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Feb 2009

The Creative / Technical 'Tug of War' in Both Music and Design

Being a simultaneous programmer, interface designer, songwriter, musician and sound engineer has led me to draw an interesting parallel which I thought I would share with the bloggers out there.

Much of the defining literature in our field clearly distinguishes design from development (see ‘The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper for a good example).  I suppose the assertion is based on psychological bias.  It is inevitable that the hard programmers will bring their ‘utopian’ designs down to earth by considering technical implications too early.  The inverse is also true, as designers will tend to target main use cases with a higher risk of ignoring fringe cases.  An effective design-development relationship with two independent minds seems to be the ideal path to a technological solution.  From my experiences working in usability and design, it’s clear to me that this is actually the case.

This has all been written before, so why do I repeat it?  The startling insight here is the parallel that can be drawn to the music recording process.  Being both a musician and a sound engineer, I have produced many of my own creations from the creative to the technical side: writing, arranging, performing, recording, mixing and mastering.  I have also served each of these roles individually with other musicians and producers on various projects within the music scene here in Montreal.  As is true for design and development, the best results seem to come from keeping creative and technical aspects of the process localized to independent minds.  The songwriter dreams of utopia while the sound engineer works to make it happen, just as the designer creates ideal solutions while the developer considers technical feasibility.

For example, a songwriter might be sure that a particular song needs a banjo; he shouldn’t be dissuaded by the fact that he doesn’t have one.  Leave it to the sound engineer to consider performance, time and budget when deciding whether to rent one or simulate one on a high-end synthesizer!  Dialogues between these creative and technical forces serve to push the project to its optimum.  On top of this logical parallel, similarities between the feelings associated with either role in either context are uncanny.  I wanted to suggest that this ‘tug of war’ makes both a great recording and a great technological solution.

Have you seen this same creative vs. technical tug of war work in any other contexts?

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