One of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal, music helps designers get in the zone
While everyone has their reservoirs of brilliance or genius, the trick lies in tapping and mining them. Some of us have found our well-springs or touchstones — places, activities, rituals, people, or things — which in some way support the attainment of inner peace, joy, creativity, or well-being. Designers have a slightly different style when it comes to awakening that creative muse.
If you picture a stock representation of a designer’s desk setup in any office, you’re sure to picture lots of Apple products, caffeine, heaps of stationery items – post-it notes, color pens, markers, loose A4 sheets, stencils – and more often than not headphones dangling from shoulders as a lost designer struggles to come up with ideas with a half-chewed pencil in the mouth.
The headphones, more often than not, are a surefire way to the creative muse. Various surveys, as our very own, have always pointed out the fact that more than eighty percent of designers listen to music while working. To go a step further, the kind of music one listens to while working could also affect concentration and productivity. .But a more thoughtful question to find out is what are all these designers really listening to on their headphones? We, at DesignWhine, set out to find exactly that and we interacted with close to a thousand UI and UX designers from all across the globe and were able to find some answers.
We broke down the survey questionnaire to revolve around five fundamental questions – Who, Why, What, When and Where. Each question in our survey attempted to find out who these designers were (in terms of their demographics, years of experience in the industry, their location and other attributes), why did they listen to music (the actual reasons be it increasing concentration or focus or blocking out background noise), exactly what they listened to (it wasn’t just music, there was white noise and nature sounds as competitors to popular music), when they listened to it (what phase of the design process) and where did they find all their music needs (what platform).
About eight in ten designers are likely to listen to some sort of music when they’re working. However, the trend of listening to music while working diminishes with the number of years a designer has spent in the industry. Close to thirty-seven percent of designers listened to music in the first five years of their career while this number reduced to less than eight percent for designers with over twenty years of experience.
When it came to the why of designers listening to music, a staggering number of respondents (close to thirty-five percent) mentioned it enhanced their mood. By extension many of them also mentioned the kind of music they listened to was also dependent on their mood. The next popular answer to the why was it helps them “get in the zone”. While “getting in the zone” could possibly be related to some other answer choices as well as this also gives the designers an opportunity to shut off background noise and helps in concentration and focus, the latter and former options were chosen by 7.9 percent and 17.9 percent of respondents respectively. A lot of respondents (16.1 percent) also mentioned relief from stress as a strong reason for listening to music while working.
Some of the answers to what plays in those headphones of designers were no surprises. Instrumental music as a genre was huge with 17.8 percent of respondents listening to it as was popular music with a 12.6 percent share. Lo-fi music, white noise and nature sounds were pleasant surprises. White noise is just an equal amount at every frequency, from low to high, that a human being can hear. White noise, which about 5.8 respondents listen to, creates a masking effect, blocking out those sudden changes that frustrate light sleepers, or people trying to fall asleep. But in the case of designers, it also solidifies the reasoning that designers want to evade those background noises that might be adding stress to an already stressful work life.
Similarly, about 4.5 percent of respondents listened to “Lo-fi” music, a term for music where one can hear imperfections that would typically be considered errors in the recording process. On YouTube channels like ChillHop music or DreamyCow, however, those “mistakes” become an intentional part of the listening experience.
Almost all respondents were unanimous in their votes to what stage of the design process they listened to music in. Close to ninety percent listened to music while prototyping with some even adding that the music rhythms add to the coordination needed for a task like prototyping.
To summarize the findings of the survey and to bring the community in-sync, we at DesignWhine have curated a list of 23 tracks, close to ninety-nine minutes of solid music, in a playlist titled, “In The Zone”. Click on the link to access the playlist and let us know how you liked it.
This article was last updated on November 27, 2023; Originally published on June 23, 2021