5 Things The Beatles Can Teach You About Design

The Beatles are probably one of the most iconic popular music groups of our time. They were considered the best and most popular at what they did, and they deservingly secured their spot in our history books.

Their influence and mastery of creativity extends even beyond music. In fact, there are actually 5 things the Beatles can teach you about design.

Things The Beatles Can Teach About Design

Huh? What are the Beatles doing in an article about design? Well, there’s no denying that the Beatles are a masterful band. And it’s always good to learn from the masters. The reason is that their skill and craft transcends the medium and genre they work in. Hence, the creativity lessons you can pull from the Beatles can be applied to design.

1. It’s Possible to Be Both Popular and Artful

It is Possible to Be Both Popular and Artful

The Beatles were both the best and most popular at what they did. A rare instance, but it shows that it is possible. And being the best meant the Beatles were artful – their tunes creative and innovative pop music. So they showed that it’s possible to be both popular and artful.

You don’t have to choose between a “safe” profitable route or a “starving artist” on-the-fringe one. You can have a design style that’s both popular and artful.

Just look at The Designers Republic. That Sheffield-based graphic design studio was both one of the most popular design outfits and the most artful and influential during the late 20th and early 21st century.

Now, your creative design style has to fit popular taste somehow, yes. The Beatles were playing rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s, not musique concrete. But assuming that the core of your design style is popular taste-friendly enough, then you don’t have to be afraid to experiment and include unique elements in your designs.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Try New Styles

Do not be Afraid to Try New Styles

After honing their rock ‘n’ roll sound, the Beatles tried many different music styles in their songs. They gradually changed styles for each album, and with that they always found something new to stay fresh as a band.

The Beatles weren’t afraid to change styles because a style of music wasn’t their core identity – the creative songwriting and fresh ideas were. So whether John Lennon and Paul McCartney were penning a song that was going to be an acoustic folk-y number or a loud rockin’ one, the songwriting remained the same.

It’s no different for your web and visual design. If you want to stay fresh and exciting with your work, consider trying new styles. Assuming you’re a great designer (and you consider yourself one, don’t you?), a change of style won’t impact your work. Your core value is your skills, your sense of design, your taste, your sense of style. It isn’t mastering and then repeating some effect or sticking with a single visual style.

So if you think it’ll be fun to try that futuristic style out when you’ve been sticking to mostly organic ones, go ahead. You’ll bring your own unique design voice and techniques to that style. And who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon an exciting design combination that fuses an established style with your unique outsider perspective on it.

The point is, don’t be afraid to try new styles: you never know what new idea you’ll find. You won’t lose your creative identity since you’ll always bring your unique value to any new style you try.

3. Evolve or Die

Evolve or Die

A continuation of #2. By trying new styles, the Beatles evolved. When other bands of their time were fading away by staying the same, the Beatles experimented and moved forward. They evolved with each new album (well, after a brief sprint of same-y albums early in their career). By doing so, they stayed relevant to their industry.

If you want to stay relevant in the design field, you need to evolve. Now, that doesn’t mean sweeping changes all the time. But it does mean moving forward.

Avoid being complacent. Don’t rest on your laurels or get too comfortable with a particular way of designing. Always be learning, growing, improving.

Whether that’s learning new techniques, or trying new styles, or whatever else, if you want to stay relevant and flourish with your design work, you need to evolve.

4. Work How You Want, Not How You Think You Need To

Work How You Want Not How You Think You Need To

The Beatles effectively quit touring in ’66 because they were tired of it. They wanted more time in the studio. So there were no more gigs. And instead of performing, they sent out promotional videos to Ed Sullivan and other TV shows.

This went against the industry-standard way of working in the music industry – record, release, tour, rinse and repeat. But to the band, it’s how they wanted to work, and they went ahead and did it. Sure, they lost a bit of popularity and record sales, but this way of working made them happier. Plus, they arguably did better work because of it: Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and beyond.

As long as you’re ready to accept the consequences of working in a non-standard way (less clients, less sales, or whatever else), then you should work how you want – not how you think you need to. You only have one life, so you better enjoy it. Compromising on your work style is something you should not do.

Is social media just not for you? Don’t bother with it. Don’t feel like always being “on” for your clients? Set limited work hours.

By working how you want, you might get less results than if you jumped through all of the hoops the design industry wants you to, but you’ll be happier. And you’ll create better work as a result. Which far outweighs cranking out work and being miserable.

5. Be Open to Outside Influences

Be Open to Outside Influences

The Beatles were openly influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and R&B of the ’50s. Throughout the ’60s, they were openly influenced by Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, classical and experimental art music, and India. Because the band didn’t try to close themselves off from outside influences, their work became more interesting.

The Beatles didn’t just stick to listening only to their respective genre. They opened up their ears to all sorts of sounds. So unlike many bands at the time which stuck to the rock ‘n’ roll and R&B template, the Beatles had a much more creative body of work. One that drew from many places to create something that was greater than the sum of its parts. Tablas and sitars in rock ‘n’ roll songs? You betcha. A classically-arranged string section backing a pop vocal? Rock on. Folk, doo wop harmonies, and stinging electric guitar all in one? Slap it to me.

It’s no different for your web and visual design. Be open to outside influence, and you stand to expand your creative boundaries and create something pretty inspiring work. Consider going beyond just your design circle and look to other forms of visual art, or even music, film, and more. Perhaps you’ll use a film technique in your next design, or the way a music artist approaches lyrics will help your website copy.

Or it could even be less direct – you could simply get influenced by an artist or entrepreneur’s attitude to his or her work. Similar to how the Beatles were influenced by India based on spirituality and attitude. Either way, consider being open to outside influences to expand and improve your design work.

After all, you are reading an article on how the Beatles can help your designs.

What The Beatles Can Teach You About Design

What The Beatles Can Teach You About Design

Hopefully these design lessons pulled from the Beatles have been helpful. Again, you really can’t go wrong learning from the masters. And by expanding what you get influenced by (#5 in the list), you can tap into a wealth of masterful influences. Such as that little rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool the Beatles.

To recap, here are 5 things the Beatles can teach you about design:

  1. It’s possible to be both popular and artful
  2. Don’t be afraid to try new styles
  3. Evolve or die
  4. Work how you want, not how you think you need to
  5. Be open to outside influences

Your turn: have the Beatles influenced you in any way?


  1. says

    Actually, I’m also struck here with how forward thinking the Beatles were with video. In the late sixties no less!

    Pretty much the standard now.

    So I guess there’s also: forging new ground when everyone thinks you’re crazy. ;)

  2. says

    Perhaps the most important lesson we as designers can learn from The Beatles, which isn’t mentioned here, is that it’s ok to have imperfections in our work. Their recordings are notorious for their anomalies – bad edits, miscues, sounds of people talking or dropping things in the background. They simply kept the best take even if there was a flaw. I try to remember this when I’m working on a client site and trying to make everything pixel-perfect.

  3. Camcas says

    Very cool article! These actually make sense, #4 struck me the most it reminds me how Stefan Sagmeister for example takes a sabbatical every 7 years, nicely done!

  4. says

    This is great! I can totally relate to the ‘work as you want to’ part. We certainly don’t obey the rules but we’re all the happier for it.

  5. says

    An article about design and the Beatles will always interest me. It’s amazing how many designers are also musicians and the two fields seem to go together. I think Matt makes a good idea about imperfections (there were many imperfections in earlier recordings and they are so much the better for them). And another thing I can think that the Beatles can teach us about design is the lack of importance of the logo in building an iconic brand. The Beatles never had a logo, whereas modern day bands reproduce the same one on each album with corporate mundanity. (The logo with the drop “T” was hardly used by them but was used often in the media after they split up.) The most iconic brands don’t always need visual consistency.

  6. TheRealPeaceMaker says

    There should be a number 6: Do lots of drugs and drink lots of booze, be a bigoted anti-Semite, sexist and homophobe, then protest a war and when the government you’re protesting finally pulls out – celebrate the wholesale slaughter of 1.2 million people as a victory.

    Granted, that was mostly just McCartney – but the other’s helped: “So you want a revolution?”

    Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my inspiration to come from less maligned historical characters. Where’s Pol Pot when you need him?

  7. says

    To be honest, Oleg’s writing style doesn’t really appeal to me, but this post is superb. I love both the originality of the idea and presentation. Imo, it’s your best article and by far, your best version of the “what musicians can teach designers” topic, Oleg.

  8. says

    This article is a great way to find motivation and inspiration in the ideas and things that make us unique. A great perspective on design from a great band.


  1. What The Beatles Can Teach You About Design…

    The Beatles deservingly secured their spot in our history books. Their influence and mastery of creativity extends even beyond music. In fact, there are actually 5 things the Beatles can teach you about design….

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