A Hip App for the Symphony

In 1881, Henry Lee Higginson had the vision to make the symphony accessible to everyone, so he founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Continuing with this vision the BSO is now focused on attracting a younger generation, millennials.

My team went on a mission to find out how the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) can remain relevant in years to come and appeal to millennials today.


UX Designer, Project Manager

Team: 3 UX Designers, we went through the entire UX process together, I managed the process

Skills: Research & Analysis, Strategy, UI Design, Wireframing, Prototyping

Tools: Sketch, InVision, Photoshop, Illustrator

Duration: 2-week sprint

The Problem

Millennials need a way to access and learn about classical music in order to enhance their concert-going experiences at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


How do millennials spend their time?

I took a closer look at the stats on millennials and their behaviors. I scoured the internet for valid sources and stats. What are young adults doing with all the time they spend on their digital devices?

Smartphone/Tablet Apps
In 2017, 18-24 year olds spent over 121 hours per month on their smartphone and tablet apps. (Source: Statista)

Mobile Apps
People in the 18-44 age group spend more than 50% of their digital time on mobile apps. (Source: Comscore)

Social Networks/Music Apps
Smartphone users spend 38 percent of their mobile app time in social networking & music apps. (Statista, 2019)

Millennials are aged 23-38, and were born 1981-1996 — Pew Research Center, 2/2018

Quotes from people who abandoned the app during Contextual Inquiry.

We started with a problem: Everyone we tested abandoned the app.

Young adults were tasked with going onto the app, finding a concert and purchasing tickets. 100% the users we tested could not complete their tasks because:

  • Purchasing tickets was not possible. Users could only access concerts for the Fall season, but tickets were not yet for sale or the purchase buttons didn’t work.
  • The audio section was empty. Each concert had its own media page, but they were empty. Users wanted to listen to music before selecting a concert.
  • And some found the app unappealing. “The visuals are old-timey. That turns me off.”


Do millennials like classical music?

We sent out screeners and found eight millenials for user interviews and contextual inquiry. I conducted four out of eight of these interviews. Our interviewees fell into two groups:

Classical Music Lovers (melophiles)

They shared common traits:

  • Users enjoy discovering the relationships between classical and contemporary music
  • Users would like to learn more about classical music and musicians
  • Many melophiles grew up in homes with classical music lovers

Concert-Goers Who are Indifferent to Classical

This is what we learned about them:

  • Users are inspired by their friends’ music choices
  • They use live streaming services to learn about music
  • Think the symphony (BSO) feels outdated
  • Are concerned about the cost of a concert experience

We had a group brainstorming session to develop user interview questions.

Surveying the Competition

In the classical world, the big three symphonies are the BSO, the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. To take a look at the competition we looked at the big three and symphonies from across the country of varying sizes, adding in the Hollywood Bowl for a comparison to a related but different venue.

We looked at:

  • Under 40 focused programming or programs
  • A heuristic evaluation using Jakob Nielsen’s 10 General Principles for Interaction Design
  • Marketing ‘hook’ features
  • How notifications do or don’t work
  • The user interface (UI) of each site (as millennials are tech-savvy)

Takeaways from the Competitive Analysis

  • The New York Philharmonic app has effortless navigation
  • On the LA Philharmonic app, it is easy to navigate to an event and purchase tickets
  • The Philadelphia Orchestra has an “Under 40 “type club

Eight Symphonies

  • New York Philharmonic
  • Philadelphia Orchestra
  • NSO Chicago
  • Colorado Symphony
  • LA Philharmonic
  • Hollywood Bowl
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Hawaii Symphony


Two personas emerged.

Synthesizing all of our research we developed two proto-personas and took them with us into the design process.

The Classical Music Lover

The Skeptical Newbie

Mining Research for Answers

My team organized feedback from our user interviews by creating an affinity map in an online program, MIRO. We identified common themes and pain points. We found ways to address the skeptics’ pain points by marrying what music lovers enjoy about classical music with activities millennials enjoy.

Quotes pulled from Affinity Map


A Design Workshop Revealed Key Features

Armed with all the knowledge we gained in our research phase, my team discovered four concepts that came out of a Design Studio Workshop series of five-minute iterative sketching sessions and group discussions.

We added these four features to the BSO app:

  1. Celeb Classical Playlist: A monthly playlist showcasingceleb’s favorite classical pieces, being performed at the BSO that year. Each celeb describes what they like most about classical music. The app user can add the playlist to their account on their preferred streaming service, like Spotify, and/or go hear it live at the BSO.
  2. Share: A feature that enables music lovers to share BSO events with their friends via social/text/email
  3. Under 40 Club: a new page in the app where programs the BSO has for young adults can be highlighted. They were buried in their app. The ‘Under 40’ concept is popular in the Arts world.
  4. Home slider: Open the app with large contemporary imagery (highlight marketing /millennial-focused programs)

First, We Fixed What was Broken

The existing app was challenging to navigate so we updated it by placing the main navigation in the tab bar at the bottom of the screen for easy thumb reach.

Making the BSO Millennials’ Jam

We modernized the app with a brighter burgundy color and contemporary feel, opening the app with large contemporary imagery highlighting the marketing /millennial-focused programs.

Figuring Out the Flow

I figured out the flow for the share and playlist features. We looked at the most effective way to showcase the playlist integration. We developed two happy paths, one where a concert-goer can share an event with a friend and another for “following” a song from the Celebs’ Classical Playlist. (seen below)


We Put Our Ideas to the Test

We Put Our Ideas
to the Test

We held three rounds of usability testing. Our new features were well received by millennial testers. But we discovered some issues we had not seen before. Here is what we uncovered.


Add Your Fav Celeb’s Picks to Your Playlist

We thought a natural place to put the ‘Celeb Playlist’ was on the Under 40 Club page. However, app users where naturally searching for the playlist under ‘Listen’. So, we kept it accessible through the Under 40 Club but also designed a special section that would always stick to the top of the ‘Listen’ screen to highlight the current celeb playlist.

Share a FREE Concert

One of our tasks was to have people find a free event they could attend with their friends, thinking it would be easy to select the Boston Pop’s summer event. When users went to the events page it wasn’t clear that this event was free. We didn’t want to add a feature and move towards featuritis, so we just changed the ticket button’s color and changed the word ‘tickets’ to ‘free’.


The Under 40 Club is Super Confusing

The BSO had programs for young people but they were buried in their app. ($25 Under 40, Young Professionals) We put them together on an ‘Under 40 Club’ page but the way we initially organized it was super confusing to people. After testing, we restructured the program to have two membership options; one free and a paid ‘Young Professionals’ membership with more perks and private events. Young adults now have a clear conception of what they are joining.

A Future App Map

After initial testing we reconfigured the information architecture of the site. The Under 40 Club would become a “Join Us” section on the main navigation where all the BSO programs can live. This will make all special programming easier to access.


By improving functionality and integrating familiar ways to share and experience music, such a playlists, millennials will have a greater desire to attend classical music programs.

We will know this to be true when we see an increase in millennials attending concerts at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Click the image to navigate through the prototype.

Clickable Prototype

Click image to navigate.


By improving functionality and integrating familiar ways to share and experience music, such a playlists, millennials will have a greater desire to attend classical music programs.

We will know this to be true when we see an increase in millennials attending concerts at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Click the image to navigate through the prototype.

Clickable Prototype

Click image to navigate.

What I learned

Team work works.

Communicate early and often. We had communication breakdowns when we missed a standup.

The power of iterations.

Keep asking people questions. Through iterations, you can find solutions to known problems and discover new ones that were not obvious.

Project management keeps us moving forward together.

A schedule is essential to keep a team moving forward together. That schedule will morph and change but it keeps everyone focused on what needs to get done especially during a sprint.

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