Alexa Spotlight Blueprint
Overview As the lead designer for Amazon's Alexa Blueprints team, I drove the design of one of Blueprints most ambitious projects, the “Artist Spotlight” Blueprint. This was an embedded experience within the Amazon Music for Artist App. Spotlight served two main personas — music artists and music artist managers. This Blueprint enabled artists to quickly publish custom commentary paired with a song of their choice and a captioned image, which could be instantly published as an Alexa Skill for their fans to consume via a unique invocation phrase. I worked hand-in-hand with 3 separate teams to design and build this product and I had to overcome several hurdles, both functional and visual.
CompanyAmazon RoleLead UX Designer, VXD, IXD, IA, User Researcher Year 2020
From Wires to Final Designs
After working through requirements for MLP (Minimal Lovable Product), I explored competitor products such as Pandora and Spotify and dove into the Music team's design library. As I began creating wires and reviewing with product and engineering I quickly realized the limitations of the Blueprints framework and components. I found that the components and layout were not engineered to be theme-able. This posed a major problem, as this Blueprint experience would be our first mobile-embedded experience, and the default Blueprint style guide had a drastically different visual theme than the app it was embeded within. Additionally, being a template-based system, Blueprint components were shared across templates, meaning if a change was made to one, that component was then changed across all Blueprint templates. To help remedy this inconsistent experience, I proposed to engineering that we create a separate master CSS file specifically for embedded experiences.
Long story short, the proposal was quickly approved and implemented, giving much more flexibility to how components could be styled for this project and projects to come. We still had to adhere to the foundational structure of the component, but the visual aspect could now be consistent with the app the Blueprint was embedded within. Throughout this project I had to get creative with which components I leveraged and, in a few instances, I had to design completely new component experiences.
From 48 hours, to 3 minutes
Artist's expectations were that they could publish their Spotlight in a matter of minutes. Artists had no concept of what an Alexa Skill was, all they knew was if they could upload and publish audio and images instantly through Twitter or Facebook, why wouldn't they be able to do the same when publishing their content to Alexa. This posed a huge problem — publishing a skill to the skill store usually took a couple days for a Blueprint.
Anything less than “instant” would negatively impact the customer’s perception of the experience. So, I began to identify areas where the experience could be simplified for Artists, for example I worked with engineering to figure out how we could auto-create a vendor account based off artists existing account, which reduced the setup complexity down to a single "I agree" checkbox that appeared just prior to publishing. I also worked with the team on a pre-publish feature, which required careful design thinking through several edge cases in order to give the illusion of a first-time creation experience. The end result was a skill that could be created and published “Live” in 3 to 5 minutes! The next step is to get that down to 3 to 5 seconds!
Prototypes & Research Lab To help ensure this feature met the needs of artists and artist managers, I organized and conducted a usability study to validate my designs using an InVision prototype that I created. The testing consisted of 8 lab sessions facilitated through the dScout online testing tool. Each session lasted between 60-75 minutes. The participants consisted of 1 pilot test, 1 artist, and 6 artist managers who were recruited through the Amazon Music team. Critical findings from the study included 1) allowing participants to preview prior to publishing a Spotlight, 2) better education around subscription tiers and how they affect the customer, and 3) providing video examples to assist in educating artists and artist managers on what a Spotlight is.
Launch Spotlight was announced during 2021’s Alexa Live event and since has been released to Artists as a Public Beta. Spotlight has already been used by dozens of artist including “Taylor Swift," “The Tones and I," “Little Simz,," and many more. An earlier version of Artist Spotlight that I worked on and designed, called Artist Stories, was used by Mariah Carey and her team to create the "Mariah's Christmas Countdown" skill back in Dec of 2019. Spotlight has also gone on to spawn a series of related Amazon Alexa initiatives.