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.