Design Day: Instrument Design


This is a stamp I had made for our spring Design Day. The theme and activity of this Design Day was to help my designers increase their awareness and sensitivity to “how things are made”. Most poignant was our afternoon activity where we watched the film, “Note by Note: The making of Steinway L1037.” This is a wonderful film about how Steinway makes pianos. It reveals the people who care for and make these amazing instruments, and helps the viewer try to understand how these people, their process, and skills – produce the best instruments on the planet.


Two of the important lessons that I wanted my team to distill from this film was: A) what it means to make an instrument vs. software, and B) the value of expert contribution in a design/production process.

Having invited some product managers and developers to this Design Day activity, I lead a discussion around the concept of using more “instrument” nomenclature in our work around the office, by which we could better endow our products with characteristics that lie outside of “software” and “product” definitions. Instruments have characteristics, they have tone and depth… they respond to the user and are are tools for making beautiful music. Such concepts don’t easily survive the context of “software” and “product” terminology.

The other lesson I taught from this film was that of professional contribution in a clearly defined process of making something (pianos). Each tradesman was a master at something: the finish, the tone, the strings, the key balance, etc. And each one understood their role and contribution as it related to others. Steinway’s method of making pianos was a mixture of both waterfall and agile making methods. Each expert contributor knew the role they played and how their work came after the expert craftsman before them, and how their wok was to be inspected and added upon by the craftsman after them. Most impressive was the fact that each concert grand piano was tuned multiple times before leaving the factory.

I finished the day’s activities by handing each participant a UX Design stamp to commemorate our spring Design Day. I wanted each attendee to think about their contribution and the quality needed by each of them to make amazing software. And like each master craftsman who helped build Steinway pianos, they too should “stamp” their work and put their name on the product as it leaves our company, and moves into the hands of our customers.