I do not mind listening to ads on Spotify (everyone’s favorite music streaming service). As an “artist” myself, I recognize that ads and subscriptions are a necessary part of Spotify’s system. The artists who produce all that “free” music I’m listening to need to get PAID – just like the rest of us.
What I do mind is the way Spotify has recently chosen to lock me into listening to its ads. In the past, I always lowered Spotify’s volume when ads came on. Now, Spotify’s volume locks when its ads start – which is actually a fantastic idea! Spotify needs me to listen to its ads, so of course I shouldn’t be able to mute them. From a business perspective, this ad “volume freeze” is long overdue.
However, the way in which Spotify has implemented its “volume freeze” is slightly deceptive, a bit manipulative, and (most importantly) needlessly frustrating. Let’s take a look at how Spotify has implemented this new feature, why their implementation is not ideal, and how Spotify could better ease users into listening to its ads.
Hover to Discover … Nothing
When an ad set begins playing, nothing changes within the Spotify web player. Specifically, Spotify’s volume control continues to look exactly like it does while music is playing (i.e. adjustable). Which is why I still always attempt to lower Spotify’s volume when an ad comes on – despite the fact that I should know better by now.
I attempt to adjust Spotify’s volume because years of music app usage have taught me to expect a normal-looking volume control to function a certain way. So even though I “know” Spotify’s volume control no longer works during ads, I attempt to use it as though it will. The quick-response section of my brain simply registers that an ad is playing, sees an adjustable-looking volume bar, and moves me to attempt to lower the volume.
So what happens when I (always and inevitably) move my mouse over the Spotify volume control during an ad? Well, the control instantly grays out, which “tells” me that it’s locked … but doesn’t explain why I can no longer adjust the volume or what I could do to unlock the control.
While I know, on an intellectual level, why Spotify’s volume control suddenly locked, “knowing” doesn’t stop me from being frustrated in the moment. Spotify could easily avoid that moment of frustration by either locking their ad volume up front or, even better, explaining why their volume control now locks during ads.
Better Ways to Get Spotify Listeners to Behave
If Spotify wants to continue locking its volume during ads (which again, I fully support), there are a couple ways they could do so without annoying users.
First, they could simply lock their volume control as soon as an ad set starts, instead of waiting for users to hover over the volume. This would stop the deceptive practice of making users think they can adjust the volume during ads – and get rid of a lot of unnecessary, feel-bad moments that could turn users off of the app.
Second, Spotify could actually explain why they lock ad volumes to their users. During my many years of technical writing, I learned that users hate “obstructions” much less when they know why those obstructions are in place. Spotify is a service supported by ads and subscriptions. They need listeners to either hear their ads or subscribe. Imagine how useful it would be to pop up a tiny message explaining this to users – while also allowing the user to quickly subscribe if they want to skip the volume-frozen ads.
Minor UX Interactions Matter
This might seem like a very minor piece of UX design to you, but minor, common interactions with an application can shape users’ thoughts, feelings, and decisions. These sorts of everyday interactions often determine whether a user will continue using an app.
Forcing users to do something they don’t want to do is already asking for trouble. Being slightly deceptive and manipulative while you’re at it is even worse. It’s better to be upfront with users about what you want them to do and why you want them to do it – instead of freezing your ad volume with no warning like Spotify currently does.