Music to design to


Here's the scene. You've got a deadline looming, so it's time to stop Twittering about what you had for lunch and get on with coming up with some startlingly fresh ideas.

But, first, you need to put on some tunes to get you in the mood. What do you listen to? What's the music that does it for you when you're designing? Is it a bit of Vangelis, some Steve Reich, a dose of Autechre, or a chunk of Radiohead?

Drop us a comment, and let us know your three top albums (in order of preference) for designing to. Or, if you're one of those freaks people who likes absolute silence, let us know that too. 

We won't judge. Much.

And once we've got a solid list together, we'll put together a Spotify playlist or somesuch.
  • Only three albums? So difficult to choose. Depends on how late it is, how much I’ve had to drink etc. etc… But you specify three, so here goes:
    Seefeel | Quique
    Guided by Voices | Best of GbV
    Chikinki | Brace Brace
    Silence works as well on some days/nights, as does the wireless; especially good old Radio 4. Just depends really.
    There were a couple of mix CDs that might displace one or two of the above (and specific playlists such as my roll-your-own ‘Clear Air Turbulance’), but I’m guessing you’d prefer single artist contributions.
    Rawk on.

  • Rune Solberg

    I usually work best with toned down music when I’m working.
    1. Kings of Concenience – Riot on an Empty Street
    2. Frank Hammersland – So Easily Distracted
    3. Jarle Bernhoft – Ceramic City Chronicles
    Otherwise I usually listen more to harder music.

  • Something interesting, but not too distracting… it’s a fine balance! Recently I’ve been going for;
    Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
    LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
    …although it’s really mood dependant isn’t it. Got a feeling you might be compiling this playlist for a looonnng time!

  • Ivan

    The Watchmen OST

  • Graeme

    For coming up with ideas: Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
    For wondering whether those ideas are actually any good: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
    For discovering that they are actually rather good: Ray Charles – Ray!

  • Wow great question. If I’m in the studio and other people are to be taken into consideration we have a spotify playlist that has everything from beastie boys, blur, muse, guns and roses etc.
    If I’m on my own It’s usually a electronic mix of some sort, maybe good quality house or techno. If I have to pick a few
    Kraftwerk: tour de france
    Joy Division: love will tear us apart
    Radiohead: Idioteque

  • A tricky one to answer and certainly dependent on the amount of brain power that is required by any given task. Currently:
    Silver Apples – Silver Apples
    Terry Riley – Poppynogood (A Rainbow in Curved Air)
    Sun Ra Quartet – My Favourite Things / Moon People (New Steps LP)

  • In the studio…
    Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling
    Ludovico Einaudi – Divenire
    Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
    On the ipod…
    Refused – The Shape Of Punk To Come: A Chimerical Bombation In 12 Bursts
    Bear Vs. Shark – Terrorhawk
    Matt Pryor – Confidence Man

  • Great stuff so far; and this just in courtesy of the Michael over at Johnson Banks:
    Recent studio playlist:
    Bon Iver
    The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    Kronos Quartet – Neuvos
    The Portico Quartet
    Fleet Foxes
    Friendly Fire
    TV on the Radio
    The new Bierut album
    Raphael Saadiq’s new album
    Elite Barbarian
    The new Andy Sheppard Album on ECM
    Lots of Nils Petter Molvaer
    And today:
    Shostakovich and Górecki (we’re trying to improve ourselves)
    A lot of John Adams and modern marimba music
    And in the car:
    I’m playing a lot of Mastodon’s new album, old Zeppelin or Aaron Coplan. Still quite a lot of Autechre too, weirdly
    Personal ‘to play when project absolutely has to be done’:
    Me: either some driving modern classical (eg Adams or Glass) or, oddly, Pat Metheny. Sorry
    Kath: PJ Harvey
    Pali: Nils Petter Molvaer
    Julia: Boy Kill Boy
    Miho: anything with a bit of a beat
    Josie: turn the music off

  • Clint

    According to my iTunes history charting the history of this particular laptop,
    the highest play counts go to
    Audioslave – Getaway car
    Everlast – Ends
    Sneaker Pimps – How do
    Recent players are
    James Elliot Whitmore – Old Devils
    Soulsavers – Paper money
    Martina Topley Bird – Shangri La
    I’ve a soft spot for Johnny Cash but only during the summer and never with alcohol.

  • Great question, and I’m going to look at everyone’s suggestions too as I had a blank in the record shop yesterday and came out empty handed.
    I’ve been really O.D.-ing on Kimya Dawson, and Flip Grater (Be All And End All), but to get work done:
    Muse – Absolution (seems to suit Photoshop)
    Spiritualised – (tough call which album, but probably Amazing Grace)
    And tied in third a bit more laid-back:
    Hermigervill – Lausnin // Fat Freddies Drop – Live at the Matterhorn (I am in Wellington after all).

  • Can’t live or work without it. Our itunes is constantly exhausting itself with all the ‘genius’ suggestions.
    At the mo we are into
    For Nostalgia of those beach holidays – Dennis Wilson / Pacific Ocean Blue
    For Meditation – Craig Armstrong / Immer Violin Concerto No 1
    For Sophistication – Thomas Feiner & Anywhen / Opiates
    For Oriental atmosphere – Ryuichi Sakamoto / Silk
    For ‘cool’ (in the real sense of the word) Stan Getz / Focus
    I could go on and on but I have too much to listen to.
    Mike Dempsey / Studio Dempsey

  • Totally depends of the general mood I’m in. Might be total silence or something completely else, either noisy and energetic rock/electro or more meditative post-rock/electronic music.
    A few recent favorites;
    God is an Astronaut – s/t
    Abduktio – Thermidor (Finnish hardcore)
    Anything Miles Davis
    Mastodon – Crack the Skye, Blood Mountain
    Three albums which seem to always work for those highly concentrared evenings alone in the office are
    Underworld – Second Toughest of the Infants
    Massive Attack- Protection

  • m!chel

    uhm.. so much stuff..
    actually it really depends on the project. I am really empatic with music so I specifically use it to create a mood that guides me into the creation process. if I want to do something abstract and crazy I generally listen to idm or breakcore (usually aphex, milanese, squarepusher, etc.)
    If I want to create something playful, colorful, maybe retro, I listen to electro/nu-rave like justice, sebastian, yuksek, Le castle Vania, boys noize, tom deluxx, bloody beetroots, etc.
    But generally, maybe working on webdesign all night long I prefer to listen to quiet and dark stuff. Dubstep or Dubtechno. really different styles but with deep basslines.
    3 album I listend lately while designing:
    Burial – Untrue
    Borko – Celebrating Life’s podcasts

  • When it’s crunchtime and you just have to produce, I find it helps if I slam a double espresso and play any of these three drum’n’bass albums.
    Black Sun Empire – Driving Insane
    Nu:Tone – Brave Nu World
    Bungle – Down To Earth

  • Generally I don’t like anything that’s too overwhelming when designing. Probably my general rule is: The more brain power required the less prominent I want the vocals to be. So here’s the list:
    Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy
    Thunder Lightning Strike by The Go! Team
    Tiger Milk by Belle and Sebastian

  • Steve
  • Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun
    Pulp – Different Class
    Erik Satie – Gnossiennes; Gymnopédies; Ogives; Trois Sarabandes; Petite ouverture à danser
    There are loads of others, Arvo Part, Wilco, The Feelies, but these 3 are probably the most common dependent on the mood.

  • Wire – Chairs Missing
    Joe Gibbs and The Professionals – African Dub Almighty Chapter Three
    Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

  • For me it’s things I know inside out, back to front, but still make me smile after the 500th play:
    – Talking Heads Once In a Lifetime compilation (or any of the albums)
    – The Fall 458489 A Sides
    – Underworld Riverrun Project
    (with a side order of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi)

  • Jenne

    Something by Simon and Garfunkel (I prefer their Greatest Hits, but that’s just me)
    The Coraline Original Soundtrack
    Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country

  • I’ve been thinking about this for a while, whether it is possible to design music to design to, and whether a design site could recommend music that aided its readers. For me and my Shuffle, it’s a gamble, and familiar music will allow me to switch off; even the Carpenters can allow creativity to spin freely without the embarassment of others hearing. And I like the fact that great stuff can be borne from something so often so earnestly lame.
    But to the point. I like silence in the morning, Underworld after lunch, Cafe del Mar in the eve (esp. V4), though it usually doesn’t work out that way: Air is on now and before that was Kenny Rogers.
    NB Genius or whatever inadvertantly downloaded Bent/Everlasting Blink. I like that too. And Phil Collins on Youtube. Oh and Eddie Izzard is always welcome.

  • For me it kinda depends on deadlines.
    when concepting – nothing, usually fresh air, and birds or something very unintrusive – soft fluffy stuff, dream inducing – Eno, Fripp etc
    when I need to work fast Metallica has been doing a splendid job of late.
    When I’m doing slower stuff and I’m less pressured then something more like Bill Callahan, Vetiver or Young Marble Giants.

  • Boards of Canada | The Campfire Headphase
    Chemical Brothers | We Are the Night
    Elbow | Leaders of the free world

  • Matt

    Design Music Playlist…
    Over the last 8 years of design the music I keep coming back to seems to be….
    – Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
    – Radiohead – Kid A, Amnesiac, In Rainbows
    – Interpol
    There should be a study with music and creativity…

  • I have always noticed that a good mix by a talented DJ is the best way to raise the temperature and turn my keyboard/notebook into a dancefloor. So, the records are:
    American Gigolo , mixed and compiled by Tiga
    A Mix for Gomma , mixed and compiled by Headman
    and let’s end by a live album:
    Alive 2007 , by Daft Punk
    This series is a little bit like cocaïne, but better.

  • Big Black _ Songs about fucking
    Slayer _ Reign in blood
    Black Dice _ Repo

  • For text setting: Susumu Yokota; Lucky Pierre; Fripp/Eno (of course); Can; Neu!
    For cover design: & Yet & Yet; The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band; David Axelrod; Yellow Music Orchestra; Minotaur Shock.

  • It depends upon what stage of the design I am on, as a rule I need music without intrusive vocals so:
    Epic45 | May your heart be the map |
    El Ten Eleven | El Ten Eleven |
    Arthur Russell | Another Though |
    However sometime I need comfort music so I move to bands like Death cab, King Creosote, The Weakertans etc.

  • Cross – Justice
    Discovery – Daft Punk
    Supernature – Goldfrapp
    …or just plain quiet if none of that little lot works

  • Wal

    Fallout 3 Soundtrack – Galaxy News Radio
    Café Sputnik – Electronic Exotica From Russia
    Red Elvises – Six String Samurai

  • its more about getting into the zone then one particular record for me – if im in the studio and theres lots going on i need to put on the headphones and drown out the background noise – usually something quite loud to wake me up and get me thinking.
    if im at home or its quite then plain old peace and quiet and the sound of the pencil on the paper is usually enough to make me concentrate.

  • Caspian – I completely agree with Absolution seeming to suit Photoshop. I always knew it felt right somehow but you’ve nailed it.
    This is my list at the moment – it changes sometimes but right now:
    1. Interpol – Random all 3 albums (can that count? I can’t just pick one, there’s amazing songs on each)
    It’s something about his melancholy voice and ambiguous lyrics that gets my creativity spinning. There’s no room to dance, it’s serious business, just get on with it. And cry a little.
    2. Muse – Absolution as just mentioned. That is a genius album. It makes me think about the end of the world, so deadlines become less like the end of the world.
    3. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade. I’m probably going to get shot, but this is my favourite album of the last 5 years. It’s brilliant. And screamy and shouty enough, with a bit of melody, to make me feel good while I’m drawing. Despite it being about cancer and death. Yeah, this is definitely an off-the-screen-on-to-the-lightbox album.
    I’m looking forward to a playlist of all these suggestions! Very eclectic.

  • Top 3 albums to design to right now…
    White Lies … To Lose Myself
    General listening. Current fave.
    Maximo Park … Our Earthly Pleasures
    When the late nights are plenty. Times of stress.
    Creedence Clearwater Revival … Pendulum
    A motivator – every time

  • Marguerite

    It changes frequently, but my recent favourites are
    Passion Pit – Manners
    St. Vincent – Actor
    A really good one is
    Dark Was The Night – it’s a ‘Red Hot’ compilation and it is superb.
    Oh …and the complete works of Rufus Wainwright.

  • Shoon

    Justice – †
    Air – Talkie Walkie
    And right now, listening to lotsa of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new album: Zero.

  • Am I allowed four? Please?
    Arcade Fire – Funeral
    Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim
    Royksopp – The Understanding
    The Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day

  • Ghost I-IV: Nine Inch Nails
    More: Pink Floyd
    Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadeness: The Smashing Pumkins

  • Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing in the Hands
    Robin Grey – Only The Missile
    Babybird – There’s Something Going On

  • At the moment it is:
    Paul Kalkbrenner – Zeit
    Apparat – Walls
    Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV

  • 1. X-Ecutioners – Xpressions { get a groove and ease yourself into it}
    2. Daft Punk – Discovery {Keep it pumping}
    3. Refused – the shape of punk to come {energetic dash to the finish line}
    Plus a big pot of tea haha

  • Hmm,
    Suede-Head Music
    Elastica-Elastica (Can’t choose, but both are Britpop anyway),
    Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?,
    The Dandy Warhols-Welcome To The Monkey House
    Also, Wal, I don’t think I’ve listened to anything at all this week apart from Galaxy News Radio. Haven’t played a game so much since Half-Life 2, which also had an amazing soundtrack.

  • Andy Coff

    To cheer me up on a bad day:
    Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind album. He’s blind, sings about god and writes songs about hope, love and happiness. Not exactly a recipe for coolness. But in my opinion he is beyond cool. He is the closest thing to a genius it’s possible to be.
    To relax me when I’m feeling stressed:
    The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo. (Country music has a bad name because, like funk if it’s done badly it stinks. BUT if it’s done right. It can change your life. Listen to ‘Hickory wind’ One of the most beautiful songs ever written.
    If I’m lacking inspiration and need a kick up the backside:
    Black Sabbath – First album (In 1969 they sounded like the devils spawn. No-one knew they were actually just a few dozy brummie lads.
    Designing in winter:
    Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
    I always listen to the Beach Boys during winter. How else are you supposed to get through the greyness?

  • Andy

    Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
    Ceremony – Violence Violence
    Architects – Hollow Crown

  • Jamie

    A brilliant, brilliant album to get those creative juices flowing
    ediT – Crying over pros for no reason
    Just because its the music I like
    Fabric Live 37
    And a mix on continous play at the moment
    The Glitch Mob – Crush Mode

  • Catherine

    For writing: silence
    For a clear morning start: Byrd or Tallis
    For a bit of a lift: Mozart (without any words)
    For keeping going into the small hours: God Speed You Black Emeperor
    For not getting done as much as I should:

  • i cannot create anything if there is no music but often what i design has nothing to do with what i am listening to.
    but let me stop and just say what are my top 3 albums for the last couple of months.
    bon iver – for emma, forever a go
    manes – how the world came to an end
    the end – elementary

  • JC Reus

    Great post. While I try to mix things up with new music.. certain albums always find their way back on my speakers when I’m in a creative pinch.
    Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power
    The Books – The Lemon of Pink
    Air – Pocket Symphony
    Blonde Redhead – 13
    The Mars Volta – Deloused in the Comatorium

  • Recently it’s been…
    The Books- The Lemon of Pink
    Wax Tailor- Tales of Forgotten Melodies
    Dark Was the Night

  • Here we go..
    In Ghost Hours. Cut Copy
    It’s Blitz!. YYYs
    Before the Dawn Heals Us. M83

  • dug


  • Amanda Mooney

    Also, Lullatone tracks

  • zac

    Good idea.. reminded me I need to stop listening to the news and play some music. Lots of stuff on here I never heard of.. I am going to give Pandora a workout.
    Here are 3 working for me today:
    Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky
    DJ Shadow – Schoolhouse Funk
    Radiohead – In Rainbows

  • Lee

    The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
    The Knife – Silent Shout
    Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
    runner up:
    M83 – Saturdays=Youth

  • Emily

    Any good long mix of house or techno….electronica in general. Gotta have the songs looping together so there’s no breaks in between songs. I don’t lose concentration that way!
    1. Paul van Dyk – The Politics of Dancing Vol. 2
    2. Booka Shade – Movements
    3. My DJ friend’s mixes…

  • trav

    Narrowing down 3 albums is impossible, because I’ll usually listen to 10+ albums start to finish every day. The ones that end up in there regularly are…
    Boris – Feedbacker
    Isis – In The Absence of Truth
    Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lions Skull
    Rosetta – Wake/Lift
    Brant Bjork – Jalamanta

  • Christ
  • Mario Nogueira

    Burial – Untrue
    Minus The Bear – Menos El Oso
    Meshugah – destroy Erase Improve


    Nightmares on Wax : Thought So…
    Tricky : Maxinquaye
    Faithless : Renaissance 3D

  • Rose Thomas

    Paul Simon – Graceland
    Pixies – Bossanova
    Battles – Mirrored
    It’s all dependent on how fast I need to work. Graceland for a nice happy steady pace, Bossanova for a slow but strong approach and Mirrored if I need to get a lot done in a short amount of time.
    Alistair, I once asked you ‘What is Graphic Design’ and your answer provided me with the material for a poster, which found it’s way into my portfolio. I have just finished my degree show and had lots of lovely comments about your answer, it’s here…
    Thank you x

  • I have given the topic of ‘Music to Design to’ a lot of thought and although I have a varied collection of indie, rock, DnB, pop, oldies and more, I love the more ambient stuff and the best music I find to design to has to be:
    – Kid Loco
    – Sigur Rós
    – Herbaliser
    – The Avalanches
    – St Germain
    – M83
    – Beta Band
    – Kruder & Dorfmeister
    – John Williams / Hans Zimmer music Scores
    Check them out if your feeling the urge to design or get artistic.
    I think I will go and make a play list right now!

  • ian lally

    LTJ Bukem – Journey Inwards
    Commix – Call To Mind
    MF Doom – Madvillainy

  • Filip Remplakowski

    ESG – Come Away With ESG
    Clark – Totems Flare
    Miss Kittin & The Hacker – First Album or Two
    backup albums for something more relaxing
    Koop – Waltz for Koop
    Fever Ray – Fever Ray

  • Phil Rennie

    I’ve been finding LastFM really useful for supplying music to design to recently, good roads to go down are:
    Quantic (favourite at the moment, lots of funk and cool beats)
    Kings of Convenience
    James Brown

  • JM

    Jay Dilla
    Passion Pit
    peter,Bjorn & john