What do UX Design & DJing have in common?

Eclipse Festival, July 2010

As a person who spends quite a bit of time thinking about UX design and DJing, I couldn’t help but notice that they have some interesting things in common. Most significantly, music and interfaces yield the power to improve or destroy one’s mood.

Creating a great user experience is a lot like wooing a crowd on a dance floor. Both experiences are interactive and require the use of empathy, harmony and an understanding of flow. In either case, creating delight is paramount to a truly meaningful experience.

Empathy & Reading the Crowd
The human-centred designer and a good DJ will put the people they are creating for at the forefront of the experience. They start the process asking similar questions and make adjustments based on observations and feedback. Who is in the audience? What’s the occasion? What kind of behaviour should result? Do the people want to be energized? Transformed? Calmed? Does the audience have the desire to dance or do they want to socialize with each other? Like design, sometimes the music shouldn’t even be noticed. Empathy and the purpose of the experience are important to the designer and the DJ.

Let’s imagine that a business objective is one song and a user’s goal is another. When mixed together properly, they create a new harmonic experience. But if you don’t find that sweet spot where the tempos (and keys) match, you get a “train-wreck”. In UX terms, a train-wreck can be anything from a usability or performance fail to an experience which creates frustration or anxiety (e.g., say if a user can’t find the content they need to complete their task). That’s bad for business! Harmony elevates the experience, on and off the dancefloor.

A dancer doesn’t want to think about the mechanics of dancing. They just want to be compelled to do it. Abrupt changes in tempo interrupt their groove. A well-designed interface works the same way – abrupt dead ends and inconsistencies in layout and behaviour are awkward and frustrating. You don’t even notice an intuitively designed interface with good flow, you just go with it. Achieving a “flow state” allows a sense of timelessness and is crucial to a positive experience.

Creating Comfort and Delight
Digital designers and DJs are often hunting for the next “new thing”. For DJs, it could be a song or a new piece of gear. For UX designers, it could be a new prototyping tool, research framework or design pattern. A user experience can be innovative, but we shouldn’t forget that the comfort of a familiar interface can be delightful too. An interface that performs as predicted is like knowing the lyrics of a favourite song. People like to sing along.

People also like to be surprised. Amazing UX design is like a great remix, because it is familiar but delightful – kind of like the effect of playing the reggae version of the Star Wars theme song.

Happiness & Joy
Ultimately, great UX design and DJing are about bringing people joy. Whether online or on a dancefloor, having a positive or even transformative impact on someone’s mood is very powerful and deeply satisfying for the audience, designer or DJ. To paraphrase a Swedish proverb “a joy shared is doubled”.

Want to read more on UX design and flow?
Here are a few articles that I found interesting:

Rhythm and Flow – A 2012 IA Summit Podcast with Peter Stahl

Boxes & Arrows posting “Flow, Mastery and Ease-of-Use” by Christina Wodtke

New York Times Opinion piece “The Music of ‘Flow’” By RICHARD CARRICK

I am also interested in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on the subject of Flow state “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Check out his TED talk on the subject.

Also, did you know that “dancing makes you smarter”?

If you’re interested in seeing how I put these concepts into action, check out my UX design portfolio or some of my DJ mixes.

Want to collaborate? Get in touch!