For many of us, Spotify has become such a staple of everyday life that it’s easy to forget about the complex mechanisms behind it all. Just as we no longer notice, say, the angles and colors on the bristles of a toothbrush we use twice a day, the imagery, typography, and algorithmic nuances of the music platform often go unnoticed.
And yet, there is a big team of people working to make the design of Spotify so seamless. One of those designers is Felipe Rocha, who’s been working in-house at Spotify full time since last year, having freelanced there since 2017. Rocha, who originally moved from Sao Paulo to New York in 2015 to work at Sagmeister & Walsh, now works as a senior art director at Spotify alongside a design team of around 10 to 12 people. The larger branding team includes a design director, global design director, a few other senior art directors, and a few junior designers. They work with the Spotify editorial team, which spans both the New York and Stockholm offices, and the product development team, which is based in Stockholm.
The current Spotify brand guidelines were created by design agency Collins in 2015, and the typeface and color palette are often carried through to design elements such as playlists and the overall interface design. “That’s the base for mostly everything we do,” says Rocha, who describes his and his team’s work as mostly branding campaigns, artist releases, event collateral, and anything that’s “Spotify driven, where the brand needs to be more present.”
As such, Rocha’s tasks are deliciously varied. For the past six months, he’s largely been working on the new look for Spotify Premium, to set the platform apart from its free counterpart. The new designs have started to roll out quietly. According to Rocha, it’s one of his more “complex and strategic” projects. Working on designs for artist releases, by comparison, can often have a timeline of just two or three days.
“Over the last few years, the Spotify brand has developed so that where there used to be a need to really promote Spotify itself—like, ‘Let’s make a duotone image and brand everything with the Spotify language.’ But now things can work more like a container for whatever we want to showcase.
“I associate [Spotify] more with a magazine: it has an identity, but it’s flexible—it’s a conversation with music and culture on a daily basis. So the new design system for Premium is more inspired by those references. We want to create content that’s not just one photography style, but rather something that works for every artist while keeping the same font and colors. We want it to feel like Spotify, but more open.”
Regular Spotify users may have noticed a few unusual approaches of late when it comes to the design of specific playlists created by the brand for general uses (i.e. not those bespoke, ‘Made For You’ selections). One such playlist is Pollen, for which Rocha developed the identity. “That was a very interesting process as it started as a personal project at Spotify,” Rocha explains. “Normally the way it works is that playlists are based on a mood, like ‘music to run to’ or ‘music to focus’, or they’re based on a genre, like pop, rock, or hip-hop. Then I met the Spotify editor who worked on most of the alternative or independent playlists, and he really wanted to start this playlist that isn’t based on one music style, it’s more of a vibe: people don’t just listen only to hip-hop, so the idea with Pollen was to create the first playlist that mixes lots of different artists. It was also the first playlist that started with a brand.” Rocha created the identity for the Viva Latino playlist, the biggest Latino playlist on Spotify, as well.
A fascinating recent project that Rocha worked on, which felt like something of a departure from the usual Spotify look and feel, was for the Cosmic playlists—monthly selections based on horoscopes that are updated twice a month. The Spotify team worked with astrologer Chani Nicholas on the project, and she and the editorial team came up with a list of songs that “you need to hear based on your horoscope,” as Rocha explains. The project was promoted by a printed out-of-home campaign, as well as through the digital interfaces. “The idea of translating it into out-of-home with the black text on a white background was an interesting approach to advertising,” says Rocha. “You just don’t expect to see a huge horoscope printed on a poster.”
He adds, “That was the first idea with illustration, as it’s something that’s not at all similar to what Spotify usually does with brand guidelines. We found an illustrator, Rachel Howe, who’s also a spiritual advisor: it was important for us to find something authentic.”
Rocha is currently working on this year’s Spotify campaign for Pride Week. As he found last year, working on the task is both brilliantly rewarding, and pretty daunting. “I really wanted to work on Pride project—I’m gay, so it’s important to me. Then I freaked out: maybe I’m too close to it. I’ve also seen so many brands using pride as a marketing thing that it starts to become kind of superficial.” Spotify’s 2018 Pride campaign centered on LGBTQ+ musical artists, “so they’re actually doing something to promote those musicians,” says Rocha. “The tricky thing about that project is that it’s huge: you have to make something that both Young M.A. and Ricky Martin fans would relate to.”
The campaign saw the Spotify team commission murals across the U.S. and Canada, working with artists from the LGBTQ+ community. “It was very nice to research and find those artists, so we’re directly supporting the LGBT community, and bringing them that exposure,” says Rocha. “Also, let’s not forget the whole idea of pride and pride parades is very celebratory, but also comes from a background of fighting [for gay rights], so the design shouldn’t feel too cute—it should be colorful, but also very bold and strong.” We can’t wait to see—and hear—the campaign for Pride 2019.