Ultimate Circle of Fifths is iOS app you can use to compose songs, learn and practice chord progressions and scales with the help of the circle of fifths. I worked remotely as a contractor for over a year and a half with the app's creator Christian Hengst, to launch the Ultimate Circle of Fifths app. After being released in the fall of 2018, the app has reached #3 in Music on the Apple App Store.


Create a great songwriting & practice tool

The original premise was simple, create an easy and intuitive tool any ameteur & professional songwriter could use at any stage of the songwriting process. However, we weren't trying to recreate yet another songwriting app with a slightly modified interface. Our ambitions were to create a foundational app that embraced a demanding industry and diverse user base.

Our high level goals were to:

  • Make it fast and easy to use for everyone, anywhere.
  • Give songwriters more control over their time and process.
  • Create a platform for innovation and deeper engagement.


I worked remotely as a contract product designer for over a year and a half with the app's creator Christian to launch the Ultimate Circle of Fifths app.

Additionally, I worked with local musicians and songwriters to further research and usability studies throughout the creation process.

Due to a very limited resources, I also frequently played the role of project manager and rough prototyper.

Visit Ultimate Circle of Fifths


Clarify the goals

At the outset of the project we had a fairly clear mission and specific goals for the app experience. However, we decided to reach out to local musicians and songwriters to see what apps they used in their process.

Early insights

We also attempted to uncover the most problematic areas in the their process. Our goals were to understand the challenges songwriters faced and the workarounds they employed.

Additionally, the foundational features of our app were not new concepts in music theory or the market we were attempting to infiltrate, so we explored what other apps existed, and what our competitors were doing in the space.


User expectations changed over time

After some thinking and initial questioning, it became clearer that songwriters expected apps to just work with minimal effort, an explorative tool that blends into the background of the process, and as these apps became more integral to their process, their expectations evolved.

Take action and avoid paralysis

It’s easy to get stuck in the brainstorming and initial conceptual phase, forever prioritizing perfection over small iterative steps forward, so once we had gathered a few more findings we decided to forge ahead with rough prototypes, sending them out via email, TestFlight, etc.. to get initial feedback and determine which direction seemed most fruitful.


Improvements and learnings

Before I could continue driving towards a goal, it was important to define success, and understand basic needs. Four key design challenges emerged:

  • How might we better understand how the songwriter uses our app?
  • How might we form a interface that minimizes effort and saves time?
  • How might we remove the need to completely understand music theory?
  • How might we better adapt to the dynamic nature of songwriters and human errors?


Ultimate Circle of Fifths

Powerful & Modular (Component) System

The most difficult challenge was developing a design system that would feel custom, but scale to various platforms without breaking the interface, thus a more modular encapsulated system was needed.

This led to modular user interface elements, and creative modes to help you focus on the task at hand, creating your next masterpiece or practicing your chosen instrument.

Additionally, early on in the process we started testing the interface on tablet devices in parallel with the phone before proceeding to finalize designs.

Flexibility, when you need it

Sometimes your situation requires precise control over your process. Ultimate gives you complete control when you need it.


Positive results and more to do

The launch of the Ultimate Circle of Fifths app on iOS and Android has had a positive impact on the songwriting experience, at the time of writing (6-9 months since launch). However, users who are completely new to the circle of fifths and songwriting process are still a little daunted by the interface. We’ve begun to implement a more step-by-step onboarding flow and that point to existing popular songs to help educate how simple, illustrative, and powerful this tool can be.

“I almost never write reviews for apps but this one felt like it deserves a praise. The UI is very appealing with neat colors and the makers of this app clearly did their research […] I’ve been a musician for about six years now and a UX designer for three, and this is the first time I’m seeing two of my favorite things blend into one awesome entity.”
★★★★★ App Store
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