UX Case Study: Duran Duran’s Rio

Posted By Debbie on July 25, 2012

Yes, I’m serious.

Duran Duran’s “Rio” album is a classic, and not just because it was profiled by the TV show, “Classic Albums.” It produced a pile of hits and changed what people did with music videos. If you actually listen to the good mixes of the songs, they are fun and catchy. Each instrument stands out, and you’ll notice things you may not have before, like what an amazing bass player John Taylor is.

Sure, you thought John Taylor was pretty back in the 80s, but did you know he can really play. If you’re not sure if he can play, just YouTube all the people trying and failing at playing his basslines. OK, this guy does a good job explaining it, but start the video 1:36 in. And if you’re really bored, you can get into researching the bass players I think influenced Taylor the most, Mick Karn of the British band “Japan” and Bernard Edwards of the funk/disco band, “Chic.”

Rio album cover

Why is it a UX case study? To me, UX is about delivering people the experience they want without them having to think or try. Music can do the same, especially when it’s released by a big record label who wants to convince lots of people to buy it.

The Rio album was released in the UK in May 1982, and eventually hit #2 on the charts there. The songs you might know from that album are, “Rio,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Save A Prayer,” and “My Own Way.” Some will also know, “The Chauffeur,” especially if you were curious about videos that got banned on MTV back in the day.

But when Rio was released in the US, it didn’t do well at first.

This was back in the day when bands also put out 12″ singles of dance mixes both for fans and dance clubs. In September 1982, the record company compiled these new mixes, and released them on an EP called, “Carnival.” This did well in the clubs, so the record company started wondering how they could get Rio to do better in North America.

They asked the producer who did the dance mixes to remix the songs with the North American audience and dance club scene in mind. The result was some very different sounding songs. Compare them yourself if you want; the 2-disc “Collector’s Edition” of Rio contains both sets of mixes. Love them or hate them, you’ll agree the mixes are rather different.

Long story short, the North American re-releases of the remixed Rio eventually took the album to #6 on the US charts in 1983. In the US, the new mixes produced hit singles. “Hungry Like The Wolf” hit #3. Rio hit #14.

The amazing thing to me is that this is basically not done in music anymore. Nobody is putting out multiple versions of albums or singles to try to appeal to audiences in different countries. Yet it makes so much sense. You might create a website or app differently based on how you define the user personas, and those personas may be different by region or country.

So I say that the Rio album is an interesting study in the UX of Music. And it’s worth another listen. No matter what music you’re into. Nobody has to know what’s feeding into your headphones. 🙂