Dylan to Dhillon: music in the office and beyond
I joined ICD a little over two years ago, my first job at a creative studio. I came here from the editor’s office of a social-development journal. And from day one I realised it was going to be very different here.
There, my editor liked to work in a quiet setting. While a lot of play goes around at ICD. There are loud disagreements, agreements are louder, on everything.
It took me a while to get used to this new space and style of working.
The designer’s relationship with music
I discovered music is one subject that gets my colleagues talking rather passionately.
Tastes, opinions and favourites differ, there is no consensus and no judgements either.
Some have their headphones on for 2/3rds of the day. While others use music to set the day’s tone—inspiration or focus (they have playlists for all moods!).
One or two avoid listening to music on the desk at all.
Let me illustrate a few scenes from one week:
Monday, 10:30 am
Music is mostly limited to the earphones. Everyone’s getting in the zone, with some help from Pink Floyd, Pt. Ravi Shankar or AP Dhillon. Or it’s just the clatter of keyboards and the scratch of Wacoms for others.
Friday, 4:30 pm
The anticipation of the weekend makes the sounds move from earphones to speakers. One of us usually starts with Golden Era Bollywood songs by Rafi, Kishore Kumar or Lata.
Sun goes down, beats pick up.
Sometimes, legends yield to Seedhe Maut or Miracle Mangal. Like their names, their music is new, delightful and different.
On especially musical evenings, entire playlists get traded. Last year, on one such evening, we shared a playlist on Instagram, ‘Work Songs @ICD’.
Everyone gave in one song. Though deceivingly small, the playlist had wild variety—Dave Brubeck, Bowie, Zubeen Garg next to Masego and Acid Ghost.
To our surprise, we received many DMs asking us to add more songs to the playlist. Some shared their own lists, cheerily pointing out mutual favourites.
It is these incidents of listening and sharing that got me thinking about the role music plays in a designer’s day.
The battle (beat) within
To an outsider, design might look like a scripted play, performed flawlessly. But the green room behind, i.e. the designer’s head, is a messy place.
An interesting land where islands of inspiration have to be reached via brave sailing through seas of drudgery.
‘Good’ design, I have seen, comes out of a lot of chaotic churning, fearless flight and ruthless rationalisation, as the situation demands. The process demands frequent self-questioning, and all help along the way is welcome.
Our studio is no different. Some pore over classic texts for ideas. For others, a collective brainstorm is the way to go.
However, at the end, they have to face the ever-present foe—a big white screen staring at them, ready to thwart their designs.
At this moment, I see some people open up a YouTube tab, or Spotify web, and hit the play button on a song. I wonder and have been investigating what this does for them.
Form and function
Music, like design, is a play between whisper and thunder. The most enduring songs, like the most enduring designs, have a sinusoidal quality to them—ebbs and flows, periods (pixels) of intense richness weaved in with pockets of calm.
A good song, albeit for a few moments, changes how you experience the world. So does good design. Both are instruments of eliciting emotion. Both make the consumer more open and readier to receive.
As romantic as I am being here, I doubt if my colleagues have reflected on such similarities between music and design. And that’s perfectly ok.
Whatever rocks your boat
…as long as there is a Texan blues rock band to nudge them into the spirit of an American whisky brand we are designing for.
…as long as there is the voice of that one singer from their home state (who by the way never got due national adulation) to power through the Monday blues.
…as long as there is a delightfully eclectic jazz piece to counter the sometimes mechanical nature of UX iterations.
…as long as there is the latest upbeat pop number that has TikTokers going gaga to energise them.
…as long as the music keeps sparking their imaginations or distracts them enough to keep going.
Thursday, 3:47 pm
I have Ali Sethi crooning ‘Mere Humnafas’ in the background as I am writing this and discussing his music with Itu and Abhishek.
“He’s very whiskey, isn’t he?”, says Itu.
‘Yes! Whiskey and a dimly lit room’, replies Abhishek (extra passion, from having been there, done that).
“He is what Begum Akhtar may have been to our generation, sukoon mila sunke isko”, says Itu.
The conversation moves to Shubha Mudgal’s voice, to Begum Akhtar, to Farida Khanum. Itu delivers an impression of how Mallikarjun Mansur would have sung Mere Humnafas (blasphemy!).
Digression: Itu recently extracted songs from over 100 CDs to his private cloud.
Back on track
I talked to my colleagues to better understand the role music plays at work. There isn’t a pattern. Silence may be as valuable as music for some music lovers.
Lisa insists “I cannot listen to music when I am at work, I get too absorbed in it to get anything done”.
I feel you, Lisa, how can one concentrate with Lata and Ella seducing you!
“I like to listen to regular favourites while I am working and the work has to be easy on the brain. I especially like music when I am working with my hands, it cuts out the noise and puts me in the flow”, is how Ashok feels.
“I cannot listen to new music at work though”, he adds.
Others nodded in agreement. New music needs attention and involvement.
‘Regular favourites’ mean different things to people. It’s Hozier’s haunting voice for me. Alok, one of our developers and my neighbour, likes Japanese Hogaku and J-Pop. I should know; his earphones are like speakers, the beat leaks.
To each his own. I look the other way.
A song from Arpit’s desk plays on his iMac speaker. It catches Abhishek’s fancy. Or mine.
Artist names are exchanged, the song looped on request.
It’s world music day today.
It’s a good time to share a cool internet thing we made—a radio that plays our favourite songs.
ICD Radio is inspired by our neighbourhood chaiwallah, Bobby Bhaiya’s radio. Kept next to the pot of steaming chai, his radio never fails to make our chai breaks musical.
Keep your sound on for this. And have fun with it.
Everyone at ICD has a station of their own. Drag the slider to switch channels. Click on the artist name for a short stream of the team member’s favourite song from that artist.
You can click on the Spotify link to get the full ICD playlist. Also, do get in touch if you want the source code to make a radio for your office, we’d be happy to share the joy we got from this fun exercise.
As legendary fashion designer and creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld said, “Music gives colour to the air of the moment”. We agree.
Widget design: Abhishek Ghosh. Developer: Alok Joshi