On Musical Analogies: Notes On Design

There’s a lot to think through in this video that features the designers Dieter Rams of Braun and Jonathan Ive of Apple. In the first part we hear Rams enumerate his ten principles of good design. Good design should be:

innovative,
essential or useful,
aesthetic,
understandable,
honest,
unobtrusive,
consistent in every detail,
long-lasting,
environmentally friendly,
and have as little design as possible.

It struck me that these principles are useful for thinking about making music, designing music, improvising music, composing music. In fact, thinking about some of the opposites of these qualities–opaque instead of understandable or inconsistent instead of consistent, say–brings to mind musics that don’t work so well as music. Running through the list, you can probably think of your own examples!

In the second part of the video Ive discusses the understated design of Apple computers (e.g. smooth contours, lights that disappear when not lit) and how the machines are assembled out of single slabs of aluminum that provide materials for multiple parts. At one point Ive says that the company’s design team’s goal is more about staying faithful to a particular process than achieving a particular design per se. He sounds like a purist–like a music composer, actually. Speaking about the MacBook Air, he notes:

“The design of this in many ways wasn’t the design of a physical thing, it was figuring out a process.”

Another thing I like about this video? Its soundtrack features a wonder of process and good design–a drumming pattern (RLRRLRLL) called the paradiddle. As Rams talks, listen in the background to the percolating keyboard part floating along on its own paradiddle rhythm.

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