What I've Learned About Design From Orchestra

Playing the double bass for the past twenty years has taught me many lessons that have helped me in all areas of my life, including my career as a UX Designer. My experience playing in an orchestra has shaped how I approach the design process and client work.

The top three lessons I've learned as a musician that I've found apply to my career are:

Lindsay and her double bass!

Lindsay and her double bass!

1. Embrace challenges.

Years of experience as a bassist doesn't mean I'm immune to intimidation. Tricky rhythms and technically difficult passages still rear their heads, more frequently than I’d like to admit.

In design, client projects are the same way. Sometimes I’m rapidly learning about the ins and outs of a new industry, Sometimes I’m wringing simple visualizations from complex data. And sometimes I’m just trying to keep the project moving at a steady and productive pace. It’s when I hit daunting terrain that I’m sharpening my skills and gaining new confidence.

Practice helps. It takes discipline; I’ve got to show up and keep at it, even when I’m struggling, But the more I practice, the more confident I am come show time.

2. Stay in tune with your team.

If I focused on the sheet music in front of me, but didn't listen to the others around me, I'd be playing a completely different piece… and certainly messing up the concert! Same goes for design. If I don't listen to what my clients are saying, what users’ concerns are, or ideas coming from my fellow Sliders, the outcome will be muddy and mediocre.

Like music, design isn’t meant to be created in a vacuum. It's vital to find the rhythm of the team to make it all come together.

3. Respect every role, no matter how big or small.

Well-executed details create a package that feels polished and complete.
— Lindsay Winters, Senior UX Designer

As a bassist, sometimes I have a solo, and sometimes I play a single note for a really long time. Both parts serve a purpose. Prolonged whole notes, like menial design tasks, can feel underwhelming. But sometimes it's those details that form the cherry on top.

A whole note can help a musical piece feel grounded and solid. In design, well-executed details create a package that feels polished and complete.

And the spotlight? It reflects on the whole group, even when I’m the one on stage. Solos showcase my performance skills, but also reflects the orchestra's ability as a whole. If I flub through my solo, the whole orchestra comes off as unprepared. Delivering a design presentation to a client is like standing on stage playing a solo. Preparation, like creating an outline and having questions lined up, is key. When I know what I'm going to discuss, I make my team look smart and capable.

Like many UX Designers, the path to my career was not a straight one. I think that's one of the things that makes us unique. Many UX designers explore different interests and careers before finding their way to UX. What have your past experiences taught you that have helped you with your career?