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12 January 2016  /  
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David Bowie – What Designers Can Learn From A Rock Icon

The world lost a legendary performer this week. David Bowie passed away, leaving countless fans to reflect on his awe-inspiring creative works. A multifaceted mega star, Bowie’s music and art has inspired millions – and will continue doing so for a long time to come.

There’s a lot that communications professionals can learn from Bowie. What can a pop star teach us about design? Quite a bit, thanks to the frenetic pace of his output, force of his abilities and exalting creative philosophy.

David-Bowie

Multi-talented

“I don’t profess to have music as my big wheel and there are a number of other things as important to me apart from music. Theatre and mime, for instance.”

A man of many skills, Bowie was a songwriter who played multiple instruments, sang and produced records. He was a painter and an actor as well, which contributed to his strength as a fixture of global pop culture for over fifty years.

Designers often wear many hats – and even when we don’t, we must be aware that there are other things that are as important as the visuals. Infrastructure, UX, coding and written content must all be considered. A passing interest is not enough for modern digital development; the “T shaped” skillset is an important attribute that Bowie exemplifies well.

Don’t be afraid to branch out. Design is about more than creating beauty, it’s about solving problems. We must be aware of all that goes into the solutions for our particular fields.

Versatile

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

David Bowie is well-known for his remarkable range of appearances, sometimes extending into complete personas such as Ziggy Stardust, his famous alter-ego from the early 1970’s.

Designers and developers can learn a lot from the variety of looks Bowie utilised. It’s fine to have your signature style and your own tastes – but you must also be willing to tap into a larger visual vocabulary. Don’t get tied to one motif. Instead, be capable of adapting to the aesthetics that suit each challenge you face.

Collaborative

“…I’m pretty good with collaborative thinking. I work well with other people.”

Bowie didn’t just do his own music. He worked with other musicians such as Lou Reed, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Trent Reznor, Tina Turner and many more. He produced records and worked with film directors and actors in roles such as Jareth, the Goblin King from Labyrinth.

Collaboration is key for all creative professionals. We must complement and support one another in our endeavours. There’s a reason why the albums Bowie was a part of and the films he starred in are often considered timeless classics. A dedication to team spirit produces great work.

Culture Conscious

“I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture that I was living in.”

Bowie’s career forged through shifting trends, partially due to his creative curiosity and ability to flow with the times. He released Space Oddity right before the launch of Apollo 11. He shifted from Rock to Pop and back again effortlessly, hitting subgenres such as art rock and glam between. His latest album, Blackstar, was an experimental fusion of jazz and electronica that pleased fans old and young alike.

Designers and digital content specialists must also adapt to trends, and to do so as fluidly and expertly as Bowie is a goal fit for any creative. Don’t just copy popular styles, understand their fundamentals and speak in the visual language of the day. This separates trend followers from the trend aware, which is the difference between cliché and convention when it comes to design.

As we reflect on the tremendous impact David Bowie had on music and culture we can also be inspired. From crossing multiple disciplines and adapting many styles to working with others and being a part of trends rather than simply following them, he was an artist we can all learn from. He will be missed.