Mark Thomas Miller

Design Tip: Bad design is a symphony

Sometimes, the best lessons come from unrelated industries.

The soundtracks for Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes, The Lion King, and Inception were written by Hans Zimmer. I recently signed up to take one of his classes in my spare time, and the more I learn from him, the more I realize that his music teachings actually apply to design.

Hans worked with Ridley Scott on a movie. He heard about Ridley’s reputation for firing his composers, so during their first meeting, Hans asked, “What do I have to do to not get fired?”

Ridley replied, “Don’t write me a symphony.”

Hans reflected on the moment:

I knew exactly what Ridley meant. He meant to serve the movie, enhance the movie, elevate the movie, be about the movie! It shouldn’t be about, “Isn’t my music fabulous?” Yes, you have to have a strong ego, but it can’t be a destructive one.

I find a lot of similarities in the world of design: too many designers focus on the flashy effects they can add with CSS rather than intimately serving the user. Does the user really need to see another animation or another complex interface? Web design should always be about highlighting content, but it should never be about showcasing the design itself.

Elevate the content. Don’t compete with it.