Experience Design at Coldplay

Siddhartha Bhagwan
Sep 15, 2017 · 4 min read

I recently had the chance of watching Coldplay perform live in concert as a part of their A Head Full of Dreams tour at the FedExField in Maryland, USA.

Coldplay is known to give the attendees Xylobands, which is essentially a wristband containing lights that can be controlled by a software program, instructing it to light up or blink, for example. As per Wikipedia, “The first use of Xylobands on a large scale was on Coldplay’s 2012 Mylo Xyloto tour”. Needless to say, the Xyloband works wonders in a concert setting.

As a student of HCI, I wondered what effect did a simple multicolored band have on thousands gathered and why so? As it turns out, a Xyloband is an ingenious way of engaging the crowd at a concert for several reasons. Lets begin with a quick insight into the dynamics of a concert.

Despite the long queues and outrageous ticket, food and merchandise prices, live performances have a way of connecting with you that recorded albums simply do not. One leaves a concert with a personal touch, as if the artist was there with the sole intention of performing just for you. The feel good factor is compelling enough to make you want to leave the comfort of your home to witness the live rendition of your favorite song.

Enter the Xyloband.

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  1. Unobtrusively engaging: One would think that a band changing colors on your wrist would constantly or at least frequently have your attention and be a distraction. On the contrary, I barely looked at the band a couple of times during the 2 hour long performance and was yet constantly aware of its state. It is indeed a beautiful sight, seeing your band light up on the wrist of thousands of others and looking upon the crowd only to see yourself.
  2. Feeling connected: Seeing an ocean of synced lights all around you is a very non-conspicuous yet brilliant way of not only acknowledging the masses around you but also invoking a feeling of one-ness with the crowd while doing so. Additionally, audience encounters a unique feeling of having contributed to the beauty of it.
  3. Focus: The bands glowed in a multitude of manners. Sometimes the colors gradually changed from yellow to magenta and other times it just flashed myriad colors randomly. A slow song like ‘Everglow’ had steady lights and something upbeat like ‘Something just like this’ had the lights flashing. At times the bands stopped glowing, which was the subtlest way of making the audience focus at the only source of light — the stage — where the fireworks went off. Surely, one wouldn’t have missed the fireworks if the bands kept glowing — nonetheless, it is an ever so gentle way of saying, ‘oh, look at the stage, something’s about to happen’.
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While the presence of the Xyloband manages to elevate the vibe to another level, its absence in no way diminishes the spirit of the concert. Which then brings us to - so why do it then and what is in it for the band?

Concert settings from the perspective of the artist are perhaps not as obvious. Keep in mind that the band has to entertain thousands of fans while having to repeatedly perform a similar setlist (this tour consists of 123 shows across 5 continents over ~20 months). This can get challenging over time considering that the physical access to the audience is extremely limited and after a few hundred feet, the audience appears pretty much as a blurry mass. The harsh stage lighting itself designed to showcase the artist and interaction with the audience is often limited to one way conversations that are usually met with cheers and screams.

Refreshingly, the Xylobands become a medium to enable two way engagement. The audience is now visually accessible to the band regardless of where they might be seated, which is a massive upgrade from the occasional lighting on the audience that the artist gets and limited visibility of those seated away. During the gig, Chris Martin actually took the time and pointed out to the far flung corners of the stadium telling each section how much their presence meant to Coldplay.

As we were leaving the venue, there was an option to return the bands (for those interested, a preliminary Google search shows the price of a Xyloband to be well under $10 USD). While some might have kept it as a memento of the evening, there was little meaning in keeping it for any other reason;

From a marketing point of view, how can this experience be enhanced even further?

As of now, the Xylobands are operated externally with a maximum distance of roughly 300 meters. While the Xylobands do make more sense in a particular kind of setting with at least a few dozen people, it would be amazing if they could operate independently. For instance, what could be more delightful than the Xyloband lighting up every time it detected a Coldplay song in its vicinity! Its novelty still trumps the overpriced, poor quality tees. Add the tour name, venue and date on the strap and maybe a unique colored band and the Xylobands are now collectibles!

If for nothing else, Coldplay deserves appreciation for such a simple, financially viable and visually stunning means of engaging their fans.

And of course, the million dollar question - Was the band flashing yellow during the song Yellow?

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