How Rdio Undesigned Its Apps

In the past few months, I’ve enjoyed using the popular music streaming service Rdio to listen to my favorite tunes on my Mac, in the car with my iPhone, and in coffee shops with my iPad. As I never wished to create a Facebook account just so I could use Spotify, Rdio seemed to be a great solution and it also included a much more decent user interface throughout all the apps – the designers worked hard to make sure the experience didn’t fall short in this area.

Last week, however, someone seems to have stumbled in a hole, for the service announced on it’s blog that they were refining the look of their web and Mac apps to be lighter, apparently both on the eyes and bandwidth. Sadly, it’s far from pleasing to my eyes. In fact, I’ve found it to be worse than Spotify. Please allow me to explain…

Contrast

Now, while this element could be one of little importance to some, I think that it has a significant amount of influence on an app’s overall appeal. In the new Rdio, everything from the sign in screen and main interface to the close, minimize, and zoom buttons is completely lacking in contrast. I really can’t believe that there’s not any sort of dark gradient whatsoever. The majority of this new user interface is a horrible #fffff with a tad #89949B and #2998D8 here and there, but surely not enough.

Not even the OS X buttons at the top are without lightness.

Not even the OS X buttons at the top are without lightness.

The navigation buttons in the top left corner looks very strange with barely any shadow to distinguish them from the white in the background. I’d say that the only prominent contrast that can be seen in light Rdio is within the search function (above). Other than that, it’s blinding. Even their main website has a terrible choice of colors with even lower contrast yet.

Gone Metro?

There are some who think that the designers at Rdio are attempting to implement a certain iteration of the new Windows 8 Metro guidelines within their Mac, web, and Windows apps. This makes sense, but I really wish they wouldn’t have been so bright in the final release, lacking all color but one shade of blue. I mean, even Metro has a good variation of colors and looks very nice in some areas – I’m not saying all because it really doesn’t everywhere.

I think the only thing about this new “design” that even looks like it could live up to what the word truly means is the icon. It’s still unique, looks nice, and actually makes me want to keep using the service. It even has a little bit of a 3D look, suggesting that not all non-Metro appeal has been stripped from the app.

Bad Decisions

What happened to this beautiful interface?

What happened to this beautiful interface?

One of the main reasons that I used Rdio to listen to music was not the core functionality – it was the user interface. Before last week’s near-monochrome atrocity, I could tell people that every app they’ve ever made had a good deal of eye candy. But now it’s not even on the level of another competitor; it’s below them all completely in design. I wish I could say it had more going for it than that, but the new “lighter” Rdio is just a failure in all proportions.

This new design looks terrible on Macs and even on Windows computers. I just don’t understand how the designer got a sudden urge to change everything about the app into a bland excuse for design. Until something about it changes, I’m staying away from Rdio and trying out something like MOG instead. At least it’s not as hurtful to my eyes.

Now that I’ve spoken, what do you think of Rdio’s new “design”?


  • Mark

    I definitely don’t agree with you.
    I think the new UI looks great. It’s clean, simple and effective. I prefer it to the old one.
    But who am I to judge? Just a graphic and web designer.
    It doesn’t mean I have the absolute truth, at all.
    It’s just a matter of personal preferences after all.
    You don’t like it? Fine. But please, don’t say it’s a failure in ALL proportions.

    • VIDA

      You’re dead right!
      I’m also a graphic and web designer.

  • http://shaunkardinal.com shaun kardinal

    i disagree wholeheartedly. it was a shock to the system the first time it opened, but frankly this is how i like my websites with a lot of visual content. artist portfolios and gallery sites are my bread and butter and this minimalist approach of text-only navigation with focus on the art (in this case, album art) is a good fit. the content is organized perfectly, so who needs a “silver” column behind everything?

  • Matthew

    I’m pretty sure this is a result of their head of design leaving for Facebook.
    http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/7/3005468/rdio-designer-wilson-miner-facebook

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Oh wow, I didn’t even hear about that.

    • Jamie White

      That seems a bit caddish. And also a bit silly, head of design at Rdio to random body at Facebook? He certainly did step down, in more ways than one.

      If you think this is a bad move, would you pin it down to one man leaving? Can one guy be that pivotal? I just dont know.

      As it is, I think this is a step forward anyway.

  • Andrew Ford

    Im glad a major Mac website has mentioned the design change. When I first loaded up Rdio after the update I thought something had gone screwy with the app – I downloaded it again. After seeing no change in the unrelieved white I found myself ignoring Rdio on my Mac and PC – only using the service when on my mobile.

    At this stage if they have not changed the design within the next month I will move to the competition – which is ugly, but not half as bad as this white travesty.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Yeah, the competition is pretty bad. MOG and Spotify are just an inverse of Rdio’s new theme, which is better on the eyes, but still boring.

  • http://www.mariusmasalar.me Marius Masalar

    Allow me to chime in briefly as a dissenting voice.

    This design decision was drastic and surprising for certain, but I feel that whatever design issues it has are primarily contextual rather than inherent.

    Because many of us are used to working with OSX software, much of which features a great deal of skeumorphic gloss and chrome, seeing a design that follows a different aesthetic — in this case an authentically digital one — is jarring and, evidently, upsetting.

    Not only that, but it makes Rdio stick out on a desktop among an iCal with its stitched leather, or Address Book with its cute notebook design. This discrepancy is also true outside of the stock Apple apps.

    Rdio borrowed many cues from Microsoft’s Zune software interface, which is similar but more refined, having had years to mature.

    What I’m getting at is that design-wise this is actually quite a sleek refresh — minimalistic, certainly, but if they adjust some of the contrast and possibly highlight the structural hierarchy a bit more, they’ll have created an excellent product (in my estimation, of course).

    They removed all the unnecessary glitz, basically, and their failing was only that they didn’t spend enough time ensuring that their redesign had the same structural clarity without the skeumorphic cues.

    I’m sure we’ll see it polished over the next little while as they process this kind of feedback, but you’ll forgive me for saying that it seems silly to entirely abandon an excellent service because they made an effort to bring their design into this decade.

    Just my two cents!

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      I do agree with you in that the app now sticks out more, but I think that it looks foreign on Mac OS X. It’s too minimal right now and needs at least an off-white tone, not one that’s so bright.

    • Greg Fowler

      I was following your comment with interest until you used the “authentically digital” line that Microsoft has been pushing at its Metro presentations.
      There is nothing ‘authentically digital’ about any graphical user interface as every GUI exists to mitigate the complexity of the underlying code. For that matter… programming languages exist to mitigate the underlying complexities of machine language (and so on all the way down to the binary… cue scene from the Matrix).
      Saying something is authentically digital based on the fact that it visually tries to strip away skeumorphism is the same as saying a car designed without power steering is ‘authentically mechanical’. A design approach may, or may not, be what a community of users prefers but authenticity has nothing to do with it. If we stopped calling UI elements ‘buttons’ and called them instead ‘subroutine activators’ or something more ‘authentic’ it would be of no value to users.
      That being said, I agree with you that this new rev of Rdio has not been ‘undesigned’. I would say, rather, that it has been ‘over-designed’. The design philosophy of reductionism, which I applaud as a design tool, has been over-employed to the detriment of the overall experience. It feels that the UI elements have been reduced in order to end up with a certain stylistic goal rather than having been reduced to increase clarity. In this regard, the minimalism serves no greater purpose than the skeumorphic style which it eschews.
      THAT being said, like you, I think Rdio is in a good position to find the sweet spot between stylistic freshness and user friendliness.

      • http://www.mariusmasalar.me Marius Masalar

        Fair enough, Greg, but I’m not sure I explained myself sufficiently when I used the term “authentically digital”.

        Your analogy doesn’t quite encompass the situation because the definition of the phrase that I was working with doesn’t refer to authenticity to the code and structure, but authenticity to the medium. Your analogy equates a feature (power steering) with a design element (the steering wheel). A more accurate example would be to propose that if we invented an new steering method, making the interaction point wheel shaped would be an unnecessary throw-back to a design choice that may no longer be relevant in the new medium, despite its familiarity.

        Certainly, a button is merely a subroutine activator, but that’s not the kind of authenticity I’m talking about. I’m talking about a button having the ability to serve its purpose as a mitigator of underlying complexity without having to appeal to visual metaphors that reference a different medium (i.e. the physical buttons of a tape machine, calculator, etc.) — you can have a button that serves the same purpose but is visually honest to its digital medium.

        What does that look like? *That* is the challenge of this design paradigm, since it is open to design innovation, but my point is that it would be more honest in the sense that it’s not falling back on the crutch of physical familiarity. It’s easy to say that familiar skeumorphic design choices are successful, but in the digital medium it would be lazy to claim that they are the *best* possible design approach, since it’s a new territory that bears exploring. Yes, a 3D button with gloss and shadow works well, but is that the *best* possible design for mitigating the underlying complexity in the digital realm? Safety over innovation, as usual.

        Anyway, we’re on the same page but I wanted to clarify in what sense I had used the term “authentically digital” because I didn’t throw it out as a marketing buzzword.

  • kerb

    You could’ve added a couple of before and after images and/or app screens to those who doesn’t use Rdio and support your opinion.

  • Kirill

    Yes, it’s absolutely terrible!

  • Jamie White

    I do have to concur with the author that the previous design is awesome, it’s a favourite style of mine. I wish all apps (Windows, Linux and Mac) looked as if they were made for iOS or OS X such as that.

    But the new design is a personal style I’ve been trying to pin down, I have mockups on my deviantart but I couldn’t ever get really far with it. This article has made me realise why. The lack of contrast/depth actually makes it hard to design as your mind starts adding things naturally. I have to give it to them, it’s one of the most minimal interfaces I’ve ever seen. And it’s a style you might have to get used to, look at Google in general and you’ll see this style, Windows 8 is getting more like it and the websites colour palette is strikingly familiar (Google logo’s, windows logo’s). It’s an upcoming school of design and I love it.

  • http://bakarichavanu.net Bakari

    I too find the new design a little disconcerting, I’m getting used to it. The problem as you say is that it lacks contrast, so it makes it harder to view content. Great write, btw. Maybe they’ll read and take notice. Last thing we don’t want to happen, however, is that Rdio is bought out by Apple and that puts an end to another web-based music service.

  • http://www.davidsparks.me David Sparks

    I love the new white UI. I’ve been using Rdio since before spotify came to the US. i hate spotify. its UI is 100% the reason i refuse to touch it.

    Rdio has had 3 app designs since i got it. The first one was great i think. I might even still prefer it the best. The second screen shot you have above is the 2nd design and i hated it. Felt like it was just trying to be iTunes 2.0. had no originality or personality. just a bland app to play a good streaming service.

    The all white UI brings back some personality that it lost and still has all the core functionality that make the service good. still crazy easy to use which is where it completely dominates spotify.

    I will agree that the contrast sucks. the greys should be dark grey. People with vision issues are going to have a hard time with these color values. they need to darken them up but other than that i think the all white app is awesome. I’m not sure i’ve seen an app that’s all white the way this one is. i think it fits perfectly.

  • Titus Groan

    Well, lots of apps have gone south in their designs following the grey dullness introduced by Lion. Just look at the Omni apps and Forklift – nice colourful and useful toolbar icons replaced by all-grey abstract shapes so that all is a uniformed greyness. How unuseful is that. Thanks Apple. Thanks Lion. Thanks all of you sheep-like designers of these apps for following suit.

    Wake me up when colour comes back into the mac world!

  • http://twitter.com/dansauve Dan Sauvé

    The new Rdio was a great improvement over their original app, and I was really looking forward to seeing them iron out the remaining kinks.

    Unfortunately, I agree with the comments above. Not only did I find the interface visually unpleasing on first load, but I’m also finding that my hatred of the application grows with every use.

    I’m very disappointed with this release and have no idea why they would make such a dramatic change to their application just months after releasing a major new version. They even rolled it out slowly, which I’d always hoped meant they were/would be validating their design decisions leading up to general availability. I guess not…

  • http://abstraindo.com Brunno dos Santos (@squiter)

    Man!!! I hate this new design!! Its all ugly now! =/

  • http://simoncoulton.com Simon

    Really really not liking the new rdio design. Might also be because I really really do not like Metro.

  • Sebastiaan

    Geez guys… how shallow can you be? It’s still a great service regardless of the design of the app. Do you really have nothing better to do than start Rdio, start some music and then watch the app the entire day? Do you do the same with iTunes? I normally start iTunes, hit play and don’t look at it again until it starts playing something i really don’t want to hear right now…

    While i do agree that the interface itself is an important part of the general experience if you have to look at the app to use it all day like perhaps Numbers or Pages or even MS Word, abandoning an app that runs in the background the majority of the day purely for it’s lack of gradients in the interface? The hell?

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      I have to look at more within an app than just the functionality because that’s how apps work these days.

    • Dilbert Asended

      A person is shallow because he prefers blue over red,or solids vs. plaids?

      Get off your high horse guy.

      • Sebastiaan

        High horse? Hardly. It’s a background app 95% of the time you’re using it. Get over a couple of gradients missing.

  • dix_huit

    Yup, not liking the new design here either. I agree that the current trend for ridiculous skeumorphic design to the point where it starts to actually get in the way is pure madness, so to see someone like Rdio purposefully try something different is great. That said I find the recent Rdio redesign is less intuitive, less attractive and less kind to my eyes in all lighting conditions. The previous design was fine (in fact, I preferred it to Spotify).

    Rdio, you don’t need a redesign to stand out, you need:

    a) much more music (keep going)
    b) to not require a Facebook account for sign up (check)
    c) better library management options than Spotify (not hard)
    d) a Roku app (check)
    e) a mind-blowingly kick-ass mobile app (still to play for)

    Spotify’s recent moves to completely get into bed with Facebook make me angry. I want you to succeed but I’ll never switch if you keep pulling ass-hat moves like un-designing your app for no decent reason.

  • http://markavey.com MarkA

    I really like it! But then, I do prefer the minimalist approach on any web site I visit (not that I often get it).

  • Jordan Pittman

    They need to fire their designers and drop off the face of the earth. A minimalist approach is great, except when one does it like this.

  • Tim

    Who cares about the interface? $10/month for the same features that Pandora offers for $6/month? Pass.

    • http://www.mercifulminerva.com Kay Lotus

      Have you even tried Rdio? Pandora and Rdio have two completely different sets of features and ways of music consumption. On Pandora, can you listen to let’s say Radiohead on demand? Can you view & listen to all albums from Radiohead? Can you add their songs to a playlist? Also, on Rdo, the “radio station” feature is kinda weak and seems to apply only to artists, not songs or albums. I’m also a fan of Pandora but saying that the price difference is unjustfiable because they’re essentially the same app is not accurate.

      But yeah, the new UI leaves a lot to be desired but it’s not unforgivable. What’s unfortunate is all the UI needs is some shadowing/gradient and better (and consistent) fonts to pull a 180. The bolded words on the left navi bar is atrocious especially on smaller-sized fonts.

      • Fofer

        Yep, exactly. Not to mention, Pandora isn’t $6/month. It’s free with ads, or $36/year (ie. $3/year) without. Methinks Tim just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • http://www.mattmontag.com Matt Montag

    Those who don’t like the new design: I have a bookmarklet for restoring some delineation (and the back button) while keeping the spirit of the new look and feel. Try it out and let me know if you have any suggestions. http://www.mattmontag.com/design/rdio-restyle

    • Fofer

      Dead link. Where’d it go?

  • Chris Peden

    I’m not a Rdio user but right now I am glad. The new app/ui looks terrible. I break this down to a simple believe. Metro is a windows thing and should not be on OSX unless someday Apple changes the design principles of OSX.

  • KurtDC

    Agree with you. It’s extreme minimalism relative to their previous UI. They could’ve taken a minimalistic approach without stripping it down to chalk and dust.

  • Daniel King

    I totally agree with this review. I loved the previous UI layout, but this is just gross! I thought my update had installed it incorrectly.

    The user experience is now non existent. The designer should be taken out the back and shot! I’m going to Spotify..

  • Patrickworld

    I don’t like it. I think it’s a little too stark, too dry. If they’ve reduced CPU usage, that’s great, but otherwise, I’m not too impressed.

  • Jay Johnson

    I’m not a huge fan of the ne design and I think it kills the experience for finding new music. RDIO’s recommendations and artist play list never really opened up a lot of new new music for me. the best thing in my opinion, going for RDIo is the iPHone app. I decided to try MOG and the radio feature blew me away! Pandora can’t touch the dead on radio features MOG has for selecting tracks to fill the radio station. The iPhone app for MOG is clunky is in dire need of an update to survive. So, I switched to MOG because the music comes first. The iPhone app is not as good as RDIO but the music selection and dead on recommendations are what matter most to me.

  • http://commandm.com.au Matt Thomas

    I personally miss the old (relatively new) ui. I love the look of windows Metro design but just feel like it lacks personality, and as stated in the post, contrast. Everything is just floating in the air (and belive me, I love whitespace) with no clear divides.

    I think this is a result of the new head of design at rdio trying to make his mark after Wilson left for facebook.

    As a web designer by trade I always like to give redesigns time to sink in a give the author the benefit of the doubt, but I just feel like the new rdio is “eh”.

  • watermelonkid

    I cannot think of another example of any application update I’ve experienced (Windows or Mac) where even a drastic change in UI spawned initial confusion over whether it was intentional or not. Many times, we’ve all used applications that changed their UI (Facebook comes to mind) and immediately you KNOW it’s just an update to the UI–and you like it or you don’t. But that was not the case here.

    As a fellow graphic design/web professional, I updated my Rdio and I didn’t think “Oh, man this is a drastic change–I’m not sure I like it.” I thought, “F*ck, maybe the update I downloaded was corrupt and I need to redownload it.” Or “There must be a problem with the style sheet.”

    It takes something very inherently counter intuitive and ultimately, piss poor, for so many people to feel that way. Just look at the first posts to Rdio’s Help section. They’re not “I hate the new design.” They read “there’s something wrong with Rdio–it’s all white.” And despite irony’s prevalence these days, these were real queries as to what was wrong.

    The good news is that as naive as I feel saying it, I have a feeling Rdio is going to fix this. It’s suicide not to. Reading some of the replies from Rdio employees, the initial response of “it’s here to stay” is starting to sound like “please stick around…we’re working on it.”

    Here’s to hoping. It’s f*cking abysmal to look at now.

  • Mikey

    It’s a radio app, right? You use it to listen to music, right? I don’t get the obsession with staring at a screen in what essentially is a sound app. I love my Mac, but I’m not obsessed with the “Mac look” and don’t insist that every Mac app adhere to some esoteric visual standard to look alike. Take a deep breath.

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