Design, HCId, Music

Humans love music and stories

Music is everywhere in our world, all the time. Just like design. Once we open our ears to all the sounds, rhythms and melodies it changes the way we hear our world. I thought about this a lot during our class today.

Selma (Bjork, Dancer in the Dark) hears music everywhere. Here she is working in a factory, and of course, breaks out into song about the exact fact that she hears music everywhere.

Ignorance is bliss, but learning is fun
As we become more versed and educated in music….. or design or walking or breathing or math, it forever changes how we experience it. We can really appreciate the beauty of the world we live in. But, the magic and mystery is lost as we begin to learn. The Earth that turns, birds flying together and leaves changing color are no longer fantasty.

Eugene talked about this problem during the first week when Marty played the small cymbals. Many of us heard a sound and vibration. But, Eugene heard so much more because he has studied music. Some of the magic is lost for him but at the wonderful trade off of education and depth of knowledge.

Creative Processes
The study of HCI and the study of music overlap because they are both the study of experience. They both rely on creative processes. Writing music and designing are messy, swampy, difficult, iterative achievements. Great thinkers develop processes and exercises to teach us ways to also become great thinkers, creatives and problem solvers.

Writing is like music is like design
Music is sticky and music is fun. I went to the Poynter Institute last year for a 6-week-hyper-collaborative journalism summer program. The director, Roy Peter Clark, taught his book Writing Tools in song every Tuesday. The lessons are also available by Podcast, Tool 24: Work from a Plan, Index the big parts of your work is a great example of a writing lesson taught with a music language.

In Tool 24, Clark draws parallels between writing and music. He recommends we write with subheadings and chapter titles. “The reader who sees the big parts,” he says, “more likely to see the big story.” He’s talking about generalizations. He also discusses the process of writing and recommends sketching out big ideas first, then adding phrases and nuances later. He says, and I quote, to write with “transparency.” Then, he links all the process of writing to the architecture of writing the song Three Blind Mice. How beautiful.


Clark asks journalists to write with transparency, labels and clarity for the reader. Make an indexed global structure, he says. I think he’s suggesting writers make an index to help readers make quick generalizations. Transparency also means to make your sources known, your process understood and your motivations clear in journalism and HCI!

Clark loves Polka. Below is a video of a fun little bit about the Media and Pennsylvania or Albania or Transylvania. I don’t quite remember. Unfortunately, my flickr video won’t embed!

Perspectives make our process messier
The HMI class reinforced Marty’s lessons on perspectives. It’s important to walk around your space and see (or hear) the experience in many different ways. Corinthe was sitting underneath a little nook by the pipes feeling the vibrations. She must have felt something much different being low to the ground in a dark place versus someone like Dave who has an incredibly different experience simply because he’s tall. I wonder what the world sounds like up there. Does he hear the world differently? Is it sunnier?

Height, everyone is a different height. That completely changes how we experience the world and it’s such a messy problem designers must think about!

Creative processes are messy but at least we get to dance around and listen to music during the cleanup.

Video of Clark & Polka:

Music for (multi)Media: Roy Peter Clark on Writing and Music

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at

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