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How Being In A Band Taught Me To Be A Better Web Designer

Recently, I was having a discussion with some web design students about the variety of skills a successful web professional must have — skills that go far beyond HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the other technical demands of the profession. During this conversation, one of the students asked me where I learned these skills. My response was not one the class expected.

“By playing in a band,” was my answer.

Now, I am not suggesting that all web designers should run out and join a rock and roll band (although there is a glaring shortage of songs about the CSS box model). I do know, however, that many of the skills I honed while playing in a band have contributed to my success as a web designer — as much as, if not more than, my ability to write clean code or design an attractive web page. In this article, I’ll describe how being in a band taught me to be a better web designer.

Speaking To The Audience Link

As a professional web designer, you are going to be required to speak in front of people. This includes clients and colleagues to whom you will need to present design concepts and explain your reasoning for the decisions you made in those concepts. If you’re afraid to speak in public, which many people are terrified of, then this is going to significantly limit your ability to communicate effectively in your job.

Being the frontman for a rock band, I had plenty of chances to speak to audiences. Many times I had to improvise and think on my feet if something went wrong on stage. This was perfect practice for presenting in front of clients and handling unexpected questions.

Jeremy on stage making a connection with the audience.1
Jeremy on stage making a connection with the audience.

Being able to communicate clearly and confidently is one of the primary skills I look for when hiring web designers for my team. It’s also one of the skills ignored by many new web designers who are more focused on the technical aspects of the job.

Short of becoming a frontman or -woman in a band, how can you sharpen your presentation skills? Many colleges and universities have classes in public speaking that you can enroll in, even if you are not a full-time student at the school. You can also seek out industry meet-ups that allow you to get some experience presenting in front of your peers, or you can join an organization like Toastmasters International2, whose mission is to help create more confident public speakers.

Meeting The Fans Link

Throughout my career, my most consistent source for new customers has been referrals from existing clients. When I speak to those new clients, the number one reason for the referral has nothing to do with my grasp of responsive web design or some other piece of knowledge I possess — it is because I was enjoyable to work with and be around. This is something that also helped my band back when we were active.

My band was not the greatest in the world — far from it, in fact. Still, we had a dedicated following who came to all our shows, in some cases traveling significant distances to do so. Those fans made the trip to see us because we tried to make our shows fun and enjoyable by always being personable with them. We genuinely appreciated the support of our fans, and that was obvious in how we treated them.

Being gracious to your fans (or clients) is a great way to keep them coming back.3
Being gracious to your fans (or clients) is a great way to keep them coming back. (Image source4)

Your clients are awesome. They keep you in business. By showing them your appreciation and by making sure that you do great work for them, while also making the process of engaging with you for that work enjoyable, you do your part to build long-term client relationships5 that will help fuel your future success.

Tailoring Your Set To Your Audience Link

Whether you are rocking out onstage or presenting to clients in a conference room, you want to make an early connection with your audience. When my band would play shows, we would adjust our set list to the audience we were playing for. If a crowd was unfamiliar with our music, we would make sure to play a recognizable cover song early in that set to give the audience something they were familiar with right away. I now do the same thing in client presentations.

Before I meet with a client, I try to first schedule a call to ask some questions and get some insight into what I am walking into. You’d be amazed at the kind of inside information you can find out on these calls, including what is most important to that company. I can then use that information to tailor my presentation to address those important topics early on and make that all-important connection.

Different set lists for different shows is something every band uses. Similarly, learning how to prepare different presentations and approaches for different clients will allow you to hit the right notes in those conversations.

Time For Practice Link

My time playing in the band coincided with the early years of my career as a web designer. By default, I became my band’s webmaster and was responsible for designing, developing and also maintaining the various versions of the band’s site over the years. The practice I got doing this allowed me to try new things and experiment in ways that I was unable to with my client work at the time. Those experiments and practice taught me so much, helping me to grow as a web designer and eventually bring new skills back to the office and into my client work.

Designing and maintaining the band's website back in 2003 helped me get valuable web design experience.6
Designing and maintaining the band’s website back in 2003 helped me get valuable web design experience. (Large preview7)

Even if you are a seasoned web professional, side projects and work outside of your normal client responsibilities can play an important role in your career. Look at Dan Cederholm and what he helped to create with Dribbble8 or Elliot Jay Stocks and his 8 Faces9 publication. Side projects can not only give you a reprieve from your normal work, but in some cases those projects can become so fulfilling and successful, that they can become your normal work!

Even if a side project does not become a smashing success for you, the ability to challenge yourself in ways that would be inappropriate for paid client work is undeniably beneficial to you, regardless of what stage you are at in your web design career.

Making Friends In Other Bands Link

Many of the shows our band played, especially early on, were through friendships we had with people in other bands. Those bands would add us to the bill, giving us a chance to get some experience on stage and begin to build our own following of fans. In web design, this equates to the benefit of befriending other web designers and agencies.

If you work as a freelance web designer, making friends with other agencies can be a great source of work for you as those agencies may sometimes need to bring in extra help to handle certain projects.

Agency-to-agency relationships can also be greatly beneficial to all involved. Web design is an incredibly multifaceted profession, and there may be certain aspects of the job that your agency does not excel at. By partnering with other companies whose strengths complement your own, you can provide a more complete set of solutions to your clients and take on projects that you may otherwise have had to turn down.

Team Effort Link

Success in web design is often a group effort. While there are certainly lone designers who do the work all on their own (just like there are solo artists who play every instrument on their albums), learning to work with a team is a critical skill for many web professionals.

The band and friends rocking out on stage in 2003 and making music as a team.10
The band and friends rocking out on stage in 2003 and making music as a team.

Working well with others is not always easy. In a band, each member will have different opinions as to how a song should go, but if you do not work together and find ways to integrate those different points of view, then there can be no harmony. The same holds true in a web design setting. Designers, developers, content writers, project managers, and other team members must all work together towards a common goal: to create an amazing website.

In Summary Link

My time playing in a band is something I will always remember, in part because my experiences from that time helped me learn skills critical to my success as web designer today, including:

  • The ability to speak clearly and confidently in public.
  • A lesson in how being enjoyable to be around makes people want to be around you (this works for both rock band fans and web design clients).
  • The importance of tailoring your set list (or your presentation) to make an early connection with your audience.
  • How side projects, and the chance to practice and experiment outside of your normal client work, can help you grow as a web professional.
  • How making friends with other web designers and agencies can help you get better work, in the same way that making friends with other bands can help you land better gigs.
  • That success is a team effort, and to truly make great music (or websites) together, you need to learn to play as a group and not as a solo act.

(il, og)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jeremy-stage-large-opt.jpg
  2. 2 http://www.toastmasters.org/
  3. 3 https://www.flickr.com/photos/marfis75/7968954274
  4. 4 https://www.flickr.com/photos/marfis75/7968954274
  5. 5 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/11/23/happily-ever-after-the-benefits-ending-projects-properly-building-long-term-client-relationships/
  6. 6 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/band-website-large-opt.jpg
  7. 7 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/band-website-large-opt.jpg
  8. 8 https://dribbble.com
  9. 9 http://www.8faces.com/
  10. 10 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/band-stage-large-opt.jpg
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Jeremy Girard was born with six toes on each foot. The extra toes were removed before he was a year old, robbing him of any super-powers and ending his crime-fighting career before it even began. Unable to battle the forces of evil, he instead works as the Director of Marketing and Head of Web Design/Development for the Providence, Rhode Island based Envision Technology Advisors. He also teaches website design and front-end development at the University of Rhode Island. His portfolio and blog, at Pumpkin-King.com, is where he writes about all things Web design.

  1. 1

    Luke Pettway

    March 6, 2015 5:01 pm

    Music also has the benefit of helping the creative side be far more creative. Whenever I get in a rut I’ll jam out on my guitar and sometimes the ideas come to me. I think the physical part of playing an instrument helps and the shift in how your brown is working makes it really helpful.

    7
    • 2

      Jeremy Girard

      March 6, 2015 7:02 pm

      That is a great point Luke! While I do not play on stage these days, I do play ukulele now and I absolutely find that some time with the instrument is a great change of pace when I need some time away from the screen!

      3
    • 3

      syed faizan ali

      May 1, 2015 7:49 am

      luke………..for a great pace of mind we have to put guitar in our studio ;p

      0
  2. 4

    Is this where the techy job title “Rockstar” originated a few years back? :)

    1
    • 5

      Jeremy Girard

      March 6, 2015 7:03 pm

      Goodness I hope not. I do not want to have contributed to that mess, even unintentionally! :)

      6
  3. 6

    +1 from metal head dev m/. True story. Stage helps so much in interpersonal relations, building self confidence and playing within a team.

    Personally my best projects were always side projects for own band – the amount of new knowledge , ideas and experiments involved were shaping me into better dev and designer much faster than any client work. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be professionally where I am at the moment without my band(s). And still – the most important lessons learned are commitment and dedication.

    1
  4. 7

    I played in various very unsuccessful and ordinary bands when younger, and must say I learn a valuable lesson too. With my absence of talent. I was never gunna make money from it! :D

    Great article, Jeremy.

    0
    • 8

      Jeremy Girard

      March 8, 2015 1:27 pm

      You know, while your comment is funny, there IS an actual lesson in that as well – knowing when to identify what you are good at and what may not be for you. In web design, with so much to learn, it is important to identify the areas where you will choose to hone your skills and the ones that you will leave to others.

      1
  5. 9

    Nina Gerling

    March 9, 2015 12:54 pm

    ‘although there is a glaring shortage of songs about the CSS box model’

    You should definitely check out this “little boxes” (webdesigner cover version) of ‘our’ famous German Webdesign book author Peter Müller:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyOJeS4KvAc

    ;-)

    2
  6. 10

    As a drummer (and former rock star – well, this bit is not quite true) I totally agree with the sentiments of this article. Especially the sections about collaboration and being a team player.

    And I too learned most of my early “web-chops” by designing/building my band’s website, then progressing on to sites for many other local bands too.

    4
    • 11

      SAME HERE basher! Good to meet fellow drummers/designers! GREAT article Jeremy!

      1
      • 12

        Jeremy Girard

        March 17, 2015 2:14 pm

        When I was playing music, it always seemed like drummers were the hardest members to find. I should’ve just looked here – seems like this is where all the drummer/web designers hang out! :)

        Thanks for the kind words on the article guys. Rock on.

        0
  7. 13

    I have learned a lot by listening to and watching Coldplay. They always have great ideas and I like to emulate their ideas in my designs.

    -1
  8. 14

    Philip Harper

    March 10, 2015 10:00 am

    I literally cannot agree more with this post — I too began life as a musician. Got me all nostalgic.

    0
  9. 15

    Rajesh Dharwal

    March 10, 2015 10:34 am

    Fantastic points Jeremy and I fully agree with the concept. I believe the “creativity attracts creativity”, as process is same “iteration / improvisation”.

    0
  10. 16

    This was quite an annoying idea since web developer and Joining a band sounds different. But after reading the whole blog thought that it implies a lot and though it sound different the people who join Rock band makes great Web developers.

    0
    • 17

      Jeremy Girard

      March 12, 2015 2:20 pm

      I am happy to hear that you gave the article a chance and, after reading it through, were able to see the value in the points presented.

      0
  11. 18

    Mehdi Haideri

    March 12, 2015 4:09 pm

    Great Jeremy Girard, You shared very useful and great content which give us a valueable knowledge that a web developer and band sound which give us a fully self confident to deal with any client.

    0
  12. 19

    I really like the way you combined designing skill with music bands…. Thanks for nice article!

    0
  13. 20

    After reading your article, I have learned how to be a better web designer. In your article, you indicated that many of the skills you honed while playing in a band. It is an interesting point to talk about. There are five points you present us how being in a band taught you to be a better web designer. First one is speaking to the audience. This was perfect practice for presenting in front of clients. Second one is meeting the fans. When you speak to those new clients, the number one reason for the referral has nothing to do with my grasp of responsive web design. The third one is time for practice. You can try new things and experiment in ways that you was unable to with my client work at the time. Last one is team effort. Working well with others is not always easy. Learning to work with a team is a critical skill for many web professionals. Thank you for sharing.

    0
  14. 21

    Great article, Jeremy! I couldn’t relate more – I started playing drums in a band about 10 years ago, long before my design career started. At that time our band’s website was a great playground to hone my web design skills. I remember how proud the band was when we launched the first, Flash based version (it was 2005 after all!), and then rebuilt it over and over, just to try things out. The greatest aspect of it was that I was the client, designer and manager at the same time, and looking back at those times now I think, what an invaluable experience it was! Once the band’s homepage was featured in a popular css gallery website which drove a lot of users to our site and gained the band some visibility. So it can be beneficial both ways :)

    0
    • 22

      Jeremy Girard

      March 18, 2015 11:12 am

      Another drummer! It seems like this article is attracting all the drummers!

      Your experience with a band’s website sounds exactly like my own. It really did prove to be a fertile playground of experimenting and gaining experience. Designing merch was also a great learning experience!

      0
  15. 23

    When you discuss how most of your business came from referrals, and how these referrals stemmed from the fact that you were essentially nice to work with, I think you neglected how “Good Work” still has to be at the forefront. Nobody will hire a “nice guy” who does crap work.

    My experiences have taught me that even the most experienced and educated designers don’t produce good looking designs. That’s because design is art and some things can’t be taught. So if you’re a good designer, the referrals will come in as long as you’re easy to work with. But you still have to be a good designer…

    1
    • 24

      Jeremy Girard

      March 27, 2015 2:04 pm

      I absolutely agree that, along with being enjoyable to work with, the quality of the work needs to be good if you hope to get those referrals.

      I disagree with your comment that “design is art”. Design is not art. Design is about solving problems. A design that looks great but doesn’t solve anyone’s problems is not a successful design.

      0
  16. 25

    I love it! On top of that i agree 100% with what you’ve written here. Growing up playing instruments really got me out there, hanging out with and meeting all kinds of new people. Those actions have at this point been set in stone. I can pretty much talk to anyone about anything, and in a creative world this is huge. Because in all reality you never know where your next big idea might come from. Music is one of those great things that I feel everyone can relate to. Loved the article!

    0
  17. 26

    Daniel Perlin

    April 26, 2015 3:48 am

    Jeremy, love the post. I’m having one of those “I can’t believe I’m reading something I’ve been thinking about for such a long time” moments. For that, I thank you. Still starting in the ux/ui design business, but I suppose much like bands, I’ll have to start getting the small gigs first until I can play the big venues. Thanks for this article, you’re a cool dude.

    Btw, no drummer here. I was the guy in front looking for ways to spin the mic around – none really successful, damn youtube for taking too long.

    0
  18. 27

    I recommend Rammstein:

    do
    do class
    do class if.

    do!
    do class!
    do class if
    do class if!
    do class if inline
    do class if inline
    do class if inline
    bool this delete define!

    0
  19. 28

    Pascal Larmonov

    May 6, 2015 3:39 pm

    I think the answer to the question is pretty bad. The skills you mention are good and definitely important to be a good webdesigner but why all webdesigners trying to be rockstars? Webdesigners are webdesigners and they got their skills because they learned it in hard practise hours and no playing in a rockband so please stop try to impress other people with jobtitles like “webdesign rockstar” or “jedi knight web analyst”.

    1
    • 29

      Jeremy Girard

      May 20, 2015 2:21 pm

      I think you misunderstood the point of this post. I am not suggesting that all web designers should try to be rockstars, I am pointing out that many of the skills that have served me well as a web professional are ones that I learned while playing in a band. The important part here is not to join a band and try to be a rockstar, but to find a way to hone these same skills.

      0

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