I conducted this usability study in October 2018 to better understand how Audible might improve their product.* Based on a random sampling I made some tweaks to Audible’s interface and saw a dramatic improvement in usability.
I was the sole designer on this project and ran the entire process from research to UI design myself.
Three screens updated for usability
I discovered through testing that users struggled with completing core actions within the app’s functionality: finding help, bookmarking their progress, sharing books with friends, and navigating between chapters.
After some tweaks to the UI I saw a huge jump in the completion of the tasks. Before only 0/7 or 1/7 users could complete core actions within the app. After my changes 6/7 and 7/7 users could complete these actions.
I conducted seven guerrilla usability tests in a coffee shop in Oakland, CA. During tests I asked participants to complete five tasks that anyone using the app might want to complete, such as:
“You’re in the middle of listening to a book and you want to go back to a specific section. How would you navigate to that location?“
Catering to an older demographic
I did some cursory market research to determine what business directives Audible might have. I found that 48% of audiobook listeners are over the age of 44 - so potentially half of Audible’s users could have trouble with their vision and/or are not digital natives.
This was particularly interesting to me as I watched several participants in the usability tests struggle reading the small type and buttons in the app.
Making sense of the insights
In order to organize and then prioritize pain points of Audible’s customers, I mapped insights from each session. This affinity map highlights common ground and hot spots.
One of the main pain points in the Audible app - for the business and customers alike - is not being able to purchase books from within the app or even link to the web store. This is a huge deal for Audible because their business model is built on selling content to their users. It’s also big for customers: it’s the first question served in the FAQ.
So why can’t Audible sell content within the app? It probably has something to do with the the 30% cut Apple takes from every purchase of digital products on the iPhone. This is not a problem I can (currently) solve, so I decided to focus on other, lower-hanging fruit.
Four areas of focus
Customers can’t find their their last listened-to spot, and can’t find bookmarks
Customers have issues using the various scrolling functions
Customers can’t find Rate & Review or Send to a Friend
Customers can’t find the help button
Mapping convoluted flows
To ensure I was keeping the customer experience in mind before I began making changes, I mapped out the steps customers take to complete the tasks they’re struggling with.
Exploring possible solutions
I sketched new possibilities for the interface, refining different ideas for alterations. I aimed to make the smallest necessary changes while retaining full functionality. This way I could improve usability while maintaining the same user experience Audible has spent time and money building to this point.
Hi-fi & Prototype
[For the clickable prototype scroll to the bottom of the page.]
While converting the wireframes to a prototype I noticed several accessibility issues with the app. The contrast in many areas was not passing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and some of the hit areas for buttons and icons were smaller than the apple guideline of 44x44 px.
Keeping in mind that Audible could potentially increase their business by catering to 50% of their listeners - those who have trouble with visibility - I tried, wherever possible, to increase the contrast and size of components.
The results of my work
Hierarchy and navigation are indivisible
When designing for a broad audience, with varying levels of digital familiarity, pay attention to hierarchy. Folks tend to look at the top or bottom for high-level functions.
Confused users don’t click around, they give up
Not everyone will always understand what certain icons mean. Often users are too overwhelmed and busy to click around experimentally.
Balancing branding and accessibility poses a challenge
Audible chose their brand color (a bright orange) and small tap areas over accessibility throughout the app. It was surprising to see such a well-known product breaking best practices.
*I am not affiliated with Amazon or Audible in any way - just love reading.