Napster (yes, it's still here), has been treading water for a long time as a basic music streaming app. We were tasked with delivering a complete redesign and discovery piece on how to position this iconic brand in the fast evolving music streaming space.


I was working for Melody VR (a startup for virtual music shows), when they acquired Napster in December 2020. The general plan was to merge the live proposition from Melody VR into Napster's app and build on this to create a more compelling offering for music fans. This strategy needed validation and as we progressed, we found the ground shifting under us...


Before starting any design work, the first task was to understand the competitor space that Napster was in, alongside analogous products that had parallels that were potentially applicable for new ideas and directions. We began to map out this space in Miro before selecting the products that most warrented a deep dive.

With each deep dive, we focused on key learnings & points of differentiation that were relevant to us. Understanding what gives each product its market fit and which demographic they are aiming at gave us a rounded perspective of this space. When each of the deep dives had been completed, we consolidated everything into a single Miro board to give a large overview.

We then ran a workshop to pull out the key insights across the team to take forward. These were incredibly valuable and I was constantly referring to them in the ideation phase.

We then began to narrow down all this research into different themes from which we could form a value proposition. We used a rough "Jobs To Be Done" framework, to focus on user needs and motivations and created a series of value proposition verticals that we could validate. Alongside this we conducted an extensive piece of user research, interviewing 20 people to get qualitative insights around how they consume music. From these, we pulled out key insights which we put through an affinity mapping session to organise these insights into themes.

The final stage of this was a large cross-team workshop involving product, design, marketing and engineering. We reviewed all the inputs, themes and routes so far, and synthesised these into a final set of value propositions for us to validate. This was done via a large survey sent out to different audience segments who rated which route excites them the most. Nailing this and being clear on what our differentiator will be vital to the ongoing success of Napster.


Adding video content was a central pillar for our initial proposition. After understanding the existing information architecture, we started to plan how we could approach video integration — starting small and learning, before doing something fully featured. This stage involved more competitor analysis specifically for video functionality and a mapping out of what this could like in the app.


The player is one of the fundamental aspects of a music streaming app. The current UX/UI of the existing player was dated and lacked expected modern features, such as an active queue to add to. We also had to factor in new content types: video, 360° video and live shows and ensure the UI could handle these consistently. We picked apart the existing design and rebuilt it from the ground up. This was challenging with the existing codebase and required close collaboration with engineering.


Playlisting is one of the most important features in the app. Our data shows that it is the most used action from the context menu, and users who create multiple playlists listen more than users who don't. The current playlist creation process was cumbersome and confusing. There were some interesting ideas for adding tracks, but users were presented with too much friction up front in the initial creation flow. Our first step was to drastically simplify this flow to as few steps as possible. We tested multiple iterations to find the right balance between speed and still giving the user the option to view the playlist straight after creation.
We did a comprehensive analysis of user feedback and analytics for the playlist screen itself, and there were two main features requested from the users: the ability to search for tracks within a playlist; and the option to sort tracks. There were many other smaller UI refinements applied as well.


One of the key propositions from Melody VR was live streaming gigs. We explored how this could be integrated into Napster's apps. We encouraged the business to start small, with a free event that didn't require the complexity of ticket purchase flows and gated access. This meant thinking about a flexible system where these components could be switched on, and how we handle the different stages in the build up to a show. The business is still undecided on the next steps for this, so further validation is needed to test the appetite for this.


Working on this project felt like a huge opportunity. I remember using the original Napster as a teen, so it was privilege to bring the cat back to life. I learned so much working with a talented group of people in sometimes difficult circumstances. We had to cover so much ground, so quickly, that we couldn't possibly do all areas of the app justice and there is so much more to come.

The last twist in tail was being was acquired in May 2022 by a consortium of blockchain investors. This is a massive pivot in strategy and one that will take some thought to get right. The Web 3 space often seems to be technology searching for a use case — approaching any blockchain integration should be done from a user POV first. If we can't articulate what problem this tech is solving, long term success is not guaranteed.