LearnDesigning with Music


writes on September 3, 2009

Kevin and Gary show at FOWA London


I think I’ve mentioned this before… but I think music can massively inspire and influence design.

The Musical Effect

There’s something about working to music that changes the process of design. For me it has a sort of ‘unlocking’ affect. It seems to open up my mind to design possibilities that without music wouldn’t enter my head.

Like in film the mix of music and imagery can have a huge emotional affect on a designer which can influence their decision making and ultimately their design.

What’s also cool is that different styles of music can influence  your designs in different ways… and everyone has different tastes in music which makes it really interesting!

Spotify Playlists

Using the wonder that is Spotify I thought it’d be fun to share one of my playlists that inspires my work. It’s called Uplifting Alternative Durge and I’d describe it as just that. You can listen to it here.

For those who don’t have access to Spotify I’m really sorry. I’ve listed the tracks below in case you want to compile it yourself.

  • Geraldine – Glasvegas
  • inní mér syngur vitleysingur – Sigur Ros
  • Signs – Bloc Party
  • So Close – Six by Seven
  • The National Anthem – Radiohead
  • No Cars Go – Arcade Fire
  • This is a Question – Hope of the States
  • Crawl – Kings of Leon
  • Meet me in the Bathroom – The Strokes
  • Jump in the Pool – Friendly Fires
  • Rest my Chemistry – Interpol
  • Mirrorball – Elbow
  • I Stand Corrected – Vampire Weekend
  • Blue Ridge Mountains – Fleet Foxes
  • Fake Empire – The National
  • Unrecorded – M83
  • Playground Love – Air

It would be great to hear what music inspires you guys. Feel free to post your playlists here too.


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0 Responses to “Designing with Music”

  1. This is a fantastic playlist! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Check out Scott Hansen’s (ISO50) playlist archive. Fantastic mixes in there: http://blog.iso50.com/playlist-archive/

  3. thnx for the sharing spotify play-list! may be you should do it every week? =)

  4. found at Lifehacker recently:

    “According to researchers at Manchester University, music fans are stimulating part of the inner ear known as the sacculus, which responds to the beat in music. This gives the brain pleasure and makes us feel good – during the music and afterwards.

    The sacculus, which is not thought to have any hearing function in humans, appears to be sensitive only to very loud volumes, above 90 decibels.”


  5. I’d never heard of Glasvegas before but I like them a lot now!

    Normally I listen to Kings of Leon or (at the minute) Noisettes.

  6. I think that’s awesome. Designing with music is a great idea.

  7. i have a few dependable favs and like to kid myself that i have some foolproof tricks:

    if its a slow day and i’m doing some long & not so exciting work – the Ricky Gervais/Smerch/Pilkington podcasts & vintage XFM material can make the day brilliant.

    if i have a large important project to design and i’m stuck in a rut, i listen to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and it _explodes my mind_.

    if i need to churn stuff out really quickly i find Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm works well for me. which is funny cause i cant listen to any of their other work without throwing up a little.

    if i’m on a roll and i need to keep going, My Disco is relentless.

  8. I think music can really influence certain people more than others. Recently I wrote up a quick experiment I did called the One Song Sketch: http://prandall.com/2009/07/01/the-one-song-sketch/ which highlighted genre-based creativity.

    However on a recent Boagworld podcast featuring Dan Rubin, he mentioned how musicians find it hard listening to music, as they tend to drift off and focus on the music or lyrics instead of the actual work.

  9. Thanks loads for your comments guys,

    Great reading about what music makes people tick.

    Funny reading about Tchaikovsky, Bach, Slayer, PHP and Javascript at the same time 😀

  10. Sean Foushee on September 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm said:

    Certainly depends on my mood and the time of the day. When I’m working in the morning I prefer a modest amount of 80’s music – it’s a guilty pleasure – that tends to drift towards rock in the afternoon (Queen, Stix, Perl Jam, Hinder) and as the sun begins to set I move to a harder playlist (Breaking Benjamin, RA, Seether, Evanesce). When I’m up late at night I turn to Jazz (Coltrane, Miles, Parker, Rollins, Brubeck, Joshua Redman) and if I’m still working as the sun peaks across the horizon I often turn to Classical (Mozart, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Bach). I know the classical sounds odd, especially if you’re pulling an all-nighter, but since I have a background in classical and jazz (saxophonist) I find the complex chord structure pleasing and often keeps my brain focused, especially if I’m working in JavaScript or PHP.

  11. Love the simplicity of the recommendation. I think some people (aka my partner) don’t get how music helps the creative process. Apparently I’m ‘loud’ when I work from home lol.

    Right now, listening to youtube music sensation Ronald Jenkees. Mostly electronic trip-hop and some hip hop beats as well. Definitely recommend checking his stuff out on youtube or his website: http://www.ronaldjenkees.com

    Otherwise I have multiple playlist set up on pandora for my changing moods throughout the day. Some of my regulars include:
    • VAST
    • Bloc Party
    • Santo Gold
    • Opeth
    • Natalie Walker

  12. SLAYER. plus loads of good punk rock.

    …here’s a peak at my listening habits: http://www.last.fm/user/Tim_Drunk/library

    Any other form of music just hurts my brain and severely cripples my creativity…

    Did I mention SLAYER?

  13. rthompson on September 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm said:

    on the short list:
    bioshock ost
    bola de nieve
    cafe del mar
    chris botti live from boston
    cowboy bebop ost
    forza2 ost
    hernan cattaneo
    m. ward
    melody gardot
    neko case

    • Hernan Cattaneo is god, he actually is god.
      Love the renaissance stuff, and the first sequential mix is just incredible.

      As well as that it has to be Nick Warren, Sasha, Global Underground in general, all good!
      Also ‘Balance’ by Joris Voorn is one of the best mixes I’ve heard in a long time. Right now I’m listening to Sasha and Digweeds Northern Exposure, quality.

      Other than that heavy dub/reggae always helps, along with quality hip hop like souls of mischief, Dj Krush and Dj Primecuts.

      I like to finish things off with some classic rock too, the cure, the clash, the doors, Led Zepplin, ac/dc, neil young, depeche mode and the mighty Rolling Stones… I like music a lot!

  14. oh I forgot. I admit to listening to Susan Boyles’ Greatest Hits CD too!

  15. I cannot get enough of that Friendly Fires tune!

    And, I couldn’t agree w/you more, Mike: design + music go hand in hand. As an art director I listen to music constantly while I work. Such an untapped creative tool, as I see it. In my blog, I use a design theme as my post inspiration then build a playlist around it. Such a natural outlet for me.

    Here are some on my faves:


    I enjoyed this post greatly. Nice to know I’m not alone. 😉


  16. for those of you in Canada who can’t use Spotify, here’s an almost-identical playlist for Grooveshark


    enjoy! I am…

  17. Hi Mike, great post. I need music to design like some folks need coffee. Some real gems in your list, esp. Sigur Ros, Glasvegas + Friendly Fires.

    Here’s what I have on rotation: U2, Simple Minds, Embrace, Beloved, Cure, The Killers, White Lies, Coldplay, Anechoic, Athlete, Cut Copy, Glasvegas, James, Kyte, Pilot Speed, Razorlight, One Republic, Snow Patrol, The Script, Thievery Corporation.

  18. Recently I’ve been listening to songs like:

    “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
    “Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
    “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan
    “Mellow Yellow” by Kansas
    “Dust in the Wind” by Donovan

    But my usual list would be something like:

    The Virgins
    Black Kids Rock
    Ra Ra Riot

    Checking out your collection now liking it so far!

  19. Hey, so I’m one of those people who can’t access spotify, so I’ve recreated your playlist on GrooveShark, par one song, which was not on grooveshark, and you can find it here: http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/playlist/Uplifting_Alternative_Durge/16314526

    Just giving it a listen to now 🙂

  20. Dance music! Working late at night also helps to focus the mind

  21. That’s really a really interesting post , I find myself in a creative block if I try designing without listening to music.

    I also tend to find that listening to music increases my productivity generally.

  22. I feel quite re-assured that we listen to the same music whilst designing 🙂

  23. Queen, and lots of it. I just find listening to any upbeat music uplifting, it gives me loads of energy to get stuck into a design.

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