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Dan Rose | 01.31.20

What Web Design Can Learn From Film Scoring

Is it just me or are movies getting more and more attention these days? There was a period of time between the late 90’s and early 00’s where going to the movies was a twice-annual occasion for me (I was also in college so take that for what it’s worth). Today, I find it hard to escape the constant chatter of movie hot takes.

Truth be told, I love it. I now see movie-going to be a monthly experience, and by doing so, I find myself increasingly infatuated with film scores. While I’m not all too surprised at this development—I was drum major of my high school marching band—I’m only recently realizing there’s so many parallels between film scoring and web design.

Great composers do their research. They remix and riff off the work of other composers. They go to great lengths to empathize with the audience. Composer Alan Silverstri (of Back to the Future fame) puts it this way:

If I’m doing a scene where the intent of the filmmakers is that the audience is sobbing at the end of this… if I’m not sobbing while I’m working on this, there is no compass for me, there is no other measure for if I’m accomplishing the task or not.

Alan Silvestri For Score

If you subscribe to the notion that good design is invisible, that’s certainly true for film scores. Save for the title card fanfare, it’s often difficult to notice the background music of a compelling movie. Yet, a score can play a crucial role in character development. Composer Ludwig Göranssen says as much on an episode of Song Exploder: “(Michael B. Jordan’s) character (in Black Panther) is really complex. It took some time before I really understood it and it’s really four layers (piano, strings, flute, 808’s).” Then, he brings it home:

To me, the music is trying to play his character.

Ludwig Göranssen Song Exploder

Love that. What if we viewed design as trying to become similarly symbiotic with the content and message it’s supporting?

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