How Design is like Dance

Sam Antolik, 
Visual Designer, 

How is Design like Dancing? One of them has you sitting at a desk making pretty pictures and the other has you on your feet moving and sweating.

As both a designer and a dancer, I thought it would be interesting to explore the similarities.

Those who know me know that I love dancing. I’ve been doing Ballroom and Latin since I was 15 and have never looked back. Nineteen dance styles (yes, there are that many styles, and more) and a few Gold medals (humble brag) later, and with classes finally starting up after more than a year, it’s been heavy on my mind.

Dance is undoubtedly an art form. It takes time and dedication and attention to detail… and hey, look at that… so does design! The more I think about it, the more I can link my two biggest passions. Here are some parallels I have drawn:

1. The Basic Steps

In any dance you need to start with the basics:

Balance in and out of dance-hold (especially in heels).
Rhythm of each style with the music.
Repetition of the steps to get them right.
Movement, how you travel across the dance floor.
Emphasis on certain arm movements or head tilts, etc.
Variety of moves to avoid monotony.
Harmony with your partner.

You learn the same basic principles in design:

Balance, with symmetrical or asymmetrical elements working cohesively.
Rhythm to create a visual tempo for the viewer to follow.
Repetition of colours, fonts, shapes, or other elements to keep designs consistent.
Movement, how the viewer’s eye travels across the design.
Emphasis on certain areas to create a hierarchy or draw attention.
Variety of elements to avoid monotony.
Harmony of all the elements together.

2. Dance Styles vs Design Disciplines

ChaCha, Rumba, Bachata, Quickstep, Tango… I could go on for ages listing different dance styles. Digital, print, branding, packaging, web… you see where I’m going with this? Each style or discipline has its own set of rules and skills to follow.

On the style side of things, you get dancers who look very natural as they glide across the floor, and dancers who you can see the cogs running through their head with each step and angle they turn. In the same way, you can get more artistic designers who can sketch out their thought processes, and more technical designers who think of the grid that everything should fit in.

3. Communication

The digital design field, really any design field to be fair, is mainly about communicating with the audience, getting the desired message across and making them feel good. You don’t want people to feel bad or uncomfortable after seeing a website you designed. Same thing in dance competitions. You don’t want to see frowning faces in the audience while you’re twirling around having a grand time.

Another aspect of communication is in your team or partnership. Whether you’re a part of a big design team or a small one, you’ve got to know how to speak to each other. Yes, I’m going to say it, you know it’s coming… the same goes for your dance partner. You can’t put on a good show if you cannot communicate on and off the floor. Being in sync is so important in both fields to come off as a unit, while still being able to complement and support each other and play to each other’s strengths.

4. Critique

Whether it’s your coach, the judge’s panel, a client or your team, both of these fields receive critique. “Move your head more to the left” “Move that line more to the right”. Obviously, it’s never easy to hear, but learning to accept feedback is so vital for growth in both fields. If someone tells you you’re not in time with the music and you don’t listen to them or work on that downfall, you’ll never get that podium finish you want.

5. Individuality

Every creative field invites the individuals’ personality and flair. Different routines and different design processes make the end results a lot more interesting. If every dancer and designer did the exact same thing and followed the exact same process, there would be no point in doing any of it in the first place!

This was obviously more of a personal piece than my usual tips and tricks in the line of design, but I hope you enjoyed reading me ramble on as much as I enjoy being involved in both of these fields.

Any designers out there thinking of starting dance classes? You’ve got all the basics! Do it!

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