design orchestra

Music is fascinating, especially if performed in a symphonic fashion by a large orchestra: the careful interplay of the various instruments is able to create a sound so unique and refined, it can touch the very soul and bring you to tears. Music is so moving and stirring, unlike any other experience created through man-made products.
Once I had the pleasure to attend a performance of the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra: they were citing a piece of Lutoslawski, which gave me goosebumps all over – it was just unbelievable!

The question that often pops up, seeing such a large amount of highly talented performers cramped on a tiny stage, is how they are able to play in tune and in how far the conductor is of any importance in this? Why do they need the conductor, if they can hardly see him? Why can’t the musicians coordinate amongst themselves? Why does this performance not work through bilateral communication between the musicians, and does it require a kind of ‘subordination’ under one person?
I think you might ask this yourself, or?

One definition says that a conductor’s task is to elaborate a piece with the orchestra and to direct the recital. In this he mainly carries two important tasks: firstly the technical coordination of the participating musicians by determining the pace using his baton, and secondly assuming the creative direction in the interpretation of the piece, by which the performance is held based on the conductors view thereof. So far so good.

But why do these musicians accept the conductor’s role? For sure they have a view on the interpretation as well.

This phenomenon is most fascinating to me, since it obviously needs the role of a conductor in most orchestras, in order to perform in a coordinated and tuned manner. The better the collaboration between orchestra and conductor, as an experienced musician, once told me, the better the result.

Here we can draw many parallels to working within a company. Companies also want to deliver an experience which is ‘in tune’ and excites their customers: in the end, they want, just like the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra, that their ‘visitors’ will come back and refer them to others.

And here is the question: who holds the baton within a company and sets the creative direction? Who ensures that the interplay of all the involved parts of a company delivers an ‘orchestrated’ experience which is in tune?
For most of you hearing ‘creative direction’, a bell starts to ring: ‘creative direction’ belongs to the designers, or? Which leads us to the next question: what do designers really do within companies? Directing, maybe, or do they only perform?
My analysis on this is quite straight forward: in most cases, designer are just tootling along…
Just like musicians playing in an orchestra, also designers are specialists who can use their artistic abilities and skills to perform within a given context – in both cases, they aren’t creating a piece of art. What the score is to a musician, the requirement specs are to a designer and in both cases, it requires an ability to interpret and translate to achieve the desired end-result: an orchestrated experience.
But where musicians have a conductor to guide them in rendering this, designers within companies mostly remain dislocated and without a ‘conductor’ or a binding score – they more act like several combos jamming away in separate corners of the opera house. Example?
Brand-designers lay their hands on the CI and, together with brand management, they develop logos, schemes and guiding principles, which they manifest in guidelines to be used throughout the company.
Product designers take this up (but not without protest!) and use the logo and other elements in articulating in what they think is right for the brand. Same in software.
Graphic designers have fewer problems picking up the guidelines and apply them to print and packaging weren’t it for all those advertisement statements the guys from marketing want to incorporate…
And last but not least some creatives will put their hands on all those ads, commissioned by the various sales departments.

There is a big risk that with all the various design activities going on, the result will be out of tune. So here’s actually a great job for a conductor to provide a score and stomping the beat!
In some companies, the CEO takes up this role (guess who?), picks up the baton and assumes creative leadership. Sometimes there is one designer who takes up this role and leads and directs all other activities.
Though in most companies what remains is ‘design tootling’, not a symphonic play. And in a lot of cases, the designers themselves are to blame.

To most design specialists, whether they are in product, software, CI, web, graphic or communication, the other ‘colleagues’ aren’t part of an orchestrated activity, but unknown creatures who are not part of ones own ‘playing’ – and they better stay out it as well!
Rarely I have discovered an open approach to the other ‘instruments’ by the individual designers, and organizing an orchestrated play is mostly left to some few enthusiastic individuals. Hardly it is actively demanded by the various design specialists at hand.

In here the design managers will have to assume the task to unite all the different ‘musicians’ into an orchestrated play so that the outcome will be an experience that is in tune and along with the original score.
It remains to be seen if in this task design managers will act as the conductor and assume creative direction: what they lack is a valid score and the expectance that this task is truly needed in order to deliver an experience which is in tune.

But to get underway in this direction starts with the involved designers, with their support towards the role of a ‘conductor’ and with their understanding, that playing in tune creates the bigger effect and will make the customer come back!

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