Rad to the bone.  The best podcast app you've never heard of

Radcast is an rad new podcast app designed to be lightweight, functional, and synced to anywhere users want to listen.

The Problem

  • Engagement with the app drops significantly when users are faced with an empty screen (i.e. My Podcasts)

The Ask

  • Come up with innovative solutions preventing users from landing on a completely empty screen

Starting At The End

Before diving into design, it's important to know what success looks like.  In this case, the perfect scenario is keeping users engaged as they move through the app – listening to their favorite podcasts as well as discovering new ones.

To meet our goals, what has to be true?

  • Users have to find immediate value in Radcast
  • Remove any brick walls and friction within the app (e.g. empty screens) 

"the perfect scenario is keeping users engaged as they move through the app – listening to their favorite podcasts as well as discovering new ones."

Understand and Observe

Now that we know where we want to be at the end, lets figure out what insight we can gain from additional research and observations.

Current user flow

How do users currently traverse through the app for the first time

😎 New Customer   ➡️   Mobile Site  ➡️   Sign Up  ➡️   Find Podcast  🔄   Listen to podcast

For the sake of this challenge, the focus will be on the last two items.


What is a podcast?

Podcasting is an interesting medium.  It combines the best parts of traditional radio, audiobooks, and many other storytelling formats.  It’s digital delivery allows users to have their content downloaded and synced across a multitude of devices.  These two things – being similar to other audio sources and having a digital delivery – provide Radcast an opportunity to reach a growing number of users.  This brings us to our next question...

How big is podcasting?

Although podcast listening appears to slowly be on the rise, when compared to all other audio sources, it's 2% share is not huge a all. In fact it's more similar to the tiny spec on the clover flower in "Horton Hears a Who!"

 % of U.S. adults ages 12 or older who have listened to a podcast in the past month vs. actual share of time spent listening

% of U.S. adults ages 12 or older who have listened to a podcast in the past month vs. actual share of time spent listening

This uphill battle gives Radcast a small margin for error against other podcasts apps, as well as what we will see in the next part:  Our real competition...

Who are our competitors?

While it's easy to say that our direct competitors would be other podcasting apps, I like to think that other podcasting apps aren't our competition at all.  

Why are people going to use Radcast?  To listen to their favorite podcasts and discover new podcasts?... sure.  A better question is... what job are users hiring Radcast to do for them?  The answer is to entertain them, educate them, engage them – helping them escape from whatever they are doing.  This could be at work, at home or on a train or while they are cooking, exercising, or before they lay down for sleep.  If you look at it from this perspective, you'll understand that our competitors could be any of the following products below.  

Now that we understand that we are essentially battling other "Homescreen" apps, or better yet apps that have built up tremendous loyalty with users, we can decide on the best platform to attack first.

Is mobile web the right place to start?

One constraint of this challenge is to first concentrate on a mobile web version and subsequently shift to desktop, iOS and Android.  Key questions to answer are:

  1. Where are users listening and downloading content?
  2. Is there an argument to prioritize desktop? 

According to the Pew Research Center

mobile devices (smartphones, tablets or other portable devices) are increasingly preferred over desktops or laptops for podcast listening. In 2016, 64% of Americans age 12 or older who have ever listened to a podcast said they were listening “most often” on a mobile device, compared to 55% in 2015. Conversely, 34% said in 2016 that they listen most often on a desktop or laptop computer, while 42% said this in 2015.
— http://www.journalism.org/2016/06/15/podcasting-fact-sheet/

This preference for mobile podcast listening can also be seen further through the Libsyn's publicly available internal download for data.

Libsyn’s data for downloads by preferred type of device tracks with the mobile preferences reflected in Edison’s survey data: 69% of podcast downloads in 2015 were requested from mobile devices, while just 31% were requested from desktop and laptop computers. In 2014, 63% of podcast downloads were requested from mobile devices, compared with 37% from desktops and laptops.
— http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/3410621

After looking at the data and how people use and consume podcasts, mobile web is a great place to start.


Sketches and Concepts

Now that we have more context and can see many different angles of the problem, it's time to explore some solutions.

Concept # 1

The Casey Kasem 

One piece of insight from my earlier research was the disparity between podcast listeners and AM/FM radio listeners – 2% vs 54% to be exact.  The fact that a high number of people still listen to the radio brought me back to a time when I was 10-11 and enjoyed listening to the American Top 40, hosted by Casey Kasem.  It got me thinking... people already solved the problem of having a "empty screen" when listening to audio. 

 Remember buying a car without a AUX cable?

Remember buying a car without a AUX cable?

When you buy a car for the first time and turn on the radio two things will happen.

  1. Music will be playing instantly 
  2. You will most likely hit one of the station buttons marked 1 - 6

Do you remember what happens the moment you hit a button?... Yup, you'll still hear music (or some random person speaking from a commercial).  Why does this happen?  It happens because your car radio comes pre-programmed with radio stations already set.

My proposal is to have the "My Podcasts" screen come pre-programmed.

 Early sketches of proposed layout

Early sketches of proposed layout

I created wires for two different experiences.  The first example takes on the exact radio interaction, populating the "My Podcasts" screen with a handful of selected podcasts.  Notice the additional copy, which I think can make all the difference in appearing helpful instead of annoying.

I anticipate that these podcasts will be pulled from "Top Podcasts" or from other sources where we can source the most popular/listened episodes.

The second example takes a more laid back approach.  Instead of adding top rated podcasts of the bat, we give the user ideas for their first podcast.  This gives them the opportunity to interact with the app and possibly discover a new podcast.

Concept #2

Give A Little Bit

One other idea I had follows a similar interaction pattern to Netflix, Apple Music and Foursquare.  Before users enter the main flow, they are prompted with a question (or series of questions) that highlight their preferences.  By "giving a little bit" of information, we can customize the experience for users and provide them with relevant content.


Below is a prototype of the proposed design.  There are a couple things to note:

  • Moved "profile" as a secondary navigation item grouped with search
  • The two primary tabs – Featured and My Podcasts – are the focal point of the app and allow users to discover and consume content equally.
  • Added a modal screen that shows how the interaction of adding a podcast would work on the mobile web

A Peek Into The Process