Design Team as Marching Band

August 15 2013

In my university’s march­ing band the most skilled trum­pet play­ers were the first trum­pets. They were expected to know advanced music theory and obscure scales in dif­fi­cult keys. They could untan­gle com­plex rhythms into scream­ing riffs of delight­ful energy and flaw­lessly exe­cute under pres­sure. Our first trum­pet play­ers worked hard for many years by devel­op­ing their chops and study­ing, and they were well on their way to becom­ing excep­tional, lead­ing trum­pet play­ers. They were bril­liant musi­cians and rightly received lots of atten­tion.

I was not that player. In high school, our band went through five direc­tors in three years, and I dropped out my senior year. Music was inter­est­ing, more like a puzzle beg­ging to be fig­ured out than a great pas­sion, but after a friend con­vinced me to try out for the university’s march­ing band (“because it seemed fun”), I decided to take lessons to make up for my lack­lus­ter high school music edu­ca­tion. After the summer ended, I was pro­fi­cient enough to play for Louisiana Tech’s Band of Pride in the third trum­pet sec­tion. My people, who I affec­tion­ately called the bass line of the trum­pet sec­tion”, played solos less often than seeing a blue moon, and although the music wasn’t exactly tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing, I did my duty and played with as much heart as I could muster.

Whether in a march­ing band on a field or a rock band in a garage, some parts are the melodic voice, while others are the har­monies. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, music is struc­tured to enhance the whole sound, rather than one sec­tion or part. The har­mo­niz­ing riffs may or may not be notice­able to the untrained ear, but they are espe­cially notice­able if they stop. With no foun­da­tion for the first trum­pets’ melodic voices to stand on, their sound would be as desir­able as nails on a chalk­board.

Louisiana Tech Band of Pride

In most half­time shows, every body on the field is rel­e­vant. Each player must con­sider the way they hold their instru­ment, take steps, turn, and many other details. While on the field, trust­ing your fellow band­mates, and espe­cially those imme­di­ately sur­round­ing you, is top pri­or­ity. If things start falling apart during the half­time show, go with it. If you’re approach­ing a group who’s stand­ing ten yards off, and you stand in the exact right spot from prac­tice, you’re wrong because you’re the one stick­ing out.

The Design Team

As pro­fes­sional design­ers on a team, we can easily forget we have spe­cific jobs to do. We see the top play­ers making incred­i­ble work and get­ting tons of recog­ni­tion. They’re given solos left and right, while many others are given sup­port­ing roles. Regard­less of which part you’re play­ing, the best way to become a better designer is to prac­tice, study, and learn from others. As in march­ing band, no single designer on the team is meant to stick out for their own ben­e­fit. Some lead, some sup­port, and all are rel­e­vant, impor­tant, and have plenty to offer.