Life@Kobalt: How to Design a Killer App for Artists with Andy Haji

There are 2.2 million apps via Apple’s App Store and Google Play for everything you could possibly imagine, from garage door openers to real time language translators. It’s an interesting time to be an app developer; there is an incredible amount of resources out there for creators to utilize to work on their own app, but as a result, the competition is fierce. Though over 70% of the US population owns a smartphone, the app market is muddy, with each app trying to stand out from the rest, doubly so within the music sector. For today’s Life at Kobalt, we spoke with Andy Haji, Kobalt’s product design lead, who led the creation of an app so unique that it’s changing how the music industry goes about its day to day business.

Over the past decade or so, Andy has worked with some of the world’s leading companies, developing product design and finessing user experience on some of technology that we use everyday. Through his experience collaborating with brands like Nike, Google, HSBC, Foot Locker, EE, Credit Suisse, and more, Andy knows what it means to launch industry-leading technology.

So, when he was hired by Kobalt in June of last year to build the product design discipline of Kobalt, the first project that fell to him was taking the lead on the development of the AWAL App. He knew that in order to truly make the AWAL App desirable to independent artists he couldn’t settle for simply creating a design and experience to rank number one amongst the artist community; he needed to compete with the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world.

When the app launched in March of this year, Andy accomplished exactly what he set out to achieve. Not only did the app execute on its promise to deliver a deeper understanding of streaming performance, but it was designed and laid out in a manner that has helped it to become as addicting to users as some of the most popular apps out there.

We recently caught up with the man behind the user experience and design of an app which currently has thousands of happy users to get a look behind the scenes and better understand how crude data points were transformed into an artwork.

Q:Describe what it means to be the product design lead. What role did you have with the creation of the app?

I’m the design lead here in London for product, which means my role spans across more than just the app. I’m responsible for the design and user experience of all of our digital products. My role is to ensure that we are creating the best experiences we can for our clients.

A product designs' role is much more than just the look and feel. We're tasked with understanding user behavior, business needs and goals, and what our development capabilities are. We sit in the middle of that triangle – desirability, feasibility, and viability.

Our job is all about creating great experiences for our members that enable them to get on with what they’re best at – making music. They don’t want to have products that get in the way.

Q:How did you approach creating the brand image of the AWAL App?

There were two streams of design work going on. One was developing the overall AWAL brand, and the other was creating a design system that used the new brand within our digital products. AWAL’s brand is very visually striking and unique. However, the way we needed to apply it to the interface design needed to be carefully considered, so that it didn’t get in the way of the user experience.

The app is a powerful tool for the client, it’s their data we are showing, but it’s brought to them by AWAL. We wanted to make sure the design represented that. As you enter the app, the screens are heavily branded, but the deeper into the app you go, we tone the branding down. The balance begins to shift and makes the user’s information the priority. The layout is very open, lots of white space, strong typographic hierarchy, and really easy to understand graphs.

The main thing we wanted to do was offer awesome data that our clients have never seen before, wrapped up in a really simple intuitive user experience. 

Q:How can you envision an artist or manager using this app?

Let’s say for instance, the app showcases you’re getting better streaming on Spotify compared to Apple Music. Now, you know that you’re doing well on Spotify, so maybe you should interrogate the data as to why that is, and focus more on Apple Music. You can really use these insights to help drive how and where you market yourself. Another example: you’re looking at one of your tracks, and you scroll to the top countries graph, and Mexico is number 2. This can help prompt a revelation, “oK, I didn’t realize I had an audience there, so next time I’m planning a tour, I can use that information to pick which cities to go to.”

It’s the access to information that clients have never seen before, which is one of the most powerful aspects of the app.

Additionally, one of Kobalt’s main promises is transparency and this app really offers that. It opens up the data to our clients and puts it into their hands in real time — as soon as we get the data, they get it. Being able to see your royalties, and getting notified when you are added to playlists are also a great features.

Q: Outside the app, from your experiences, what would you say are the essentials to create a successful brand identity?

I think the identity of a brand is the final output of a lot of work. You have to understand your audience and who is going to receive the product. You can design something that looks great, but if nobody understands it or gets the message you’re trying to convey, then you’ve failed. We test everything we do at every single point to make sure that we understand our audience — what their motivations and needs are, and the problems we can solve for them.

You can’t develop something great unless you truly understand your audience.

I think a brand should never stop evolving. It should adapt with the market, especially in the digital space. Within 6 months, another product could come out that leaves you behind.

A brand always needs to stay on its toes and develop itself to move with the times.

With AWAL, we’ve created a brand that is striking and impactful. A brand we think really differentiates us from the market. We’re working on a bunch of products at the moment that will take our customer experience of AWAL to the next level.

Q:The design of the AWAL App is rather unique and striking. What were some of the feelings you were hoping the design would convey to artists?

AWAL is all about making a difference for artists. We wanted to create a product that our clients would love using and would use on a daily basis. They need to feel empowered. We want them to know this tool was made for them, this information is theres. The brand is very visually engaging, and the app needed to represent that. We wanted our clients to open the app and say “wow! this looks great!” At the same time, the challenge was when to dial up the brand and when not to. I think we reached a really nice balance. We use our primary gradient and imagery as you enter the app, to reinforce the brand, but then tone it down, using lots of white space and clean typography, once you hit your data so the information some room to breathe.  

We spent a lot of time in the detail, really simplifying how we display the mass of data sources in a really user-centric way. We wanted to ensure we displayed the right amount of data, at the right time, so our clients can feel at ease when using the app.  

Explore the design and functionalities of the AWAL App for yourself! Head over to AWAL.com and check it out. 

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