“Mastering Taste: Insights from Legendary Producer Rick Rubin”

Cultivating Creativity as a Product Designer: Lessons from Rick Rubin

Immerse Yourself in the Canon of Great Works

Legendary music producer Rick Rubin, known for his work with Adele, Linkin Park, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, offers insights into creativity in his book, The Creative Act. While most applicable to traditional art forms, Rubin’s perspective on creativity is equally relevant to product design. According to Rubin, creativity does not come from original thought but rather from external sources that we sense, tune into, and remember. By immersing ourselves in the canon of great works, we can increase our sensitivity to what greatness looks like. We can develop our taste, which is critical in bringing our own creative product designs to market.

Cultivate Awareness to Take Advantage of External Sources

Rubin draws two specific implications from his insight into the source of creativity. The first is that we need to cultivate our awareness to be able to take full advantage of the source material the world has to offer. As artists, we seek to restore childlike perception – a more innocent state of wonder and appreciation not tethered to utility or survival. Product designers can cultivate their awareness by engaging with every product around them, not just products in their field. Designers who have developed sensitivity can pinpoint flaws or trade-offs in every product they come across. They are also skilled at noticing when a product experience is particularly pleasurable and how it made them feel.

Develop Techniques to Increase Your Aperture

Rubin suggests several techniques for cultivating awareness, such as not holding our belief systems too dearly, learning to notice our emotional state as we consume art, and actively changing our perspective to see something new. By doing so, designers can increase their aperture and perceive far more signal from the creative sources available.

Immerse Yourself in the Best Practices of Artists

Designers can also learn from the best practices of traditional artists. By submerging ourselves in the canon of great works, we can cultivate our sense of taste and develop a sensitivity to what greatness looks like. There is no standard list for this canon as it’s continually changing, so designers must do some leg work to put it together. For example, designers can immerse themselves in the Apple Design Awards winners, the most critically acclaimed apps chosen by Apple. They can also investigate the product experiences of the fastest growing B2B apps. These efforts can help designers bring their own creative product designs to the market.


As Rubin notes, our mind will often deceive us into thinking that creativity comes from original thought, but creativity actually emerges from external sources we sense, tune into, and remember. By cultivating our awareness and immersing ourselves in the canon of great works, we can develop our sense of taste and increase our aperture to recognize greatness. As a result, product designers can bring their own creative product designs to the market while inspiring others along the way.

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