Design Chats

Inside the Design Team at SoundCloud

4 min read
Conor O’Driscoll
  •  Oct 14, 2014
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We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, inspirations, workspace must-haves and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. Today, we’re talking to Sarah Kranz, product designer at SoundCloud, an audio platform with a huge community of audio creators & consumers. We chatted to Sarah about finding inspiration in communication, living in Berlin, and leaving a legacy.

Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Tell us a little bit about SoundCloud and your role there.

SoundCloud is an audio platform that gives users unprecedented access to the world’s largest community of music and audio creators. We provide tools that allow anybody to post audio content for their friends, followers, or the whole world to listen to. SoundCloud covers a vast spectrum of content, from science podcasts to Obama’s latest speech, from fresh upcoming bands to Beyoncé. It’s a really diverse community that reaches more than 350 million people every month around the globe. I’m a product designer focusing mostly on mobile.

Where, outside of other design, do you get inspiration for your work?

A lot of my ideas come from simply seeing how others communicate and interact with things.Twitter Logo I love watching a political discussion, waiting for the metro and hearing two girls chatting about music, or watching a guy fight with a vending machine. These interactions that are constantly happening all around us are incredibly interesting to me, because, at the end of the day, communication is the base of everything we do as designers.Twitter Logo

I also love going on long walks with my dog. I just let my mind wander and take in the autumnal air. It’s very important to reset your brain now and then, by going places you’ve never been before.Twitter Logo I think, at heart, all designers are lifelong explorers.Twitter Logo

With InVision, we can just let our work speak for itself.

So, you’re based in Berlin. How have you found living there, and what’s the creative community like in the city?

I can’t imagine living in any other city than Berlin right now – it’s just so vibrant and exciting. There are constantly a wide variety of excellent exhibitions going on. You can always find delicious food from all over the world. You can go grocery shopping in a little market, and they’ll greet you by name. You can be right in the middle of all that, but you can also take a 30-minute drive out of the city and find yourself immersed in endless forests and nature, which makes for a really balanced city, I feel.

There’s also a thriving design and tech community here, mainly because there are so many startups in Berlin. Here at SoundCloud, we regularly host meetups and hackathons, but we’re just a small fraction of everything that’s going on. It’s a small enough community though that wherever you are, you’ll always find a familiar face in the crowd.

Walk us through your process for crafting new features at SoundCloud.

Our process usually starts with defining the goals of the project together with our project managers – what problem are we solving, and who are we solving it for? We gather information from stakeholders, like the Insights Team and the Community Team. From there, we’ll go right into wireframing and sketching out possible solutions. We show the prototype to everybody involved in the project, and right after that, we’ll put our ideas in front of some of our users.

Then we’ll move forward into the nitty-gritty: defining the specs, polishing the details, getting a thumbs up from 2+ designers before we hand over to the developers. The developers have been included throughout the whole process though. They’ll have seen everything from the first prototype forward. Once development is complete, we’ll have a QA session to make sure everything is working as we wanted. And then we ship.

And how does InVision fit into that process?

InVision has really made a big difference in our workflow – all the designers at SoundCloud are using it. I use InVision to put together some of the first prototypes and wireframes for our ideas. In order to support our UX decisions, it’s really important for me to be able to experience the flow and tap on things just as the user would.

Ultimately, success means being the person you want to be – getting to a point where you are fine with who you are.

We also use InVision a lot for user testing and for sharing our designs. Before we had InVision, we would send static layouts and screenshots to other people on the team and have to spend a lot of time describing and explaining the idea. But now, I can just send over the prototype and say “Here you go – have a look.” With InVision, we can just let our work speak for itself.

How would you define success, and do you think you’ve found it yet?

I think there are a lot of ways to define success. Success can be recognition in the community – having lots of followers or having people asking you for advice. Success can be shipping a project and people loving it. However, success in your work isn’t everything. You have to lead a successful life outside of it too.Twitter Logo It’s all about finding the right balance between work and life. I think ultimately, success means being the person you want to beTwitter Logo and getting to a point where you are fine with who you are. I don’t think that I’m quite there yet, but I think I’d probably say the same thing if you asked me when I was 80. I feel I’m on the right path though.

What do you see next for the design world? Where are we next headed?

Whatever happens, usability and human interaction will always be at the heart of what design is.Twitter Logo I also believe that we’re going to see more apps focusing on just one aspect and doing that one thing really well. I can also see pervasive computing growing in importance. But I don’t think that wearables, in their current state, will necessarily be part of that. Unless they become invisible, they will remain just gadgets. I try not to think too much about new trends though, or what’s up next, and instead try to focus on what the user needs and how we can communicate what we’re trying to communicate. Great design is about finding a balance between frictionless usability & a delightful experience.Twitter Logo

Designers are not the center of the world, but we can make the sign that points to it.

What kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind for the design world?

“Legacy” – That word doesn’t quite fit right with me. I’m more interested in just doing things that push the company forward and making great products. I’m not in this field for me, but for us.Twitter Logo I would be happy if people just thought of me and said “Oh yeah, we had a good time together.” That would be fine, I think.

So to what extent do you feel that design can change the world?

I think we can definitely have an input in the world, because design, in some small way, is everywhere and in everything.Twitter Logo We definitely have the opportunity to nudge things in what we think is the right direction. However, I do believe that there are more important things in the world than design. Designers are not the center of the world, but we can make the sign that points to it.Twitter Logo

“All designers are lifelong explorers.”

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“Include developers throughout the whole process, everything from the first prototype forward. “

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“We’re going to see more apps focusing on just one aspect & doing that one thing really well.”

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“Pervasive computing is growing in importance.”

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“Try to focus on what the user needs & how we can communicate what we’re trying to communicate.”

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“We have the opportunity to nudge things in what we think is the right direction.”

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Photography by Moritz Koenigsbuescher.

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