5 Things DJs Can Teach Designers

When you need fresh inspiration to improve your designs, consider looking to outside sources. Other creative fields can offer insight that you might not have otherwise thought about if you stick to only learning from other designers. A great inspiration source to look into is music. In particular, there are 5 things DJs can teach designers.

5 Things DJs Can Teach Designers


What do DJs have in common with designers besides beginning with the letter D? Well, both DJs and designers focus on the user, be it a club goer or visitor to a website. Both use creative means to deliver valuable content. And both present others' content in the most appealing and desirable way (DJs = other people's tunes, designers = other people's products and content).

Let's get to improving your designs via a slightly unconventional inspiration source. Here are 5 things DJs can teach designers:

1. Create an Experience

Good DJs simply play good music, and the club goers enjoy the tunes and leave without any memorable moments imprinted in their minds. However, the best DJs don't just play music, they weave an experience for the club goer. They leave on an emotional high, feeling like they just went through an experience. "What an epic night" they say - or something similar.

Create an Experience
Image credit: Enkhtuvshin

The same goes for your web and visual designs. Don't just offer a design, weave an experience for the user. Whether it's subtle animations, or a funnel or path you guide the user through either clicking through a certain way or having the eye follow a particular path, or the way you present the content, try to make it more than just a design - make it an experience.

A great popular example is Apple. When you turn a Mac on for the first time, you get that welcome video. After that, the login and window opening/maximizing/minimizing actions are animated experiences. The same goes for the iPod/iPhone/iPad animations, transitions, and interfaces. It's all experiences, not just using of the design. Ones with positive emotional reactions.

2. Set an Engaging Pace

The best DJs don't just play the same mood and tempo throughout their multi-hour-long set - they set an engaging pace. A slower start, a rising buildup, the energetic climax, and the cool down. Or any countless variations. But the point is it isn't the same thing throughout the set - the mood, energy level, and vibe changes. And that keeps the audience engaged and having fun.

Set Engaging Pace
Image credit: Matthew Fang

Just like you can set a pace with music, you can do so with web and visual design as well. It can be fast-paced and exciting, or it can be very deliberate and slow. By setting the right pace, you'll keep the user engaged.

That means switching up the sizing and spacing of the elements so they're not all the same. And then arranging them in a way that's uncluttered and easy to follow.

Notice how the best flyers and posters give you a natural place to start looking, then varies up the size and spacing to keep you engaged, and offers a clear path for your eye to follow. You don't get bored and turn away - instead, you end up attentively looking and reading the entire thing. The same goes for website designs - you start with, say, a headline, then read the subtitle, then the copy, see the image or click on the video to watch, then keep reading the content or list of features below.

3. Focus on Content, Not Effects

Ask any great DJ what the most important ingredient to a great set is, and the answer you'll get is: great music. Not the effects, or showmanship, or technical prowess of blending hard-to-mix tracks together. Just great music. The focus is on the content (music), not effects.

Content Not Effects
Enkhtuvshin

Sure, you want the DJ to mix proficiently. But a technically-basic DJ with impeccable music selections will create better club goer experiences than a technical wizard with boring music every time.

It's no different for any creative field, especially web and visual design. Make your designs about the content, not the effects. It doesn't matter if you have the slickest transitions, the flashiest animations, the edgiest graphics, the hippest fonts. If the content isn't clearly shown, then the design fails. It's just a pretty front, not a great design that focuses on whatever the content is.

4. Give the User a Great Time

Just as DJs DJ for the crowd, designers design for the user. And just as DJs give the crowd a great time, designers should give the user a great time.

Give Great Time
Image credit: Frederik Emil Høyer-Christensen

Make it a joy to view or use your design. Usually, your designs aren't modern art gallery pieces to challenge the viewer. Your design isn't questioning the perceived notions of psychological extrapolations, or critiquing the post-modern social psyche on urbanization's global impact. No. It's letting the viewer know about something important or delivering valuable content.

So why not make that viewing or content-consuming experience enjoyable? That's what will make your design great: giving the user a positive experience.

After all, most club goers want to leave thinking "what a fantastic time I had, I'll tell others how great that DJ was", not "I was challenged and the DJ was showing off his indulgent technical prowess". The same goes for your designs - the user couldn't care less about how good you are at technique X or your thoughts on topic Y or whatever. All they want is a great time using or seeing your design. So give that to them.

Of course, you shouldn't compromise your values and style. But put the focus on creating a positive experience for the user first to keep any self-indulgent tendencies that might harm your designs at bay.

5. Add Your Personal Touch

What separates a good DJ from a great one is: the good DJ is expendable, the great one is not. Most club goers don't care who the good DJ is, as long as the music doesn't suck. The good DJ is essentially there as a music player.

Add Personal Touch
Image credit: Tim Snell

But club goers will specifically seek out a great DJ. They'll travel long distances to get to the club or festival that the great DJ is spinning at. Why is that? Because they want that great DJ's personal touch. The impeccable tune selection, the creative music layers the great DJ adds to the set, the mashups, the original artist tunes the great DJ drops, whatever. The point is, the great DJ is adding a personal touch.

You should do the same with your web or visual designs. Don't be that good designer who is essentially creating functional designs. One that can be replaced by a quicker and/or cheaper designer. Be the great designer - add your personal touch.

Then, and only then, do you stop being expendable and become irreplaceable. Clients want you for you, not because you're the most affordable. And they'll pay whatever (reasonable) amount it takes to get you.

What DJs Can Teach Designers

Hopefully these 5 insights have been helpful to you as a designer. Sometimes the best lessons come from outside sources. By seeing how someone is performing effectively in their field, you can extract key takeaways and apply it to your own. In this case, from DJs to your designs. And in the process you just might pick up a thing or two that you otherwise wouldn't have thought of, since it's not common in your field.

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

  1. Create an experience
  2. Set an engaging pace
  3. Focus on content, not effects
  4. Give the user a great time
  5. Add your personal touch

Over to you: are there other useful tips you picked up from DJs or related creative inspirations?