Graphic Design Music: Pros Share the Soundtrack to Their Best Work
“Music helps focus my creativity whenever I’m working on a project,” says Corey Brown, design team leader for YP Marketing Solutions.
He’s not the only one. Scores of graphic designers harness the creative and concentrative powers of music to assist them on the job. It’s not surprising, considering a 2014 study found that listening to music you enjoy increases your focus as well as your ability to make functional brain connections.
But what type of graphic design music should you load up on your playlist? We all know different tunes appeal to different people. But we polled the pros to find out what kind of sounds power their most creative work.
Graphic design music advice from the pros
“I love listening to instrumentals when I'm really trying to get work done,” says Alex Caldwell, art director for Brolik. He compiled more than 15 hours of music with no lyrics on a communal Spotify playlist for anyone to enjoy.
“It fades into the background but still has build-ups and soaring melodies that create a nice backdrop for being creative,” he says. He feels that the lack of words ensures he won’t be distracted by certain lines or lyrics so he can fully engage in his work
This is a great genre for when you need some inspiration and creative meditation, according to Ash Donnelly, a designer at Australian-based Magicdust. Donnelly works in collaboration with other designers who all listen to music together.
She prefers ‘chilled indie’ artists like Frank Ocean, Hermitude and Banks because it lets your mind wander and “gets you in the mood” to be creative. “The kookier and more beautiful, the better,” she adds.
Some designers find they work better listening to the soothing sounds of Mother Nature. Many find music to be disrupting, but silence is equally distracting. Ambient noise such as the calm ocean waves or the crackle of a fire does the trick for many creative professionals, providing a peaceful, relaxing environment. Designer Jacqui Lindo of Plexuss.com utilizes the more tranquil tracks whenever she feels unfocused, but warns you against using them on days you’re overly tired because they may feed into your low energy levels and enhance your sleepiness.
Speaking of low-energy days, you could certainly turn to pop music for a remedy. Anastasiya Plaksiy of QuartSoft says upbeat music helps her condition her brain for the necessary creative mood. She listens to artists like Justin Timberlake, Hurts, Hozier and Maroon 5 to pick up the pace of her work and keep her motivated.
Mix it up!
“I've found that a variety of music is more important than a specific type,” says Chrissy Wahlstrom, graphic designer for SPCA-LA. “The last thing you want from a workplace is a constant, predictable drone of radio or office sounds.” She keeps her own “rolodex” of music with everything from white noise to electronic beats to podcasts, constantly changing it up to maximize creativity.
“For the same reason that our brains are healthier when we're learning new things, taking new routes to work or visiting new places, it's the variety of music that sparks creativity while we're sitting in the same chair at the same desk all day,” she explains.
Match your pace
A graphic designer rarely has two identical workdays. Just as your mood or pace of work changes, so should your music, according to Marie Sonder, web designer and developer for EZMarketing. When she has a design mentally figured out, she listens to country music to work calmly and consistently. For a deadline crunch, she chooses workout music with a fast-paced beat. When she is frustrated, she turns to heavier rock music to help vent the feeling as she works.
Shannon Allgood, designer for Yvolver, also believes in this philosophy. “The design process has so many emotional cycles,” she explains. “Sometimes you need aggravated hip-hop or scream to work a problem out!”
Choose a theme & stick with it
Lindo suggests turning to an app like Pandora. She selects a song or artist to match her mood and lets the app do the rest. She thinks it’s important to be able to lose yourself in the music and your task without constantly adjusting your playlist.
“I like to make sure I keep some kind of long playlist going, because looking for new music can get pretty distracting,” Lindo says. “You find yourself surfing instead of working. So having a playlist, a station or a video looping is best for me.”
Something uplifting & inspiring
While Donnelly’s crew typically enjoys music of a darker, grungier nature, they steer away from those genres while they are working. “We feel that the music we listen to really influences our work, and no one wants a dark and twisted web design,” she explains.
She says the needs of the clients always outweigh the personal preferences of the designers. “Beautiful and upbeat music really inspires us to design unique, beautiful and impactful designs--which is what our clients love.”
Anything you love
“It’s not a one size fits all thing,” Brown says. He’s observed that his team of designers tends to each listen to music that fits each of their individual personality. For Brown, that means hip-hop, “mostly because it’s the music that I grew up listening to, and it always sparks my creativity.” The key is finding what works for you, rather than trying to mimic someone else’s style. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll find your ideal sound.
What’s your style?
“There is a place for every type of music in the design world,” Brown says. “You can hear almost anything coming from the headphones on my team.” At the end of the day, the graphic design music you choose should match your personality and work style.
Just as no two designers’ playlist will be identical, their creative process will be unique as well. Check out this article to see how other designers approach a new project: Pros Provide a Behind-the-Scenes Peek at Their Graphic Design Process.
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