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From concept to wires and the research in between.

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Waaves, a startup company from
the Booth School of Business

UX Team

Briet Tornes
James NeiKamp


In three weeks, design a
collaborative experience helping
musicians finish more songs.


Waaves came to my team as a client from the The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


They had a business concept that they wanted us to develop into to a workable prototype in 3 weeks. Their goal was to launch a beta version of the MVP a few weeks later.

At our kick-off meeting, we heard from our clients what they believed their product needed to do and for whom.

  • Waaves is a solution for music hobbyists, between the ages of 15–35.

  • These musicians need help to finish songs, technical production, and creative coaching.​

Assumptive Problem:

  • Musicians need help completing songs.

  • Musicians need help matching with other musicians for a successful collaboration.

  • Musicians need coaches helping them achieve a professional products

There is no central community or technology that currently exists where musicians can meet, collaborate and produce original music.

They believed that by using a musician and coach matching algorithm they could solve this problem.

Working from concept, we had little time to spare and lots of work ahead of us. We divided our work into three sprints and dove right in.

01 Research

Our user research consisted of conversations with 13 musicians ages
19–31 years old, across all different
genres and ranging from hobbyists to semi-professionals. We also conducted domain research and a competitive analysis of the existing space. We here focused on existing

  • Collaboration Tools

  • Online Communities

  • Dating Services

We did find that musicians needed help finishing songs. To begin unpacking our synthesis, I found that musicians needed help to finish more songs in three major ways: by connecting, collaborating, and learning.

Thus I have broken down our research insights into these three themes.

three themes.png


How do musicians find other musicians to collaborate with?


We identified three main ways musicians were connecting with each other, including Reddit, SoundCloud, and their personal networks.


This platform was not built for finding collaborators but musicians used it this way.

Musicians told us that the “who to follow” tool was helpful to find new artists but, there was no way of knowing if they were open to collaborating.

I don’t want to be so forward, I am opened to work if they are. But if they push too hard, I pull back or they do. 




Also not built to find collaborators, musicians had to dig for information about the artists before deciding if they were interested in collaborating.

reddit post.png

Finding collaborations on Reddit takes longer, you have to find and listen to their
music first.




Personal networks are often not deep enough to find the right collaborator.

When I’m looking for a collaborator, I go to my friends. But we don’t know anyone who we think is really good, someone who is ready.




What does digital collaboration look like?

There are two competitors on the market already collaborating, BandHub and SoundTrap.

Currently, collaboration
is a messy process.

No matter how organized your collaboration is, you still end up with files all over the place and you are not on the same page.



Musicians want a personal connection with the collaborator which is difficult digitally.

On the digital side if you don’t have the personal interaction the collaboration loses its intimacy.


- Ross


Used by music hobbyists, BandHub allows users to layer recordings on top of each other. If you wanted to contribute to BandHub you had to record video while recording the audio. This takes away from the music and created a gimmicky feel.

bandhub image.png

The whole idea of collaborating isn’t just adding an ingredient. It’s mixing ingredients together.




Soundtrap provided musicians with real-time communication tools like video chat and messaging. However, users preferred to use their own native
DAW to produce music collaboratively instead of Soundtrap’s tools.

soundtrap image.png

I do my mastering on Logic. I started on logic. It’s my home tool.




How do artists fill the knowledge gaps that prevent them from accomplishing their goals?

We found three ways musicians solved problems with learning gaps, YouTube, Google and through their networks.


There are people that I manage to find through hours of research that helped me out more than others, so I stick with them.




You have to be able to sift through the crap in order to find what you need to know to complete a song.




I offer free services because I want to give back to the community. I will help others out when they don’t know how to do something. I can make it sound professional.



What our users did not talk about was creative coaching.

Users did not feel that this was would be a solution for filling their knowledge gaps. 



Artists need a service that will...

  • Show if an artist is open to collaboration

  • Provide the information they need all in one place

  • Help them expand beyond their personal networks


Artists want to...

  • Collaborate in real time

  • Share files

  • Work inside of files instead of layering on top

  • Use the tools they are loyal to


Artists need...

  • To find resources quickly

  • Reliable resources

  • Help with composition

  • Technical support to create professional sounds

  • Talk of coaching was absent


The Problem

Using the research we gathered, we reshaped our client’s assumptive problem into a problem statement that addressed the themes of research.

Assumptive Problem

  • Musicians need help completing songs.

  • They need help matching with other musicians for a successful collaboration.

  • Musicians need coaches helping them achieve a professional product.

  • There is no central community or technology that currently exists where musicians can meet, collaborate and produce original music.

Our Adapted Problem

Musicians need a way to find collaborators outside of their network, access to reliable resources for learning and a way to work together in real time so that they can produce more completed songs.

To address our key themes, our problem can expand to further address each theme.

Connect: Musicians need a place dedicated to finding collaborators. Artists don’t have problems selecting collaborators, they need access to a dedicated network of collaborators. Artists want to hear their potential collaborator’s past work and the kind of music they are into.

Collaborate: Musicians need to be able to work in real time with their collaborators using their preferred DAW. Consistent and opened communication gives makes the collaboration feel personal. Real-time collaboration allows both artists to stay involved throughout the whole process. Artists are loyal to their DAWs even when they know there are better tools out there.

Learn: Musicians need a curated collection of resources. Finding good resources takes time, regardless of if the resource is peer, video or article.

The Users

Our clients provided us with an assumptive user type. This user was a 15–35 years old hobbyist who works digitally. From the ages of 15–35 was when hobbyists were believed to be most active music making. Hobbyists were seen as more open to online collaboration than other musicians. Working digitally was a requirement for our users.

We interpreted the hierarchy of musicians as such:





Through out this project we found terminology to not only be very important but also a constant struggle. This wrestle to define the musician was found to be controversial.


How do you define a musician? Do you base success on monetary gains, number of followers, touring status, productivity? Musicians all have different motivations and goals that might affect how or if they pursue the “musical ladder”.

From our research the generalization we came to was, hobbyists were not as committed as an amateur artist who aspires to advance towards professional status.

When I lose free time music is one of the first things to go.


-Ankit (Hobbyist)

We questioned if hobbyists had enough commitment to be the primary user of the collaborative platform. Our research pushed us to redefine our users as collaborative and invested 15–35-year-old musicians ranging from amateur to semi-professionals.

Using our user research I identified different use cases for the product. In each case, the goal remained the same (to complete more songs) but the process of the musician differed based on the amount and type of support they would need when connecting, collaborating and learning. My use cases were:

  • Work with an existing collaborator to complete songs.

  • Provide support to other musicians as a way to complete songs.

  • Work with others to expand outreach while learning new skills and completing more songs.

From here we developed Task models for each use case to show the complexities of the choices these musicians are making.

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use case 2.png
use case 3.png

Even with detailed descriptions of the user, use cases, and task models, there was a continued desire by our stakeholders to define the user with a convenient label. Continued confusion around terminology and definitions did not sit well with us.


We concluded that we had not communicated effectively to our stakeholders who their users were. To drive home our research we made a single persona focusing on behaviors instead of labels.


EDM Dan is a musician who is recording music, opened to learning, willing to teach others, and collaborate to make new music. We created a journey map to highlight our user’s experience making music, identifying opportunities where Waaves could provide musicians with solutions to the problems and frustrations they face working in less collaborative, digital environments. This seemed to resonate much more with our stakeholders.

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Having redefined our users and the problem we were solving, we developed design principles to keep our next steps in line with our research.

Design Principles

Give me a goal: Keep the community active. Foster an environment that motivates me to engage regularly and gives me a goal to work towards.

Don’t make me hustle: Help me sift through the noise to find reliable resources so I don’t have to.

Make it a packaged deal: When I’m collaborating I will need to send files, messages, make critiques, chat or see them work. I need to do this in real time and all in one place.

Give me the lowdown: Tell me what I need to know about potential collaborators. Use language, ratings, and endorsements that are meaningful.

02 Divergent Concepts

After ideation, we developed divergent concepts connecting to our research themes and design principles.


We used paper prototypes to keep a mentality of adaptiveness and change. While identifying the features that would make Waaves the tool users needed it to be, we begin to understand how vital it was to quickly and painlessly gather information from musicians prior to their use of the platform. Information gathered during onboarding would be used in later areas of the site to match the musicians with favorable collaborators.

To understand what artists would need to know about a potential collaborator, we conducted in-person and virtual card sorts. Participants could sort and add criteria by listing each item by the level of importance.


We found that these traits were the top 10 traits in a desirable collaborator.

cardsort pic.jpg
  • Commitment

  • Musical Skills

  • Taste of Music

  • Honesty

  • Goals

  • Past Work

  • Personality

  • Music Theory

  • Songwriting Experience

  • Total years of experience

Ideating & Prototyping


This data was used to develop divergent onboarding flows inspired by in and out of category competitors like Tinder, OkCupid and SoundCloud. Once our concepts and test plans were prepared we tested the following concepts with users for feedback.

We developed our prototypes to reflect the three themes of our user research, Connect, Collaborate and Learn. Due to the expansive nature of this project, we chose to focus our divergence in the connect focus of the product.


Prototypes featured Sign Up, Onboarding, Matching and Profile Pages.

Our concepts diverged throughout these areas.



From our concept tests we found:

  • Onboarding questions needed to be easy to answer but in depth enough to adequately match users.

  • Extra attention needs to be paid to the language because some words can be defined in multiple ways.

  • Answer options should promote objectivity for meaningful and honest responses.

  • Matching questions that may change based on different collaborations should be left out of the onboarding process.

Browsing & Matches

Browsing A.png
Browsing B.png

Users told us that:

  • They liked the match percentages in Concept A but did not know what it meant.

  • They liked the option of filtering by sound or feel in Concept B because it helped them find specific types of collaborators in a creative way.

User Profiles


We heard:

  • Users like being able to comment on tracks, features on both concepts.

  • Users liked the simplicity of the layout and the percent match featured on Concept A.

  • Users liked the Skills and Endorsements section, but had different opinions on how the information should be displayed.


Collaborating featured a Collaboration Agreement, In-Real-Time Workstation, and a Collaborative Folder.

Collaboration Agreement

Using collaborative editing capabilities from google docs, this agreement between artists helped ensure that both musicians are on the same page creatively and legally. The agreement would be opened for a limited amount of time to keep up momentum.


We heard that:

  • Users liked being able to edit the document together and the double agree button.

  • Users liked having the time limit for negotiating their collaboration.

In-Real-Time Workstation

This concept borrowed screen sharing and control concepts from existing video communication softwares allowing collaborations to work together on one DAW at the same time.


We heard that:

  • Users love to being able to see the DAW at the same time in real time.

  • They called the ability to hand controls back and fourth an million dollar idea.

To avoid the mess of sharing files, we developed a concept borrowing concepts from Time Machine and Google Drive. Not only could Collaborators could see older versions of their work and duplicate files could be eliminated.

Collaborative Folder

collaborative folder.png
  • Users thought it was important to see multiple iterations of the project in the folder.

  • The chatting function was seen as a positive way to keep track of individual work.

  • Users liked that they could ask for feedback because they saw this as a way to improve and grow.


We did not have enough data from our user interviews to develop concepts for learn. Therefore, we focused on asking questions about what type music theory and technical support users would expect. This data was gathered through a card sort of suggested and user created methods. Users also answered survey questions regarding who they believe would be a coach and how one would become a coach at Waaves.

From this we found that, 50% of users believed that coaches would be peers who demonstrated expert knowledge. The other 50% believed that coaches would be industry experts. Though users were split over who would qualify as a coach but all believed that coaches would be chosen through a peer and internal review of the musician’s work.

Upon the completion of testing, we consolidated our findings and collaboratively determined where we would start with our converged wireframes.


03 Final Prototype

But first, a pivot

As we developed our final prototype, we identified an area of conflict. Our stakeholders believed that musicians needed help to match with other musicians. They wanted to use an algorithm to make these perfect matches. Our research showed the opposite. Musicians did not have trouble picking collaborators they did not have access to a wide enough network. In addition, the type of collaborator a musician is looking for does remain consistent, nor does a desirable collaborator always create similar music.

Upon further research into matching algorithms used by dating websites, we found that experts were already questioning the algorithms ability to determine what would or would not make for a good match. An article from the Washington Post spoke in agreement with our users stating that

While apps are really bad at predicting relationships long-term -they’re very good, the research suggests, at helping you meet more people.

It was here that we decided to focus on a robust sort and filter system thus proving musicians with lots of opportunities to find many different kinds of collaborators.

The Wireframes

We were proud to build an innovative product inspired by combining the functionalities of other products that exist in new ways.


After rounds of usability testing, iteration and some additional concept testing, we had our final wireframes and suggestions for our stakeholders.


Connect screens.png


Collaborate Screens.png


Though we conducted a large amount of research and tested concepts, we could not gather enough data to make suggestions for the learn focus of the platform. We suggested that another round of research could be done, focusing on this theme.


Adding Look & Feel

After our three sprints concluded the developed sections of our Waaves wireframes were approved for UI development. Working together with the UI team brought new perspective and life to our designs. Through UI our designs were again interpreted, concepted, and tested to bring strong human-centered design to the product. Visual Wires provided by UI designer Kyle Skidmore

UI Screens.png

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Voice of the Employee

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