Music To Wireframe By

I am not ashamed, but I don’t feel proud to say this either: I listen to the “TRON: Legacy” soundtrack.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had an album in regular rotation that features the Disney logo on the cover art. And it’s not an album I’d listen to while walking to work or doing the dishes—these days I’d opt for Bon Iver or The Black Keys. Daft Punk’s techno soundtrack is, for me, task-specific: I listen to it only to get into a flow when I’m wireframing.

If you’re a UX designer or one of our clients, you’re familiar with wireframes—annotated blueprints for sites or applications, basically. Designing them requires creativity, pragmatism, empathy, and taste; a scrupulous balance of what’s required and what’s possible. They’re best created when you’re in a flow—a state of “energized focus,” as Wikipedia nicely puts it.

The steady, propulsive, and somewhat bland “TRON: Legacy” soundtrack helps me get there. It’s not great music, but it pushes me without distracting me. [1]

I figured we could all use a bigger repertoire of music to wireframe by, so I asked around the UM office for my colleague’s recommendations.

Steven says:

Sarah Toy and I have been fighting over a recording of Arvo Pärt’s music by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà within my shared iTunes library. That recording and another of Philip Glass by the same ensemble are on very high rotation for me, along with an album by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich: Affairs of the Heart. [2]

Other favourites include Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Handel or if I can’t decide, the CBC classical music stream. For faster paced music, I may turn to jazz or tango or bossa nova.

One of the key commonalities is no lyrics, or if there are, they aren’t English and I can’t understand them.

The “no lyrics” theme was common. Shannah likes a tango-electronica group called Gotan Project. “Lyric-free, caliente,” she says.

Katie gets into a flow with electronica and house/techno that has few or no vocals, or uses vocal samples. (Also good for workout music, she says.) She selects music to match or modify her mood—either way, it needs to inspire her, not just spin in the background. Her suggestions include:

  • Four Tet’s latest album, “There is Love in You”
  • Lucienn Luciano (various tracks – but right now I love the track “Arcenciel”)
  • Robag Wruhme’s latest album, “Wuppdeckmischmampflow” (yes, that is the real title)
  • Deadbeat’s “Roots and Wire”

When the “minimal” stuff (the scare quotes are hers) leaves her feeling “cold and too robotic,” she’ll mix in any of the following:

  • Beach House’s latest album “Teen Dream”
  • Blind Pilot’s latest album “3 Rounds and a Sound”
  • Al Green’s latest album “Lay it Down” (just a few years old, and amazing)
  • The Temptation’s “Just My Imagination” or “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
  • Austra’s latest album “Feel It Break”
  • Hot Chip – all albums except the last one
  • The Knife – all albums
  • Bon Iver (if I feel like licking my wounds)
  • My latest obsession is the song “Throw Your Arms Around Me” by The Hunters & Collectors (80s band)
  • I also love getting into Depeche Mode, The Cure, Yaz

“When I’ve exhausted my options,” Katie says, “I usually play my radio station, which pumps out songs based on my music preferences. This is a profile I’ve had for over five years, so I get a lot of good stuff.”

Manna, too, goes for online radio, and she doesn’t seem to mind lyrics. She favours whatever’s on indie shuffle or spinner, whose obscure finds and lowercase stylings put my indie cred to deep shame. She also likes NPR’s First Listen site; for a while, she says, her favourite was a tribute album to Buddy Holly that she found through that site. Or she’ll go for old favourites like Depeche Mode, the Smiths or David Bowie. 

Julie, our office manager, doesn’t wireframe, but like everyone she likes to get into a flow. “No lyrics? I’d die,” she says. “But I do only listen to the same things over and over and over so I don’t really need to listen anymore; I know what’s coming.” (I’ve found this works too—listen to stuff you know so well that you aren’t distracted by it.) She likes Bruce Springsteen, Adele, Judy Garland, the Elvises (Costello and Presley), Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, the Beatles, and a track from the “Moonstruck” soundtrack called “Que Sea El (It Must Be Him)”.

I’d like to share more music to wireframe by with other UX people, so—what music do you wireframe by? We’d love your suggestions in the comments, or @umatters. If you’re a member of Rdio, feel free to add your suggestions to the collaborative playlist.



[1] Most felicitious “TRON: Legacy” song title for wireframing purposes: “The Grid”.

Wireframing bonus in that particular song: A Jeff Bridges voiceover from the movie, in which he waxes about visualizing clusters of information.

Least felicitous title “TRON: Legacy” song title in every way: “Adagio for Tron”.

[2] Steven and Sarah might enjoy “Adagio for Tron”.