Common Elements In Music And Design


Though you may not think of this, one of the wonderful places designers can look for inspiration is the world of music. In fact, some of you might already do this unconsciously; how many of you listen to music as you design?

As a writer, I keep my headphones on when I write so I can let the music inspire me, so I imagine other creative types would find music to be just as helpful to their own work.

But a closer look at how music works can really give us a sense for how its elements can directly translate into great design. I’ve listed the four basic elements of music and tried to offer great design elements that I think correspond with them. Hopefully these can be of some help to you when you think about your own favorite kinds of music and how your favorites influence your own design process. Enjoy!

If you like this article, you might be interested in some of our older articles on Website Design Trends Of 2011, Mistakes To Avoid While Designing Your Website, What Does Effective Graphic Design Do for Your Website?, and Applications of AIDA In Website Designing.

Pitch (Melody and Harmony)


Pitch describes what place on the musical scale a note falls. When a series of pitched notes come one after another, they create a melody, and when a group of notes of various pitches are played together, they create a harmony. In design, you can think of pitch as how the various colors work together to create a harmony of vision; you can also think of melody in design how different techniques, such as a brush stroke, can combine to create a melodious image. When I think of melody and harmony in art and design, I cannot help but think of the art of Marcel Dzama, whose muted reds and greys combine to create a somber sort of visual sound. His dancing women line up like musical notes in my mind to create a slow melody while the background colors form the complimentary harmony.



When I think of rhythm in design and art, I can’t help but immediately think of Kazimir Malevich’s Red Cavalry Riding, which I saw for the first time in The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The painting is a beautifully rhythmic piece; from the spaced lines of color, you can get a sense for the thrumming of the hooves as the cavalry rides across the tundra. This image could inspire designers to use clean, crisp lines and interesting colors to note rhythm in their work.



Dynamics in music refers to how loud or quiet a range of notes are played. In design, it can refer to how subtle or noticeable a certain effect or series of images appears on the page or computer screen. I personally tend to like softer designs, especially in the websites that I visit, and in the art that I look at. However, in my mind, the work of Robyn O’Neil manages to show off a great use of dynamics. She draws in graphite, which restricts her in some ways, but to offset that restriction, she really adjusts the loudness and softness of various parts of the illustration. Look at the loudness of the storm, the tiny bodies falling from the pointed landscape, where they will soon land in the soft plain below.



When I look at some of Matthew Curry’s work, I immediately think of how effortlessly he manages to impress texture into his designs. Obviously, he does this by using a variety of mediums in the creation of his art, just like how an orchestra can create depth and texture in the sounds they make by having a variety of instruments playing simultaneously. Curry’s process is a blend of painting, street art, and digital manipulation, and this process can create a great texture in his art, for which Curry has become well known (his art has twice been nominated for a Grammy).

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  1. Interesting perspective! I find music to be very inspiring when I’m writing (creative fiction in particular) but I’ve never thought of it this way in terms of design. Only thing I think is missing is lyrics. Do the lyrics impact your design work, or do you mainly listen to instrumental music?

  2. Wow! I always had a feeling all kinds of art forms were interlinked with each other, at a certain emotional level. Music is like the blood that runs through my veins and your post has actually brought out words and feelings I couldn’t say myself. Amazing article!


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