Jan 18, 2012

Hot Spotlight: Design and Music with Dave Eresian

Tomáš Zeman's picture
Tomáš Zeman
Content & Marketing Intern

Hot Studio tends to attract people with interesting backgrounds, like Director of User Experience, Dave Eresian. He's taught high school computer science in Chile, and has worked as a developer and a product manager. And he's a musician. We had an interesting conversation about the parallels between design and music. “Designing is like making music—it’s a collaborative experience. It’s all about co-creation, call and response, improvisation, and iteration.”

Dave became well-versed in the musical collaboration process as the leader of the Brazilian samba-funk band, Nobody from Ipanema, which performed regularly in the Bay Area for 10 years. (The band is currently on hiatus.)

Great American Music Hall

“Whether you’re jamming with someone, or sketching with someone, you need to be heads-up, open, and listening. Great listening is key for any kind of great collaboration. You listen in order to learn, to understand, and to connect,” he says. “It’s really key for building consensus and pushing ideas forward.” It’s also key to holding a band together for 10 years. “On collaborative creative projects, you’ve got to be able to listen and really hear each other.”

Call and response is another collaboration pattern. With both music and design Dave likes to use the “Yes, and...” approach. You listen to another person's idea and respond to it in an open-ended way—like theatrical improv.” In ideation sessions, “people sketch rough ideas and throw them up on the wall—just like playing a musical line or riff. When other people see the sketches they echo, refine, and build on them—just like call and response in music. That’s co-creation.”

A variation of this approach is to simply capture and mirror what people are saying. “When you’re facilitating a workshop, it’s really important to let people know that they’re being heard. During design workshops, I’m listening to everyone, attempting to capture their points, writing and diagramming ideas. Externalizing these ideas visually lets everybody see and build upon them.”

Dave also talks about the importance of improvising based on what’s going on in the moment, including feedback from crowd. “You have to listen to the other musicians, but you also have to listen to yourself and dynamically adjust your approach based on what the other musicians are playing. It’s like the musical equivalent of (visual) white space—part of listening is making space. You have to give people the dynamic space to sing, or play a phrase on their instrument,” he says. He also watches to see if the crowd is dancing, and may extend a tune, adjust the groove, or change up the set list accordingly. “The same thing goes for design process. You need to give space to your process, and permission to pivot, based on what you learn along the way.”

SFJazz show at Union Square

What about prototyping and iteration? “Yes! There’s also definitely prototyping in songwriting. You’re writing and recording things that have placeholder lyrics. I don’t use Lorem Ipsum (dummy text commonly used in UX designs), but I use nonsense lyrics until I find the right words.” Dave talks about performing songs-in-progress; experimenting, iterating, and learning what works as he goes. “It’s also a fun challenge to write in Brazilian Portuguese, which is not my native language.”

And you thought listening, collaborating, and prototyping was hard enough in English! Dave has shown me yet again that there’s always more to learn—and that our collective strength lies in valuing unique perspectives and talents like Dave’s.


This is the fourth and last post in a series of articles spotlighting unique Hot characters—real people I’ve worked with who have some interesting stories to tell!

Here are links to the first three posts:

Hot Spotlight: What NASA Taught Holly Hagen About Company Culture
Hot Spotlight: Getting to Know Robert Kanes
Hot Spotlight: Dan Harrelson Blends Technology with Design

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