Clubhouse: Drop-in or Drop-out?

I may be late to the party, but I’ve only recently joined the internet’s hottest new app, Clubhouse. Think pieces abound on this new audio drop-in platform, many of which comment (and criticize) its poor UX.

I am an avid podcast listener, and a heavy group chatter so I figured that Clubhouse might be the perfect blend of the two. But instead, I’ve found myself struggling to incorporate it into my regular social media browsing. As a UX design student, I am still learning about the “why” behind my own, and others’ dissatisfaction with digital products and interfaces. I wasn’t sure what it was that I didn’t enjoy about Clubhouse until I started learning more about usability heuristics. Usability heuristics are guidelines that are used to evaluate the usability of a given interface. The most common of which were laid out by Jakob Nielsen in 1994. These principles have helped give me the language to explain why this particular app “just wasn’t working” for me.

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 general principles for interaction design.

I find the idea behind Clubhouse fascinating and think that we are long overdue for a social platform that relies on audio rather than videos or images. The app seems to be an opportunity to offer more inclusive social options to those who don’t like or cannot use image and text-based platforms. But, the invite-only space doesn’t always align with the usability principles outlined by Nielsen.

“Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place.” — Jakob Nielsen

Error Prevention

When I set up my profile on Clubhouse, I noticed that there were a lot of actions that could cause multiple slips and mistakes for users. The most common mistake I made was trying to click into a room to learn more about it, but accidentally ending up in the room itself listening to speakers. I found the inability to learn more about each conversation before entering particularly frustrating, especially if there was not a robust description present for that talk on my home page feed.

Consistency and Standard

In addition to this, the icons and buttons in the app don’t always seem to follow industry standards. The bell icon located on the “Upcoming for You” view only allows you to follow all speakers for that room rather than the main speaker, account, or topic (the same icon on YouTube is used to subscribe to notifications about your favorite individual content creators). Similarly, as I set up my profile, I found myself having somehow followed about 50 accounts suggested by the app itself rather than easily picking and choosing my follows after getting comfortable with the app's features. This, in turn, ended up muddying my actual “Upcoming” feed and prompted me to go back and spend time adjusting who I follow and unfollow based on my actual preference.

User Control and freedom

For a social app, Clubhouse also lacks a clear path for users to figure out which speakers are talking in each room, how to follow individual speakers, and how to categorize and curate a personal list of follows and followers. Unsurprisingly, this can make it hard to find the right content as a user and makes the experience of the app a bit unsatisfying. On the other hand, what it does do is expand the actual social networking happening on the app — it could be that an accidental or imposed follow might offer new learning, connection, or insight. But, as a user, I still prefer my own control and freedom to be prioritized.

Waiting on Clubhouse 2.0

While my experience of the Clubhouse app has not been entirely easy, I do find that it is a pleasing experience when I come upon a talk that I enjoy, connect with friends, or learn from industry pros. The app is still invite-only, lending to its exclusivity but hopefully allowing designers to really take a look at the app’s usability while it is still “small” (a mere 10 million users compared to Instagram’s billion).

I won’t give up just yet but, I certainly hope that the folks at Clubhouse can spend time thinking through ways to offer users a simpler, cleaner, and more learnable digital experience.

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