To quote Damian Abraham’s podcast Turned Out a Punk, when most people think of “punk” they think of “a novelty genre that supposedly died out in 1978.” They think of young, white, straight, cis-gendered boys with green mohawks and safety pins through their noses.
But for me, punk has always been much more than that. It’s a genre-defying influence that has connected me to people of all ages, abilities, colors, genders, perspectives, countries of origin, and sexual orientations. It changed the way I perceive and engage with the world. It gave me purpose and principles.
And, as I found out through a recent post on LinkedIn, punk has had the same impact on hundreds of user experience designers I know.
“Community, self-reliance, and resilience come to mind as my lessons from punk rock that have served me well in my content career.” –Erin Williams, Head of Content Design, Walmart
These are some of the principles that punk rock taught us, how they’ve informed our careers in UX design, and how you can apply them in your work.
1. Think outside the genre
Music has always been a huge part of my life. I wrote my first song at two, learned bass at six, and joined my first orchestra in elementary school.
When I started a punk band at 13, a wonderful thing happened: My dad didn’t break my records or kick me out of the house. Instead, he gave me a copy of Sandinista! by The Clash. It wasn’t full of three-chord songs played in 90 seconds. It was a three-hour collection of punk, reggae, disco, funk, gospel, and pop that blew my mind.
That record taught me how to think outside the genre and create outside of a silo.
As Aaron Burgess, head of content design at Expedia, said, “I subscribe to the Ian MacKaye definition of punk not as a musical style but as a free space where new ideas can germinate and thrive free of commandments and commandants.”
How does this apply to content design?
Content design isn’t just about the words. It’s designing how information is communicated. And that requires us to understand all of the elements that influence how people receive and perceive information.
Design needs what Bruce Mau calls “whole-brain thinking,” the combination of artistic divergence and scientific convergence. Which means our work can incorporate everything from neuroscience to color theory, game design to narratology. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy design so deeply, because it’s fueled by boundless curiosity.
Pin these principles
- Don’t let “content” be a constraint
- Engage in “whole-brain thinking”
- Make space to explore
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