Ultimate Guitar has established itself as the go-to database for learning songs. Although their interface is packed with several tools to aid the user in playing, users are still left wanting when it comes to an experience. Prototyping involved playing guitar while designing the interface. One particular feature seemed to make all the difference for usability and customer retention....
The world of music made a shift years ago, when graphic notation was used less and less. It was a broken method with a high learning curve. Even those who are familiar with staff/sheet music sometimes prefer the simplicity of tablatures (a.k.a., tabs) and chords sheets.
One of the most prominent databases derived from Russia - Ultimate Tabs. As of late, they have several mobile apps that do incredibly well - tab database, sheet music database, tutorials database, guitar/ukulele tuner, etc. While the mobile experience has advanced, a lot of their existing website has not really met the mark. I reached out with them with my own ideas on how to build a valuable experience. I was positively biased - I was a long-time user of their assets and a pretty okay musician myself.
While Ultimate Guitar remains king in the landscape of other tablature sites, they really a weak grasp on that title, because they don’t own any of the tabs. They can easily be snatched and placed in a better interface (which it indeed happens, pretty often). So they are consistently trying to create new value in their UI - for example, an auto scrolling module in their tab interface. The right sentiment (observing the music reading behavior of their users), it still falls short in being truly useful.
In the world of tab search, it is highly likely to find tabs that are incorrect - because it is all user generated content. Therefore their rating system helps immensely when looking for the right tabs. While some people may look at the lower ranking tabs, it would be a better experience to highlight the high ranking-tabs and hide the low-ranking tabs - so users don’t have to spend time sifting through BS.
Part of my research process was to identify key moments of frustration in music reading. So I chose songs I wasn’t very familiar in playing.
It came down to prototyping several methods - approaching the size of the text, clarity of fonts, even with symbols. In the end I put the chords in colored boxes. It made it easy to identify chords, but also pick up where I left off if my eyes wandered away from the screen when I played.
I noticed something interesting - I was training myself to follow the colors instead of merely the chord letters. I find this interesting, because it was substantially easier as an addition to the letters…but I was building a dependence to the colors. A dependence could equate to loyalty from a business perspective. Being one of the largest databases for tabs/chords in a sea of competitors, I figured this was more than a UX insight find, but a strong method of solidifying a brand’s market share in a commoditized landscape.