How to Use Design Thinking for Music

accelerator capturing ideas content creativity ideas music production music technology overcoming obstacles strategies Jul 03, 2024


Imagine you're at a pivotal point in your music career: you have the talent, you have the passion, but you're hitting a wall. Everything you produce seems to lack that spark, and feedback is mixed. What you need isn't just new tools, but a whole new approach to your creative process. Enter design thinking—a strategy not just for product developers or tech innovators, but a transformative tool for musicians like you who want to innovate and deeply connect with their audience.


Historical Context of Design Thinking

 What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that prioritizes empathy, creativity, and iteration. It was popularized in the late 20th century by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO, a global design company. Kelley and Brown describe design thinking as a human-centered approach that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

Origin and Applications

Originally rooted in the fields of design and architecture, design thinking has expanded into various industries, including technology, education, and healthcare. Companies like Apple, Google, and Airbnb have embraced design thinking to innovate and create user-centric products and services.

"Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success." - Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO.


The Steps of Design Thinking

Design thinking consists of five key stages, each with its unique focus and set of activities:

1. Empathize

  • What It Is: The first step involves understanding the needs, experiences, and emotions of the people you're designing for. This is about gaining deep insight into your audience.
  • Activities: Conduct interviews, observe behaviors, and immerse yourself in the users' environment to gather qualitative data.

2. Define

  • What It Is: In this stage, you synthesize the information gathered during the Empathize phase to identify the core problems. You define clear, actionable problem statements.
  • Activities: Create personas, develop problem statements, and establish a point of view that will guide your ideation.

3. Ideate

  • What It Is: Here, you generate a wide range of ideas and solutions. This stage encourages free-thinking and creativity without judgment.
  • Activities: Brainstorming sessions, mind mapping, and using techniques like SCAMPER to expand your thinking.

4. Prototype

  • What It Is: This involves creating simple, experimental models of your ideas to explore potential solutions. Prototypes are meant to be inexpensive and quick to produce.
  • Activities: Build physical models, sketches, storyboards, or digital mockups to bring your ideas to life.

5. Test

  • What It Is: The final stage involves testing your prototypes with real users. This phase is crucial for gathering feedback and refining your solutions.
  • Activities: Conduct user testing sessions, collect feedback, and iterate on your prototypes based on what you learn.


Applying Design Thinking to Music

Empathize: The Starting Point

  • Example: Billie Eilish and Finneas are known for their deep connection with their audience. They regularly interact with fans on social media to understand their feelings and experiences, which they then translate into their music.
  • Application: Start your music project by genuinely seeking to understand your audience. Attend live shows, read online forums where your listeners hang out, and use surveys to gather feedback on their preferences and experiences.

Define: Clarifying Your Creative Challenge

  • Example: Grimes, an artist known for blending various genres and styles, identifies specific themes or emotions she wants to convey in her albums, often challenging traditional music structures.
  • Application: Define your challenge: How can you transform your live performances to be more immersive and engaging?

Ideate: Brainstorming Creative Solutions

  • Example: Björk, an avant-garde musician, often uses unconventional methods and collaborations to generate new ideas, such as her use of virtual reality in the album Vulnicura.
  • Application: Hold no-barrier brainstorming sessions with your band or collaborators. Consider every idea, no matter how outlandish, to find innovative solutions to your defined challenge.

Prototype: Experiment Before Finalizing

  • Example: Kanye West frequently releases rough versions of his tracks to gauge audience reactions and refine his music before final releases.
  • Application: Create a small, low-cost version of your new stage design or a few tracks with the new interactive elements. Test these prototypes in smaller, controlled environments such as local gigs or with a select group of fans.

Test: Refine Through Feedback

  • Example: Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) tested the concept of his immersive project PHAROS through live shows that incorporated audience feedback, leading to refinements before wider release.
  • Application: Use this feedback to tweak and improve your music or performances, ensuring they truly meet your audience’s desires.


Benefits of Design Thinking in Music

Using design thinking can lead to:

  • Enhanced Creativity: Breaking free from creative blocks by continuously cycling through ideation and feedback.
  • Deeper Audience Engagement: Creating music and experiences that resonate more deeply because they are developed with a deep understanding of your audience’s needs.
  • Increased Efficiency: By focusing on user feedback early and often, you spend less time on revisions and more time on creating impactful music.


Implementing Design Thinking in Your Music Career

Getting Started: Integrate design thinking into your daily routines. Begin with the empathize stage for your next project, and gradually incorporate the rest of the phases as you become more comfortable with the approach.

Resources: Look into tools like mind mapping software or customer feedback platforms to support your design thinking processes.



Embracing design thinking isn't just about finding new ideas; it's about evolving how you see yourself and your music in relation to your listeners. It's a journey from creating music to creating experiences that are loved, lived, and shared.

Start today, and let design thinking reveal not just what you can do, but who you can become in the eyes of your audience.

Interested in Learning More About The Artist Roadmap?

If you're an Artist who wants to grow your audience and income, learn the methods and tools of this new music industry, and become a successful Artist Entrepreneur, then apply for a free strategy session to learn more.




'Express' Yourself: A Guide to Creative Design Tools with Adobe

How to Use Design Thinking for Music

Conquer the Content Production Machine

Subscribe to get tips and tricks to level up your skills.