a request and continue the conversation within the same window. We decided to name this new combined feature ‘notifications’.
An Easier Request Flow
Another insight came from observing several users struggle to complete the 3-step rental process. We noticed there was a disconnect between the calendar section and the payment section for some users, so we found a free calendar widget that allowed us to put the calendar, price and rental information all on the same screen. Now, when a user changes their rental dates, the new price gets dynamically updated on the same screen.
Designing an Android MVP taught us about the differences between Android and iOS. Android-specific features like TabLayout define the interface so we must always consider the OS when designing anything we intend to develop. Working with an experienced developer taught us to emphasize organization and consistency throughout our design process. We used a combination of Slack and Dropbox to keep our files organized and our process well-documented at every step. When designing new screens, we made sure the spacing, fonts, and assets were consistent throughout so we could code them more efficiently. Through usability testing we learned how to combine two similar features into one (rentals/messages/notifications). The Discovery phase of the project helped us define Soundswap’s most important features, and testing showed us how to make those features work together in harmony.
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