Design Thinking Lessons Straight from Conversations with 93 Rock Bands

I have been listening to a unique and inspiring podcast called song exploder for a while now, and in doing so I noticed that designers and musicians have a lot in common.

If you are stuck, walk away

At one time or another, it happens to all of us — you just get stuck. You’re out of ideas. It feels like you are wearing creative blinders. Whether it’s looking at competitors, unrelated apps, reading articles, listening to podcasts or something else altogether…just get out and explore. Force yourself to take in some new experiences. Through this exploration, you will gain diverse perspectives which may have never been exposed to otherwise. This new view of the world can help position you for a breakthrough.

DJ Shadow

I would just spend a few hours looking at records, listening to records and generally without trying very hard I would chance upon something that would unlock whatever jam I was in.

DJ Shadow, "Mutual Slump"

It's called short-term memory for a reason

Regardless of what app design you are currently crushing, any thought or idea you throw out could turn out to be helpful later. Conversations you have, things you see and hear in the course of your day are all candidates. Always have your sketchpad with you to take note of the world around you. Sketch things out, from your tiniest doodle to your biggest idea, because you never know when it might help you down the road.


I was given an iPod by our on-road engineer that had about 1,500 ideas on it that we had accumulated from rehearsals and sound checks. I spent the better part of the summer listening to it and eventually found what would become the cornerstone of the new Metallica song.

Metallica, "Moth into Flame"

Content is still king (even especially in designs/prototypes)

Words matter. In fact, they are probably the most important tool we have to communicate ideas. Designs (even wireframes) or a prototype with Lorem Ipsum as the content cannot possibly convey the gravity of an idea. It would be the culinary equivalent of going to a restaurant and seeing a beautifully photographed, delicious-looking dish accompanied by the description “Ribeye landjaeger tail fatback. pig meatball shank tongue porchetta beef sirloin bresaola Corned beef chuck salami pork belly.”


Lyrics and vocal melody are always king in my songs — they always come first.

Mitski, "Your Best American Girl"

You don’t have to edit your imagination

I am continually amazed at how creative people can be when given the right tools and environment to wander freely. At DeveloperTown our New Product Design Sprints are a great example — there is structure to the exercises we run, yet plenty of room to explore and be creative. I have been following the work of the Google Ventures guys and running my own version of design sprints for over three years now. What I have found is that great ideas can come from the most unlikely places at the most unlikely of times.


To start you have these rules and reference points like “Today we’re going to achieve X, Y and Z” but it doesn’t quite work out like that. But then you got a different idea and that’s where you take the song to. It’s a useful jumping off point.

Chvrches, "Clearest Blue"

Make sure you have identified the higher purpose

"Yes, they want to have a professional resume ready when they graduate. However, this process they are going through is really about self-actualization and the confidence gained when they truly understand their strengths and weaknesses." This is a real example from a previous project. Having this level of insight provided a completely different perspective on how to create a great experience for these students. Much different than if we would have just created a resume builder as were originally asked.


It's about finding a feeling first and then trying to express that feeling. So Edge has this big blues riff, powerful and full of rage. It was a natural fit then to express my own rage.

U2, "Cedarwood Road"

Published January 24th, 2017 by:
  • Randy Fisher

    Randy Fisher