How Stinkdigital created Spotify’s Year in Music

Spotify’s Year in Music offers an interactive journey through users’ listening habits around the world in 2015. We spoke to Mark Pytlik, CEO of Stinkdigital, about how it was made

The website generates a personalised round-up of users’ listening habits over the past year. Log in and you can see the first track you played, the songs, albums and artists you’ve listened to most and the amount of time you’ve spent listening to music in 2015.

For non-Spotify users, the site generates a list of top albums and artists based on your location and lets you view what’s been popular in other countries from Argentina to Taiwan. Drake is the top artist globally, Ed Sheeran in the UK and Maroon 5 has topped the list in Chile, Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Both experiences also offer a look back at some of the defining moments in news and popular culture from the past year, from Sepp Blatter’s resignation as head of FIFA following allegations of corruption to Zayn Malik’s decision to leave One Direction and the legalisation of gay marriage in the US, Ireland and Finland. For each event, Spotify has curated an accompanying playlist – from suggested wedding songs to tracks from bands who’ve lost their frontman – which you can stream via its website.

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The site is available in 35 languages and 57 countries and works on tablets, phones and desktops. Stinkdigital CEO Mark Pytlik says the aim was to showcase Spotify’s listening data in a fun and compelling way.

“We wanted to build an experience that worked equally well on an individual level as well as a global level,” he says. “The global experience – which is what you see if you don’t log in – provides listening data about Spotify’s userbase as a whole. The accompanying cultural and musical stories are relevant to your geographical location, but aren’t more targeted than that.

“The personalised view provides listening data about your specific year. It also serves up cultural and musical stories according to your tastes and geographical location. This means it’s entirely possible that Spotify users with different tastes in different parts of the world to have completely different experiences, from the data insights all the way through to the accompanying stories.

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“Although part of the thrill of the experience comes from the insights generated around your individual listener data, it was also important for all of us to make an experience that was equally rewarding for non-Spotify users. We spent a lot of time vetting data stories against an individual and a global view to make sure the results were equally interesting across both axes,” he adds.

Pytlik says the project took around five months from start to finish. The brief for the design was “very open,” he says – early mock-ups featured brush fonts, glitchy graphics and a bolder black and pink colour palette, which was later replaced by softer shades of pink, yellow, lilac and blue.

“We started very wide but got to the current direction – which makes use of gradients and other effects – pretty quickly. It really helped that the entire team at Spotify and Stinkdigital had similar design taste and got excited about all the same things,” he adds.

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Early mock-ups for Spotify’s Year in Music.

The site makes use of key elements from Spotify’s colourful identity (designed by New York branding agency Collins) such as duotone photos and its round sans typeface along with a custom colour palette and Klein Blue and white accents. Gradients and colours are the same for each user, but change as users move through the experience. “You can even see those changes reflected in places like the righthand menu navigation as you progress from one section to the next,” adds Pytlik.

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A style guide for the Year in Music site. Stinkdigital devised a series of gradients which change as users progress through the site

The site uses Spotify’s database of artist and artwork images (supplied by labels) to dynamically generate pictures for users based on their musical tastes. “The work for us was less about manually creating different combinations than it was about coming up with a system that could dynamically utilise any of those images in an aesthetically pleasing way,” explains Pytlik.

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“It meant we had less control over the design of every individual screen, and that some dynamically generated layouts might look a little nicer depending on the album/artist art available, but ultimately what was most important is that every user had an experience that was specifically tailored to their year and their tastes,” he adds.

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An accompanying OOH campaign created with Colossal Media shows listening habits in cities from London to Los Angeles

Gathering data was fairly straightforward – but presenting information in a format that would work across multiple devices and various languages was considerably more complex, explains Pytlik.

“We had to design every screen so that it would look good with both the minimum and the maximum-length returns. The experience not only had to work equally well with numbers, artists and track titles of highly varying length, but also across 35 languages (again, with highly varying length of translated copy) and on everything from a smartphone to a 27” monitor,” he says. “A big part of the challenge came down to the idiosyncrasies inherent in different character sets, translations and deployments.”

Stinkdigital has also worked with Colossal Media to create outdoor advertising in cities from London to Los Angeles, which display local listening data, and a series of videos for use online and in cinemas which will be rolled out this month.

You can try the interactive out for yourself at yearinmusic.spotify.com

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