3 Design Lessons From Spotify's Chief Product Designer
Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.
The sustainability of music-streaming app Spotify has been called into question many times, but for Tobias van Schneider, the company's head designer, successful ideas should appear doomed before they're able to succeed.
Van Schneider is something of a case study for this philosophy, having pursued a career in design after being rejected from every design school he applied to. Now, he builds new products for Spotify in the company's New York office, a gig he landed after gaining notoriety for pitching a new email application idea. Perhaps unsurprisingly, before launching his idea, many people told him it was "nothing special."
Here are three design tips that van Schneider says have been key to Spotify's disruptive potential:
Stop worrying about failure.
In the wake of Napster, the idea of designing a program that lets consumers access millions of songs instantly, for free, sounded doomed to fail. If the designers behind Spotify had succumbed to these fears, however, the company never would have gotten off the ground. "If you can remove all fears and go one step at a time, you will find things that will guide you along the way," van Schneider recently told First Round Review. "New doors will open for you."
Growth can take time (and that's OK).
Despite Spotify's hockey-stick growth in recent years that eventually landed it a $4 billion valuation, the company was far from an overnight success. Designing the technology that led to Spotify's widespread adoption began in Sweden back in 2008. Expanding the business to other countries has actually been a slow process, to say nothing of the long negotiations that finally lead to all four major music labels agreeing to let Spotify share their music. "You don't give up when you don't see growth, and when you don't give up, anything can happen," van Schneider says. "When someone tells me I can't do something, I say, 'Thank you, now I'm definitely going to do it."
Build upon stupid ideas.
To attract new users to Spotify's free service, the company streams in commercial breaks between songs, a drawback that many consumers would consider a deal breaker. After all, if you wanted to listent to commercials, you'd turn on the radio, right? People flocked to the service anyway. “Think of the very, very first step you would take to realize your idea,” van Schneider says. “I think when people work on ‘stupid’ side projects, they spend more time thinking this way...When you treat something like it’s stupid, you have fun with it."
So before you throw away your latest design for a new product because someone said it was "stupid"--or because you doubt its growth potential--let go of the fears you associate with failing and focus on having fun with your idea.