Songs to Design By, Vol. 9: Step by Step


There’s something inherently fascinating about stairs. What began as a purely functional solution has become a medium for visual and architectural experimentation, as well as a never-ending source of inspiration for photographers and artists playing with perspective. (M.C. Escher, anyone?)

Our “Step by Step” Featured Lightbox celebrates the artistry inherent in the stairway, whether it’s a cascading spiral, carved into a natural environment, or mechanized and moving — and this edition of our Songs to Design By mixtape series takes its inspiration from the same source.

Listen to the full mix below (note: you need Spotify installed for it to play properly), explore the “Step by Step” Lightbox, and check out previous volumes of Songs to Design By for even more great music and images.

Here’s what our creative team had to say about each of the tracks selected for this mix:

“My Step,” Little Dragon – “I love the combination of the music and frontwoman Yukimi Nagano’s singing style/pronunciation. The resulting sonics really transcend the actual lyrics.
(‘My step. Slide. Lightning. Fight. Tropical. Times.’)”

“Play by Play,” Autre Ne Veut – “Equally rewarding and addicting, this song is both persistent and inspiring in its progression. It will keep you going after whatever it is you desire: the perfect Bézier curve, precisely kerned characters, a lover — you name it.”

“Step Into My Office, Baby,” Belle & Sebastian – “This is a lighthearted song (with some saucy subject matter) that I always throw on when I need to add some light to my work with pastel color palettes and script fonts.”

“Go!” Santigold feat. Karen O – “To paraphrase the lyrics, people want her power but they can’t overpower her. Santi is pretty much untouchable when it comes to modern music, and pairing her with Karen O just turns her into an unstoppable force.”

Spiral Stairs Wide-Angle View by hxdbzxy

“Staircase,” Radiohead – “As with most things Radiohead, even their non-album tracks are must listens. Release as a double A-side with fellow non-album track ‘The Daily Mail,’ ‘Staircase’ is an essential offering, whichever direction you’re heading.”

“So Far to Go,” J Dilla feat. Common & D’Angelo – “Even though the top of the stairs may not be in sight, the relaxing beat and repetitive nature of this song make me feel like the journey itself is worth it for its own sake.”

“Step in the Name of Love,” R. Kelly – “Watch out, this one’s smooth. But it’s the kind of smooth that will make you move. In the name of love. (Just don’t get trapped in the closet.)”

“Here Comes the Hotstepper,” Ini Kamoze – “If we’re talking about steps, we have to give a big ‘Word up!’ to the Hotstepper — he is a lyrical gangster, after all.”

Wooden Hotel Stairs by Natalia Semenchenko

“Every Little Step,” Bobby Brown – “Just try not to do the Roger Rabbit when this song comes on. You’ll find it impossible. A true classic, this can help you through all your retro ’80s designs.”

“Fancy Footwork,” Chromeo – “This one just wants you to step up and move your feet. And it’s likely to inspire some equally fancy work in your designs. It’s all about creativity!”

“Step by Step,” New Kids on the Block – “I really did love this band when I was about 8 years old. I had a cassette with this song on it, and I used to wear heart-shaped earrings with Joey Mcintyre’s face on them.” (Note: At least four staff members separately submitted this song!)

“Spiral Staircase,” Kings of Leon – “Listening to early Kings of Leon tracks now, they’re almost unrecognizable from the stadium-band they’ve grown into today. Caleb Followill’s vocals especially are infinitely more raw, bordering at times on feral. Go on and channel some of that energy and passion into your designs.”

Colorful Building Facades by Paul Hakimata Photography

“Tribute,” Tenacious D – “When you’re thinking of stairways, there’s one really obvious song pick that comes to mind — but it’s from a band who hasn’t made their catalog widely available on streaming services yet. So instead you get this: ‘This is not the greatest song in the world. This is just a tribute.'”

“One Step Up,” Bruce Springsteen – “Springsteen’s ’80s work may sound a little dated at this point, but hey, it’s still the Boss. And synth flourishes aside, this songs remains wonderfully reflective and emotional.”

“Out of Step,” Minor Threat – “A great one to play when I need to power though a laundry list of projects. This fast-paced punk rock acts as my personal audio caffeine. Drink up!”

Explore the full “Step by Step” Lightbox for even more inspiration »