Create a Mixtape for Your Product

I love music. I need music. During most of my working day, I have my headphones on. Music inspires me and my work. There is no particular genre that I prefer, from N.W.A. to the Ramones, from Foxes to Hans Zimmer, everything works for me. Yet, some artists and genres work better than others.

When I’m coding, I love to listen to epic movie soundtracks. Steve Jablonski, Hans Zimmer, the kind of things you would hear in a Michael Bay or Christopher Nolan film. When I’m in the Adobe universe, I like podcast or rap music. For writing, deep house or punchy electronic music works well. Organisational things work well with 70s punk rock.

During the work on my book “Web Fatale”, I discovered that I was more productive and more satisfied with my work when I was listening to specific songs and artists: Foxes, Sleigh Bells, Grimes, Goldfrapp, Gene Serene. Can music have an influence on our productivity and the product outcome?


Before we start working on products, we lay out goals and definitions to predetermine what the final product will look like. We create visual style guides, provide brand guidelines, interface specs, design principles, requirement specifications, product roadmaps.

We create a basis for the final product, something we can go back to in case of doubt or when we question what we’re doing. A virtual or physical beacon that guides us through the dark shores of the product design process. Something visual that we can hold on to and that we can hold accountable.

While we do that, we often forget that the environment we’re working in has a tremendous impact on the quality of our work. Some of us feel comfortable in a coffee shop environment, some need absolute silence to get stuff done. Some work better in the morning or at night, when it’s dark outside. I know digital artists who go through entire seasons of sitcoms on a second screen while painting on their huge Wacom tablet, just to keep their brains busy and inspired while their eyes do the judgement.

I do embrace the open plan office I’m in, but writing works much better at night when I’m in my home office. And I listen to music.

So I started to analyse my Spotify history: during the times I had been writing on Web Fatale, which songs did I listen to? Could I identify a pattern? I collected all the songs in a playlist and made two stunning discoveries:

  1. The music I had selected was mostly electronic: House, Electroclash, Electropop.
  2. Most of the artists I selected featured a strong female lead singer. Interesting!

Now you must know that the concept for my book was based on the idea of the “Femme Fatale” – a strong, independent and seductive woman. The key question of my book is: How can you apply those characteristics to web sites and turn them into “Web Fatales” – thus the name. My musical choice, by incident, matched the theme of my book.

So started refining my playlist, calling it “Web Fatale” and using it when writing on my book. I treated it like a style guide or a mood board for my book. Whenever I figured I was getting too technical or too funny in my writing, I reminded myself that I wanted to be more Riot Grrrl – and it worked. It helped me to get the direction right.

By the way, here is my final Web Fatale Playlist:

So yes, music can do more than we accredit it in our working process. A well-defined playlist can get you in the right mood. But how do you create your mixtape? It is easier than you think:

Define the Tonality of Your Product

What should your product be and feel like? Are you working on a small independent app or a website for an insurance company? Is it something really tradtional or innovative? Ask yourself some questions:

Select the Right Songs

Look at your list and try to think of songs that fit those criteria. This can also be songs that get you in a certain mood, e.g. if you’re make an energetic product, select a song that you use for working out. Also songs that you’ve listened to anyway or that inspire you are a good choice.

Find Similarities

Now check out your playlist: Can you find similarities between the songs you’ve selected? This can be a certain genre or era, but also something very personal, like all the songs you’ve listened to when you where in High School or that you would find on a sound track for that John Hughes movie. Once you’re able to identify similarities, find more that are alike!

Refine

Use your playlist when working on your product. Listen to it, rearrange it, add songs as you go and remove those that you’re tired of. A product playlist should be a living thing.

If you don’t like it anymore, start from scratch. Your product mixtape should inspire you and get you in the right mood when working on it. It should be your guiding star and help you to make a more consistent and better product.

Share it!

Once you feel comfortable with your mixtape, share it. Let the world know your source of inspiration. Or at least, share it with me – I’m really curious to hear what your working tunes are. Show me your best mixtapes on Twitter: @johannesippen

Thank you for reading and rock on!

Johannes Ippen
About the Author

Johannes Ippen is a designer from Berlin, passionate about French punk rock, really strong espresso and writing about design. Follow him on Twitter for more of design-related essays. Full bio →