Designing for Consistency: The Issue of Unbundling iTunes

I ran into an issue the other day that involved syncing my podcast list from phone to computer — at the time, I didn’t realize that iPhone’s Podcasts app was integrated with iTunes, and all I had to do was open iTunes on my Mac to get the unplayed episodes. This realization (which came days later) was on par with my feelings around discovering that pickles are not their own thing, but actually cucumbers mixed with other ingredients.

I’m sure everyone has experienced some “why didn’t I think of that?” moments, but what we often fail to recognize is that when it comes to technology we are usually valid in our misunderstandings. In the book Information Architecture, the authors start out with an example of how organization systems for music collections have evolved over time. With LP records there is a one-to-one relationship between information (the music) and the containers (vinyl discs). Then we saw the rise of compact discs (CDs) which stored music digitally and allowed for randomization of song-play order. Music was no longer tied to its container, but could be ripped (copied to computer), mixed, or burned (copied to CD). The information had dematerialized.

iTunes furthered capabilities in organizing and managing our music, but soon grew more complicated with the addition of new features such as TV shows, podcasts, audiobooks, and more. On a Mac computer, these features are bundled in the iTunes app, but when we got to the iPhone, the features were unbundled into various apps (iTunes Store, Music, Videos, App Store, Podcasts). This is where my issue occurred, there is a breakdown of coherence across digital channels.

I mainly use the streaming service, Spotify, for my music, but for podcasts I still use the default iPhone application. Out of curiosity, I did a quick search to find the iTunes Music app and it took me at least 30 seconds (which is a considerable amount of time to be searching through your phone applications). It was stored in some miscellaneous folder of apps that I never use, yet Podcasts is in a space that is easily visible and accessible, next to my Spotify app.

Podcasts and Spotify are situated next to one another, whereas the Music app is in a folder on a separate screen.

The field of Information Architecture seeks to address these issues by focusing on organizing information environments “for optimum findability and understandability.” As the abundance of information continues to grow, new organization systems are also developed. With the expansion of digital services and products across multiple devices, digital design should be informed by information sciences – to be consistent, findable, and understandable.

By Alexandra Srp, INFO 653-02


Rosenfeld, L., Morville, P., & Arango, J. (2015). Chapter 1: The Problems That Information Architecture Addresses. In Information Architecture: For the web and beyond. (4th ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

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