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CONVERting free users to paid subscribers in a transparent + delightful way.


UI/UX Designer


03/2022 - 04/2022


iOS Mobile App

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An established media company launched two years ago as a freemium model now intends to evolve their feature set to monetize on a premium product.


Zonido, according to existing data, has been well received and currently has a healthy user base of free users. Now, their objective is to design an experience that will motivate those free users to subscribe and pay a monthly fee for a premium product: that's where I come in.


Understanding business goals & current users

Company review

The first thing I had to do for this design project was to to learn about the company, their current user base, and what exactly they want to accomplish for their business. As a company, Zonido prides themselves on being uniquely diverse yet always familiar.


Their user base currently consists of mainly tech-savvy young adults (18-24 yo) who spend several hours per day using their smartphones, and they intend to continue to target this audience. These users are budget conscious, though, and podcasts are a significant part of their lives that they dedicate a lot of time to; so, in order to convince these users to pay for a service they currently use for free, Zonido would need to prove its worth.

Business Goals

There were two primary business goals for this project:

By offering a paid product with better features than the free experience, Zonido will effectively develop a profitable revenue stream while also providing a much more delightful and seamless experience for their users.

  1. Create the opportunity for new users to subscribe to the premium product upon registration
    in the signup flow; and

  2. Create the opportunity for returning free users to become paid subscribers within the product.

Industry Research

I wanted to conduct research in an efficient and strategic way, so I could understand the existing market and how competitors that offer similar services achieve their business goals and retain paid subscribers.


I determined that Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music were the three most relevant existing competitors that successfully converted free users to paid subscribers to their respective services and grown their platforms on a huge scale.


Both Pandora and Apple Music offered both free and premium plans, and offered the premium plan to users right away on the landing page. However, Spotify - though the industry leader in audio streaming - had the most frustrating user experience for those who wanted to upgrade to their paid subscription. Spotify's onboarding process, at least on mobile, required the user to create a free account, then click on the "premium" icon on the bottom tab bar, and from there, users had to move to a desktop platform in order to upgrade: there was no option to upgrade to premium from mobile. 

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Apple Music

Empathize with users to plan a solution

Project Plan

I created project plan once I had a firm understanding of the company and the existing market. This way, I could to stick to a timeline and ensure the deliverable by a certain date. Zonido put a time constraint of 90 hours on this project, so I had to budget my time in a strategic way to make sure I was creating the best possible UX that both addressed business goals and genuine user needs.


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User Stories & Flows

I created user stories to conceptualize how users would carry out the task of upgrading to a premium plan, whether that's during the initial onboarding process or after logging back in as a returning user: what exactly would a user have to do to upgrade their account? How many routes can a user take to complete this task?

After determining the two user stories critical to fulfilling Zonido's business goals, I created visual representations in the form of user flows to show each step a user can take to upgrade their account.

design, phase 1

Blueprint of the experience

Existing Wireframes

Before I came in as the lead designer on this project, Zonido had created a few very lean, simple wireframe designs to show the basic structure of how they envisioned this app to look.


The existing signup flow did not have any call to action upon registration to give the user an opportunity to subscribe to a premium plan, not were there any calls to action throughout the free experience that gave the user any opportunity or even a compelling reason to subscribe.

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Expanding the Low-Fi Designs

Keeping the existing wireframes in mind, I created two full-length flows of wireframes to represent the user journey and give a clear visual of how the content of the app would be organized.


These more substantial wireframes were a huge help to the Zonido design team in strategizing how to prominently display the paid subscription option, so they could present it to both new and existing users and motivate them to upgrade.

evaluate, phase 1

Obtaining user input early in the process


The design now had a clear blueprint and plan in place to design an effective product for Zonido, but it was crucial to keep the users' needs and feedback in mind at each possible step of the way. So, to gather as much data as possible at this stage given the time constraints of the project, I created a short yet insightful online questionnaire to share with the target demographic.

I received 20+ responses to the questionnaire, including 11 responses from users who indicated they'd be willing to participate in further testing & conversation on the topic. 

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Usability Testing

Especially now that I'd identified people who are both within the target demographic and open to continued participation, user testing - even at this early stage - was the next non-negotiable step in the design process.

5 questionnaire respondents participated in simple, remote usability tests involving a lean prototype of the wireframes I created. These initial tests yielded valuable results despite not being a model of the finished design: one particularly interesting discovery I found was that the plan selection screen during onboarding felt crowded to some, and it didn't allow the user to compare plans before making a decision. I learned that the inability to quickly weigh options was a mild annoyance to some people, that could be better addressed.

design, phase 2

Modeling the actual product

High Fidelity Mockups

With the genuine user input I now had on the wireframes and user flows

within the app, I was confident in taking the leap to enhance and animate

the designs to be a high-quality model of what the true product would

look like. I committed the next 20 hours of project time to implementing the user feedback into the designs and overall flow, perfecting each screen to be pixel-perfect, and creating animations and interactions to produce a fully functional prototype for users to test as if it was the real product.

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The prototype I created showcases what the actual initial release of the product would look and feel like to both new and returning users. The design is entirely interactive, and allows users to experience what it is like to use the app as both a paid and a free user. 

evaluate, phase 2

Testing the design with target users

Usability Testing

A second round of usability testing was the final step in Zonido's project plan, and these tests were conducted with 5 additional participants who I again recruited based on their answers to the questionnaire I sent out earlier in the month.


In the full prototype, one of the most significant improvements I made based on initial user feedback was redesigning the plan selection screen to show both the free and paid plans' benefits side-by-side so users can effortlessly see the benefits of paying a fee. Again, 4/5 test participants upgraded immediately during onboarding, and 2 of the participants even remarked how they liked being able to see both plans together, easily. The 5th user interacted with the app for a few minutes as a free user, but ultimately decided it was worth the monthly cost to subscribe. They had no trouble recalling the call-to-action on the homepage that advertised the "Plus" plan, either, so they were able to quickly accomplish their goal. 

Along with the tasks users were asked to complete during testing, I decided to ask some relevant interview questions as we went along so I could get some further qualitative data; time constraints for this project didn't allow for separate interview sessions, but I felt it was crucial to get qualitative data from the people we are building all of this for. 

Overall, I found that users enjoyed the easy, guided flow of

onboarding and they appreciated the dark-mode design as well.

I chose to design this app in dark mode because it is easier on

the eyes, especially considering that Zonido is primarily designing

for an age group of 18-24 who use their phones for a significant

portion of each day; white/light mode emits blue light which is

known to strain the eyes when looking at a screen for a long time,

so I felt this was an important consideration to optimize the UX.

Based on my testing, my decision positively resonated with users.

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final thoughts

A paid subscription worth its while

Convincing users to pay a price for a service they've grown accustomed to as a free product can seem like a daunting task to a startup like Zonido, especially when your user base is mostly made up of young, frugal adults who know their options on the market. So, it is absolutely essential to get to know your users at as personal a level as you possibly can within project constraints.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and I'm proud all that was accomplished. Working with an established startup idea and building on Zonido's existing product helped me immensely in learning how to expand on existing ideas and make them the best they can be (well, that is until the next release!).

Next Steps

I plan to continue conducting usability tests with real people to make sure that the paid "Plus" plan truly provides in-demand benefits to Zonido's end users.


I also intend to design additional flows to highlight the offline listening feature as a significant benefit of upgrading, as this is meant to cater directly to the budget-conscious characteristic of the users: by paying a small fee each month, it can be argued that users will pay less for their phone data than they are on the "Plus" subscription, so by upgrading, they are actually saving money as regular Zonido users.

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