Clubhouse App Critique

Clubhouse’s allure came from being an invite-only social app where you can talk to celebrities. The curiosity and exclusivity bring you in initially. But does it have enough value to keep users around after the novelty wears off? I’ll let you know from the perspective of someone who has been on the app for almost 2 months now.

Signing Up

As a designer, my mission is to decrease anxiety. Deciding how to present myself to the internet gives me anxiety — profile pictures, screen names, “fun facts”, or any other ice breaker-type things.

Thankfully Clubhouse eliminates one of the big questions when making a profile. What name do you go by? You’re welcome to choose anything but they give you a friendly hint in the form where you type in your name — “People use real names on clubhouse”.

I love this for several reasons:

  • Prevents any roadblocks from getting through the onboarding process so you can jump into the app right away
  • Saves users from needing to rename themselves
  • It gives the user insight into what the app is going to be like. It’s not a place for anonymous trolling. It sets a more professional or authentic tone.

The Hallway

When you first open the app you land in the hallway. This is the “home” or the “feed” portion of the app where you see the active rooms and upcoming rooms. Users rarely need to search for rooms because the rooms displayed at the top are based on who you follow or which clubs you are a member of which means they are likely the rooms you would be interested in. However, there is a chance you are missing out on a lot of rooms you might be interested in and it sounds like the team is working on improving the discovery experience.

Clubhouse does not have a static footer menu or hamburger menu. It has 5 icons buttons at the top that are only visible when in the hallway. If you click one, the top turns into a back arrow. So the only way to get back to the hallway is by clicking the back button. There is no static “home” button. This is a little scary for wayfinding but it frees up real estate and follows the minimal UI they are going for to keep users focused on one thing at a time. The app prevents users from getting lost by always making the hallway only one “back” button click away.

The only time you have to press the back button too many times is if you start getting deep into the search section. But I suspect that this isn’t an action people do often.

In The Room

Loneliness is a negative side effect of social media. Initially, it seems that social media helps us connect but then leads to FOMO and this guilty feeling of “stalking” or feeling like an outsider.

I like that Clubhouse shows you everyone in the room. We see all the observers. The imbalance of who is talking vs who is listening is more transparent compared to other social media platforms.

And you aren’t interacting with robots. Everyone is speaking live. Things aren’t taken out of context. I feel more deeply engaged in a conversation even if I’m not speaking. This is where Clubhouse really works for me. I find it really refreshing to be live, fully engaged, and digging deeper into a topic.

The live aspect is really what gets me hooked. I don't want to miss anything. I prioritize Clubhouse over a recorded podcast or music. I check Clubhouse first to see if anything interesting is happening. But I don’t fall into a doomscroll or an internet rabbit hole. If the discussion isn't interesting to me then I just swipe out of the app.

Users have been taught to look to the right for the exit button. To leave a room on Clubhouse the exit is on the left. This follows a different important rule though: Dangerous UX: Consequential Options Close to Benign Options

The exit button is the furthest from your thumb. Leaving a room isn’t SUPER consequential because you can always get back in (unless the room is at capacity — which is rare) but you may miss a piece of dialogue that you won’t be able to recover.

To speak in a room you press the hand raise button. The exit button is on the opposite side of the hand raise button. This makes sense because you don’t want to mistakenly exit a conversation that’s interesting enough to you that you are asking to speak.

One last comment on the exit button — it's a peace sign. “Peace out”. This makes leaving a room feel like a positive experience. You don’t have to feel like you are offending the group by leaving. The co-founders want people to feel comfortable moving between different rooms.

Do One Thing Well

The app has stayed really focused on one thing — which is community building through real-time discussions. Clubhouse holds weekly townhalls where the co-founders discuss new features and answer user’s questions. If you ever go to one of these you will hear all the features people wish would be added. Some are valid and some are just adding more features. And you can tell the founders are thoughtful about adding on features. They ask why.

For example, it feels like second nature to want to DM someone in one of the rooms that you want to continue a conversation with but that’s not an option.

Instead, users add their Twitter or Instagram accounts to their profiles, and people are encouraged to continue the conversation somewhere else. Or you can make a private clubhouse room that maintains live audio as the only communication option on Clubhouse. There isn’t even an option similar to voicemail where you leave a voice message for someone. Everything must be in real-time.

Room For Improvement

The profiles are left-aligned (good) but the Clubhouse profiles are center-aligned which is more difficult for readability. I don’t read the Clubhouse profiles as much because of this. I’m not sure the reasoning behind this other than the alignment working as a visual cue to indicate if someone is looking at a Clubhouse profile vs a personal profile.

Side note: Something I like about the profile is how the header stays fixed to the top as you scroll down to read the profile so you don’t have to scroll back up to click “follow”.

There’s a “hide room” option in the hallway. You get to it by doing unconventional swipe right (swipe left is how you get to a delete option in Messages and Mailbox on iOS). The use case for this is unclear to me. A more useful interaction would be a thumbs up or thumbs down and then use that to make better room recommendations.

There’s a calendar section that shows scheduled rooms. Some rooms are interesting enough that I want to be alerted. The only way to be alerted is to follow that Club or follow all the moderators. This is completely unintuitive to me. I accidentally followed a bunch of people once because I assumed that pressing the alert button meant being alerted for just that one event.

If I follow the Club or the moderators I’ll get flooded with notifications for every room for that Club or any room those moderators are in. I don’t want to do this if I’m only interested in that one specific topic and not every topic in that Club or every topic by that person.

ux/ui designer