“Anchor is the easiest way to make a podcast, ever” ~ Anchor, 2018
Anchor started as an app that allowed users to upload segments of audio (up to 5 minutes long) that they could post and have live for 24 hours. Users then had the opportunity of permanently posting these segments to their station, and even uploading these segments to Apple and Google Podcasts. In a nutshell, Anchor became a unique social network for people to create podcasts.
It was a fun idea, but what got me hooked on Anchor last year was their design. As soon as I opened the app, bright colours caught my eye. The News Rundown said “Hey Abbie! Welcome to Anchor”. I was greeted with a spinning “turntable” like interface that displayed only my favourited stations. I could spin through these stations and pick what I wanted to listen too. Anchor was a personalized experience (even down to saying my name) and looked different from any other social media app. I got claps instead of likes from other people who favourited my station and I could comment or call-in to other stations. Overall, Anchor felt like a new world I was exploring, with enough familiar features to not be scary and enough newness to keep exploring.
Anchor didn’t stop here. Every update made the app better. One notable update was the addition of Anchor’s audio editor. Anchor removed the complicatedness of audio editing with this update by taking a segment that the user wanted to edit, transcribing it, and then asking the user to pick a starting and ending word. After choosing these words, the new edited segment would start and end at these words. No more waveforms and blade tools. Granted, it lacked a lot of features most basic audio editors have, but it wasn’t meant to be a serious editing tool. Anyone who wanted to do serious editing had the option to upload audio from their computer. Anchor’s audio editor was for users who had never touched an audio editor before. Anchor provided these users with an editing option that was immediately familiar. With an app on a smartphone, Anchor gave anyone the ability to record and edit audio, no previous experience required.
Open, fun, personal, innovative, user-focused. My kind of app.
At least… that’s what it used to be.
On February 22, Anchor released a brand new re-design of their app. Eager to try it out and excited at the thought of a new innovative update, I downloaded it immediately. The result?
Yes, what used to be a colourful, personalized home screen, different from all of my other social media apps, was replaced with something familiar, including more promoted content and less colour.
The biggest problem here is that I can’t completely bash Anchor for doing this… everyone else has this design.
As you can see, every single one of these social media apps has four common elements:
- Rounded Rectangles
- White Backgrounds
- Colourful Accents
Some of these screens even look like they could be from the same application. Social Media companies have decided that this is the formula for a great app, and no one dares to try and change it.
With experience designing apps, I see the appeal of creating an easy-to-make, familiar app. I just finished designing one last year. It feels very satisfying to see users quickly recognize the formula of the pages you’ve created and use your app with ease.
The problem is, this layout, with the four common elements I mentioned above, is boring.
When will someone make a truly new social media app design? Why can’t we have colour again? Why can’t we have the spinning wheel that Anchor used to have? What was/is wrong with being different?
Anchor went from breaking the social media app design “rules” to following them. With the new update, all of the content I want to listen to is jammed in a small horizontal scroll bar, The News Rundown no longer says my name (but apparently that’s coming back?), and a significant amount of colour is gone. I’m arguing that this update made Anchor go from a delightful, personalized app to just another social media app that happens to be centred around audio.
I understand that part of this update was probably because Anchor wasn’t making money in the old update (it was hard to find promoted content), but given their previous innovative track record, I had high hopes that they would find an unique way to display promoted content.
The point of this article is to emphasize a problem and present an opportunity. I don’t have a solution, but I think there is an opportunity for social media companies to create a new experience that users want to explore. Anchor has shown us that social media apps are getting into a familiar rhythm when it comes to design (get it, because they focus on audio?), so let’s be different. Let’s make something new, instead of something familiar.