Thursday, August 12, 2010

Applying Principles of Salsa Dancing into UX Design

Salsa, a popular Latin American dance, and UX design have a lot of elements in common. And designers can apply some of these principles into their process.
The most important aspect in salsa (or even ballroom dance) is getting the connection right between the dancers. Similarly, for a design to succeed, the designer has to connect with the end user- understand their mental models, predict how the user would navigate, consider the user’s likes and dislikes , and design appropriately. The designer cannot design a product just because s/he finds it cool or creative.

Good dance has well synchronized sequences. This is similar to the sequence of tasks a user does. Designers usually define scenarios to define how the product will be used. The smoother the sequence is, the better the end user experience.

Movements are building blocks to any dance, which define a sequence. Similarly, every interaction in a design defines how well the task can be completed.

Patterns of foot work, swivels and turns help be a better lead and a receptive follower. The designer also needs to understand patterns in usage of elements, problems faced by users and design in a way which would be well-received by user. Patterns in rhythm and beats set the overall mood on the dance floor. Similarly, the designer needs to consider current trends or ‘mood’ to create the appropriate designs.

Space and path (floor path) are important factors which defines how the dancers will traverse and the direction (such as forward, backward, sideways). Similarly, in a design users would traverse across the interface, and the designers need to make sure that the users traverse as smootly and elegantly as possible and complete their tasks easily. On the visual front, the designer needs to take care of both positive and negative spaces for the interface to work well.

Time (or tempo) in dance defines the speed of the dancer. Dance, music (unlike other forms of art like painting) incorporates linear time pattern, which means it moves through time and space. This is an important factor for designers too. Can the user complete a task in a short time? How long do I display a notification when the user receives a mail? And, how quickly should it fade away?

In Salsa, whether dancing with a partner or in a group (as in 'reuda'), there’s always a lead. The lead always aims to provide concise lead with accuracy. The other/s follow the lead; yet they have their own style and movements. If the lead is difficult to follow, the partner stops partnering him. Hence, the lead must adapt to the partner’s skills (based on whether the partner is a novice or an intermediate dancer or an expert), the available space on the dance floor and change the lead appropriately. The designer is like this lead who leads users to perform a certain desired task by understanding the user’s strengths.

Finally, one would always love to dance again with the same person if they had a good experience dancing with him/her. Just like how we designers need to ensure we have repeat users for our products!

So ensure a good ‘dance’ for your users!

Thanks to Afshan and Sannidhya for putting on their editorial hats and reviewing the draft.
image source:


  1. This is good correlation.One last thing I wish to add is:

    Surprising (probably delighting is a better word) Moves – Typically at the end or sometime in middle of the dance…..also when the music/tempo is reaching its heights. Dance partners surprise audiences with some quick and unusual moves that takes the breath away from audiences. It relates to some of the surprises users experience designers bring to the overall experience

  2. Veena, taking users for partners in salsa is very interesting.
    From the execution stand point, in most of the projects, our partners are cross functional experts say Jive dancers. To have a seamless synch with them one has to identify the 4/4 timing in both the dances. Do you have any thoughts on what that 4/4 timing can be?

  3. Danny,
    That's a good question.
    From the execution point of view, it is mainly the principles of 'connection', 'time', which apply. There has to be right co-ordination between team members through good communication, and proper time planning. I am not very familiar with Jive, but lets take example of Salsa, where a subtle sign is provided that dancer is going to turn his partner, just a few seconds before turning her, and the partner gets ready to make a turn. So similarly, team members need to synch with each other. Daily scrum meetings (in Agile projects) wherein each team meber updates his/her status could be one way to synch up.
    Also, a 'lead' with reference to the project manager who ensures there is a smooth execution through proper planning and proper utilization of team member's skills. The lead is also one who inspires his team members to execute the project as well!