The Musician As Designer

by Clíodhna Ryan

In October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, and one of the longest lockdowns in Europe, I began searching for something to sustain me through the dark months of winter and early spring. Kreutzer Etudes and Unaccompanied Bach weren’t quite providing the social aspect of life I needed to stay afloat. I came across a postgraduate course in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity College Dublin. It was government subsidised, was nine months long, was all online, and was a significant commitment time wise. This was it! This was my life line! So, I applied, got a place, and began an extraordinary journey that changed my perception and thinking about design, it’s impact on our lives, and how transformative human-centred design can be.

Headshot 2021 2

So what is design?

Everything around us is designed, from products and services, to buildings, roads, parks, concerts, health care, justice systems... everything. Human-centred design places the person who uses the system, product or service at the centre of the entire design process, and asks questions about their wants and needs, their barriers, their frustrations etc. Through using the five stages of design thinking - empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototyping, testing - barriers and problems are identified, and innovative solutions are reached.

While studying and putting into practice this process with my college classmates, I kept thinking about my experiences as a musician, and the different types of performances I had taken part in.

I was struck by how little I knew about the people in the hall.

Why were they there? Why this concert in particular? Would they come back again? What did they love about the whole thing? How did they find out about it? What stopped them coming to other concerts? What were their frustrations around the experience? How can they continue to be delighted? How can they be enticed back?

There were so many gaps in my understanding. The same goes for our students. How well do we know their worlds? Have we ever tried to step into their shoes, see the experience from their perspective, define their wants and needs, as well as their frustrations and barriers, and brainstorm ways to continue to excite them?

As musicians, we are natural design thinkers

The relationship between musician and audience is empathetic. We ideate continuously, trying out different techniques and interpretations. We prototype new concert formats, ensembles, programmes, teaching methods, and then test them. If we apply all of our innate skills to the design thinking process, we can gather huge insights into our audiences, our students, and our ensembles. It is astounding the amount of assumptions we make about the world and others. The only way to truly know what your end user thinks and feels is to ask them.

Design thinking is an exciting, creative, innovate way to discover who your audience member, your student, your online following is, to really get to know them, to meet them where they are, and to innovate ways to continue to delight them.

I’m so excited to present this course to The Exhale from November 1-5.

Join me for the adventure!

Join the conversation