How Great Design is Like Music

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you know that Taylor Swift’s new album just dropped. For the record: she’s amazing. So when I found out she would only release her new album on iTunes, I was really stuck in a hard place because I am a full supporter of Spotify (and ONLY Spotify). After a whopping 4 hours, I caved in, went on iTunes and bought the album. It has now been four days since the album dropped and I’ve listened to it about a thousand times. I know every lyric to every song, and no matter how tired my coworkers get of it, I plan to keep on listening.

You might be wondering two things at this point. First, is this whole blog post going to be about my Taylor Swift obsession? And second, what could this possibly have to do with sports marketing?

The answers are (1) no (although trust me, I could go on about her) and (2) a lot more than you might think.

While Taylor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, nearly everyone has a favorite song or favorite artist. No matter what you’re into, pretty much all music has something in common: each song is a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The next time you’re listening to a song, try to listen for all the layers of music and lyrics that make up the song. Whether it’s a supporting lyric behind main lyrics, a new melody behind the chorus, or the subtle addition of a new instrument, each minor element works together to create a great melody. When you take apart the layers of vocals and instruments, the pieces may not make sense by themselves. But when you add them all together, something magical happens.

I relate music to design in this sense- they are both trying to tell a story in different ways. Adding the right extra details or layers can create a design that communicates something more powerful and emotional than you ever would have imagined when you were only looking at one little piece of it.

Every design file starts with a blank flat white layer. But in sports, something is ALWAYS moving, whether it’s you, your teammate, the ball, or even your angry coach yelling at you. So how do you convey the depth and movement of sports with this white, blank layer? You have to combine different elements in a way that brings out that feeling.

Below is a Photoshop file of a poster that I created. I only have about 5 layers open. While the piece could be finished because it has all the basic elements (the required players, the schedule, a minor textured background and the header), it’s just kind of there. Your eyes don’t move around the piece and it doesn’t create an excitement (at least it doesn’t for me). It’s not bad, but is it really good enough? Could it be great? When I continue to add layers, it makes this flat, white file come to life with movement. Some layers contain only 1 or 2 pieces of content but when you add all the contents together, it creates a beautiful piece. Just like music.

The next time you’re listening to one of your favorite song, let your ears listen BEHIND the main lyrics. Close your eyes and hear all the individual layers that would be boring and nothing by themselves, but that create a beautiful song when they’re brought together. When you start doing this, you’ll find new layers you hadn’t noticed before. Likewise, the next time you look at a poster or an intro video, try to look beyond the main image. Look at the layers, colors, and elements that are connecting the corners, the words, and the players. Each layer has its own story as to why it’s there. Together, they create something that’s great rather than simply good enough.