The Journey Into Design

Designing Furniture like Jazz: The Art of Creative Improvisation

Designing Furniture like Jazz: The Art of Creative Improvisation

Design and music have more in common than one might think. Both are forms of creative expression that require an understanding of basic principles and techniques and a willingness to take risks and experiment. Jazz and blues improvisation, in particular, share many similarities with the design process. In both cases, experimentation and improvisation play a role in creating something new and exciting.

Jazz and blues musicians rely on their knowledge of music and their own creative instincts to play off of each other and create something unique in the moment.  There is often a call and response when improvising, where each musician builds off the other’s licks by either iterating on it, answering it by responding to it in a melodic way or continuing the thought, similarly to how someone might finish your sentence.  This results in a rich and complex sound that is greater than what one musician can create on their own.

Similarly, in the design process, furniture designers rely on their own creative instincts and technical skills to create something new and innovative. A designer may start with a basic idea or concept, but as they work through the process, they are constantly refining and adding their own unique twist to the project. This might involve bouncing ideas off a fellow designer and playing off their inputs and opinions, much like Jazz musicians play off of each other’s melodies.  This can involve experimenting with different colors, curves, angles, layouts, or other design elements until they arrive at a final product that is truly one-of-a-kind.

The improvisational nature of jazz and blues music can create an amazing collaboration as they build on each other’s ideas. A soloist might start with a simple melody, but as they play, other musicians will add their own flourishes and variations, building on what has come before. This process of collaboration and iteration results in a one-of-a-kind piece.

Similarly, in design and collaboration, iteration is also critical to the success of creating something unique. Designers work to bounce ideas off of each other, building on what has come before, often creating multiple iterations of a design, testing, and refining until they arrive at a final product that meets the needs of the client and the end-user.

Like a Jazz musician starting with a basic melody, the furniture designer may start with a basic concept, but as they work through the process, they will refine and add their own unique twist to the project. Things can get exciting for both musicians and furniture designers as they take risks and experiment. To truly come up with a unique song or piece of furniture, they must be willing to take chances and explore new ideas. They must be open to failure and willing to learn from their mistakes.  They must be willing to push boundaries and try new things, even if it means making mistakes along the way.

When improvising, jazz musicians have a way of making a misplayed note sound deliberate by leaning into the mistake.  This is true for the designer. Sometimes, a mistake in the design can send them down a new path creating a better design.

The similarities between jazz and blues music and the design process are many. Both rely on improvisation, collaboration, iteration, and risk-taking to create something new and innovative. Whether you are a musician or a designer, understanding the principles and techniques of improvisational music can help you to become a more creative and effective artist. Embrace the spirit of improvisation and experimentation. You can take your work to new heights and create something truly extraordinary.


I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

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