5 Things Musicians Can Teach Designers

Oftentimes, the best inspiration comes when you look outside of your circle or industry. You see a fresh perspective and gain new insights for your own field. The reason this works is a lot of fields are creative.

So even though, say, music and design don’t have much in common on the surface, the creative parallels are pretty clear. And sure enough, there are 5 things musicians can teach designers.

5 Things Musicians Can Teach Designers

Wait, musicians? Yep. It’s true that an electronic music producer or rock band or jazz outfit or whatnot aren’t crafting visual or web designs. But the way they do their craft and the value they bring to the audience is more or less the same as a designer.

Thus, you can find out some pretty relevant tips from how the best musicians do what they do. And then you can apply it to your own field. You’ll become a much better designer in the process.

Alright, let’s get to it!

1. Get Really, Really Good at Your Craft

Get Really Really Good at Your Craft

This is forehead-slapping obvious, for sure. But sometimes the most obvious and common sense tips are the most important ones (okay, almost always are). So yeah – the best way to become a better designer is to just get better.

Think about it: your favorite music artists no doubt excel in at least one musical aspect. Whether the production is cutting edge, or the singer is amazing, or the guitarist shreds like no other, or the lyrics are beyond poetic – at least one musical aspect is really, really good.

And that should be no different for you as a designer. Do you excel in at least one aspect, style, or technique? Take a hard look at yourself and be as honest as possible. It’ll only help you to become a better designer. As Jerry Maguire would say, help you help yourself. If you can’t confidently consider yourself really, really good in at least one aspect, style or technique, then you know what you need to work on.

The best musicians didn’t just magically become good, they practiced and honed their craft. And the result was amazing music worthy of you passionately listening to it. Make your designs worthy of passionately becoming a fan of – get really, really good at your craft.

2. Emotionally Connect With the User

Emotionally Connect With the User

The best music isn’t just something you listen to – you get an emotional reaction. Of joy, of inspiration, of fist-pumping excitement, of reflection. The best music artists emotionally connect with you, the listener.

You don’t just hear, you feel.

And that’s what your designs should be able to do. So the viewer doesn’t just see, the viewer feels an emotional reaction. You go just beyond functionality or a pretty surface and emotionally connect with the user.

Visual and web designs are not unique cases. Any creative work can and should emotionally connect with the user. Whether it’s an incredible tune, or a moving painting, or an involving film, or a lust-worthy gadget, or a supremely elegant and joy-to-use website – the best work invokes an emotional reaction.

Make your design not just functional and visually pleasing, but a joy to use. Or so elegant that the user is blown away. Or add little details that makes the user smile when noticed. Whatever you do, just make sure to go above and beyond to emotionally connect with the user.

That will separate just a great design from a truly memorable one that’s worthy of passionately describing and sharing with friends.

3. Have a Clear Style and Direction

Have a Clear Style and Direction

Practically all of your favorite artists have some distinct style. Or they have a clear direction they pursue. If it’s dark, it’s broody and atmospheric. If it’s futuristic, it’s cutting-edge and synth-based. If it’s fun, it’s humorous and cheeky. And so forth. There’s no clashing of styles, or incompatible vibes being combined. The style and direction is very clear.

And that should be no different when it comes to your designs.

Do you do more industrial, grungy stuff? Or slick, futuristic? Or clean and minimal? Or natural and Zen-like? Go full-force with that style. Make your style very clear. Otherwise, you’ll be middle-of-the-road with no distinct direction in your work.

Think about it: the most prominent websites and brands have a very clear visual style. There’s no mistaking an Apple webpage, ad, or packaging for another company. The same goes for the greatest designers and visual artists. Their stamp is made in the work they do – no matter how much they do tweaks for the client, the distinct style is subconsciously included in all the work they do.

Your style and direction shouldn’t be forced, either. It’s pretty simple: your style is the sum of your influences. You inevitably fuse what you like into your work. No need to over-think your direction: just break down any self-conscious barriers of what you think your work should be like and just create as if you were making it for yourself.

What would you get most excited by? Create like that, and then that becomes your clear style and direction.

4. Don’t Become a One-Trick Pony

Do not Become a One Trick Pony

You know those one-trick pony artists. The ones that find a trick or technique which works, and then they proceed to use it in every single tune of theirs. What was a fresh musical aspect quickly becomes repetitive and boring.

Your favorite artists no doubt keep it fresh. They don’t rely on some technique, or use a trick as a crutch, or repeat the same ideas over and over. That’s why they stay relevant to you and other fans, and why they remain exciting and vital.

Be the same with your designs: don’t become dependent on one trick or technique.

When you do find some clever trick, it’s fine to use it in your designs. But don’t rely on it to carry your design work for ever and ever. Your design worth should come from your skills, style, and ideas, not from some trick. And the other thing is others can copy that trick, after which you stop being as unique. Again, it’s the same with music: an artist discovers a technique, others copy, it becomes stale.

Focus on developing your skills, style, and ideas, not crossing your fingers that a trick or technique you discovered will carry you far.

5. Have Fun to Create More Enjoyable Designs

Have Fun to Create More Enjoyable Designs

Your favorite artists most likely had loads of fun making the music. It’s why you find it so fun to listen to. If they enjoyed creating it, there’s a good chance that you and other listeners will enjoy listening to it.

Compare that to the doing-it-for-the-money music that’s soulless, mechanical, and purely functional. Sure, it may sound similar to some great music, but that’s only on the surface. Once you start listening, the elements just don’t make it an unfiltered joy to listen to. The performance, the lyrics, the structure, the melodies – all will be functional at best. To just get the job done. Since there was no joy in creating it, there won’t be joy in listening. It’s pretty simple.

So when you have fun designing, you create more enjoyable work for your clients and users. If you had fun making it, chances are they’ll have fun using it.

It’s not something tangible that can be proven, but it really does work. Your fun comes through. It’s what separates a truly enjoyable website or visual design from a merely functional one.

What Musicians Can Teach Designers

What Musicians Can Teach Designers

The best inspiration can often come from the most unrelated sources. So consider being open to your creative brethren, the musicians, and what they can teach you. It will only help you to become a better designer. And that’s what you want, isn’t it?

To recap, here are the 5 things musicians can teach designers:

  1. Get really, really good at your craft
  2. Emotionally connect with the user
  3. Have a clear style and direction
  4. Don’t become a one-trick pony
  5. Have fun to create more enjoyable designs

Over to you: what other useful tips have you learned from musicians?

Comments

  1. raw says

    No offense but this:

    “Your favorite artists no doubt keep it fresh. They don’t rely on some technique, or use a trick as a crutch, or repeat the same ideas over and over.”

    is definitely VERY subject with music in this day and age.

  2. says

    being a guitarist and designer both, i can relate to this. some of the best advice i got from an instructor at college (who is also a musician) about design was “you have to write pop songs”. meaning, dont be too complex. im a fan of complexity and grunge design, but sometimes you have to know when to pull back a bit. the rest of the advice in the article is very good. nice read

  3. Vik says

    What Brandon said. Commercial success is a style that appeals to the largest common denominator. The buying public has to be able to zen with it. Commercial success and musical prowess are usually two very different things.

  4. says

    great article. the music brought me to design, and these 5 things I learned from being musician now I’m using as a graphic designer as well – Thank you!

  5. says

    Great post. But not sure if I agree on all your points though. For instance, “3. Have a clear style and direction” and “4. Don’t become a one-trick pony” are kinda contradicting IMO.

    You say “Go full-force with that style.” but IMO that style is just a trick in my arsenal (see the similarity between point 3 and 4?).

    I admit, I have strengths and weaknesses, but as a designer and business owner, you need to be able to adapt to what your client needs. Not every client is gonna want a grungy website now are they?

    IMO a great designer is someone who can adapt their styles, combine new elements, or even create new styles…

    Sure, sticking with one style might be possible if you’re designing just for yourself (for fun), or have a certain “genre” of clients, but for me this just won’t work. Loosing work just because I can’t cater for individual needs is not really ideal…

    Maybe I’m looking at this in the wrong context but it’s just my thoughts. I apologize if I misunderstood the message you’re trying to convey, but it’s still a great post that raised some valid points!

  6. says

    @Jarvis88, you raise a fair point. Perhaps it’s that the word “style” can have different meanings, so I could’ve used a more specific word.

    What I meant by having a clear style and direction is if you tend to do more cleaner, minimal stuff, don’t bounce around with loud, maximal designs. Same with if you tend to favor darker, moodier vibes in your graphics, no need to throw rainbow colors in such. It’s as if a darker-sounding artist with brooding lyrics and such decided to do a peppy sunny tune.

    Not becoming a one-trick pony specifically refers to techniques. So even as you stick to your darker direction, you don’t want to rely on only one type of texture, or filter, or type of font, or color scheme, and so forth. You want to always experiment and try new techniques and ideas.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and hope that clarifies it up.

    Oleg

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    Even though music and design don’t have much in common on the surface, the creative parallels are pretty clear. And sure enough, there are 5 things musicians can teach designers….

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