In the first entry of this three part series on Design Thinking in Music for Media , we explained each step involved in this methodology. We also explained how those steps can be interpreted from a music and sound point perspective, specifically for media such as film, video games, audio dramas, podcasts, or others. 

Now I want to give you an example of how this could work: How would Design Thinking be used in a real project?

Lets say your story (whatever media form works) focuses on this young english girl (Red) who travels to Cuba to study medicine. There, she and a local painter (Esteban) fall in love and decide to live together for everafter. They encounter many difficulties, but after a long adventure they finally live their dream and build a house on an island where they can express their love freely. Mario painted this watercolor painting to represent their bond. Important detail: you have a small budget. Perhaps not an oscar winning story. I’m a composer, not a writer! But it works.

Now lets recap the steps of Design Thinking and proceed to describe examples of what could happen in each of them:

Chart by Tofas Academy 


Have a live or virtual meeting with your composer, where you hand them all possible materials to your composer. Do not forget to have them sign an NDA . Maybe you were inspired by a specific cuban song. Maybe you have a sketch of the painting that represents their bond. Maybe you already have casted the actors and have pictures or even casting videos of them. Anything here that will potentially ignite ideas in your composer. Especially your personal journey. Your motivation and goals can be important for your composer to find the right sound. You never know what’s gonna trigger that Eureka moment! Your composer will take all this home and try to make sense of it in a musical sense.


You meet with your composer again and they have identified some key problem statements:

  1. a) Instrumentation needs to reflect their worlds’ clashing. Cuban and English cultures merging.
  2. b) Your composer is familiar with rock music which can be used for Red, but not with cuban genres that are necessary for Esteban.
  3. c) Budget is tight, so you can only afford a few musicians to record live.

This is a short list, but a written creative proposal will help outline these statements so everyone is clear on what is going to be worked on. You do not want your composer to be working on a synthwave or punk cue because of a misunderstanding! 

For statement a) your composer suggests having a rock trio to represent the english character Red, and a small cuban ensemble for th cuban one, Esteban. The rock trio consists of guitar, drums and bass. Regarding the cuban band, they decided to have a tres, a trumpet and piano as the main instruments. Some instruments will sometimes be mixed in between ensembles to express the evolving bond between both characters. Hence at times the trumpet might be heard playing with the rock trio, or the guitar in the cuban ensemble.

Also, your composer will have to come up with some creative solutions to fix statements that are problems, in this case knowledge of cuban music and budget. For problem b) they might call a fellow composer who is well versed in the style of music that your art needs. This DOES NOT mean they are not good composers, they just need an expert on another style. This will be their co-composer, while they focus on supervising the process so the cues, music, themes fit the context of your story. 

The second problem might be solved via a wide range of solutions. One is using sample libraries that might do the trick for some specific parts of your creation and only hiring musicians for the main themes. Other solutions could be using samples for backing material (harmonic material) and only record live musicians for melodic very noticeable material. Another could be using instruments that they already know how to play, or calling a friend who might be interested in participating for a trade or favor. Possibilities are endless, but they must be experienced enough to handle all these possible solutions. Remember… we are problem solvers!

When everyone is happy with the solutions met, be sure to include anything new to the creative proposal and set a delivery date for the next stage.



After some days or weeks according to a calendar, you meet with your composer and they have some mockups and recording to show you. They present two versions of the main theme, played by the rock trio and the cuban ensemble, and a couple of cues for the love bond between the characters, using cuban and rock instrumentation. You loved the cues, but the main theme is just not doing it for you because the trumpet just does not blend with the rest. It is totally ok to express your thoughts in a respectful way. Your composer or music team should be able to take this in, take notes (going back to defining) and go back to the musical drawing board to generate changes and ideas that you like. This does not have to mean it is bad music, it might even be fit for another part or section of your creation, but go by intuition. We composers know that if something does not fit at first hearing, it will never do.

I like to ask my clients if they LOVE the themes and sound I deliver. If they do not, I feel the urge to go back and compose something better matched. Again, perhaps it is not bad music, only bad fit. So again to ideate and show more proposals.


After three iterations of ideas, you now like every musical idea presented to you, as well as the cues. You have some scenes or parts where you know you want to try a rough mix to see how it sounds. The main theme works very nicely to introduce Red and Esteban, but something does not work at a specific section. As if the music just does not blend with another element. After hearing it and expressing your concerns with your composer, you both realize there is some loud noise in the sound design – a loud truck – that is interfering with the music! Don’t worry, as all the cues are still mockups you can still solve this easily. Maybe change the composition a little bit (sometimes just changing the pitch cand o the trick) or even call the sound design department to change that specific sound. As you can see, even when prototyping, problems can emerge and you might go back to even defining (step 2) or even further.



You and your composer are ready to enter the studio to record live musicians. But there is one problem. The money you had set apart for the recording session is cut short because you had to pay some extra cathering money, or extra voice actors. You and your composer might opt for a lower budget studio or having less live musicians, for example. So in a way, it is kind og going back to the creative proposal where all these things are defined. After recordings are made, you are ready to hand in everything to your mixing engineer and, fortunately, everything will come up together. Many problems may still arise here, but remember to keep your composer close to have musical solutions instead of, for example, just lowering the volume of their cues.

This is just a quick rough example of a process that can take even years to get through. But having a composer since the start of the process, and following a very detailed clear path, can be a very effective way to create something unique with them. Don’t hesitate to call your composer and build something beautiful together.

If you want to implement Design Thinking in your next project as part of the music and sound creation, follow the entries in this series:


Learn the basics of Design Thinking

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How, directly or indirectly, Design Thinking has led to very unique interesting results in the world of film and video games.

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