What Violin Making Can Teach Us About UX

Part of user experience design is finding the right mixture of emerging technologies and conventional, known elements.

The violins with the best reputation were made by Antonio Stradivari  in the 1600s and 1700s.  They’re renowned worldwide, but the way they were built is still up for debate.  Clearly, however Stradivari didn’t have access to computer technology, acoustic specialization, or even the degree of precision tools that are available to luthiers today.

Sam Zygmuntowicz is perhaps the greatest violin maker alive today.  His violins are also renown for their precision, and as Zygmuntowicz notes in the video much of his work revolves around providing continual service to those who have already purchased his violins.  He uses top quality technology and precise instruments to achieve the level of mastery he has achieved.  Zygmuntowicz exhibits two aspects in his work that can help UX designers:

1. He does *serious* research in to the best instruments in order to try to duplicate the best practices in violin making.

2. He merges traditional, conventional design with high-level technology.

Let’s let him explain:


It’s important to note here that while he relies on the research and studies the old methods, he also tries to move forward and use new technology to drive his ideas home.

There is no substitute for research, and without a solid base in tradition it is hard to be so far advanced in any field.

An anecdote claims that a young painter came to Picasso and showed him a beautiful cubist design and the legendary artist asked this young man if he could draw a horse.  Not in the cubist style, but in a realistic and emotional way.  The young artist replied that he could not, because he was only a cubist artist.  Picasso then scoffed at the artist and told him not to return until he had a true foundation in art.

Much is the same in user experience design.  Old, dated designs are often ignored or cast aside, while new, creative designs are all the rage.  This might be a mistake.  Sure, pure-HTML designs from 1998 are an eye-sore, but they still constitute the foundation of present designs.  HTML is still an important tool of the trade despite all the different ways to program a website these days.  Understanding what worked and what didn’t work in the past is the key to understanding how to move forward.

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