Improv and Design Thinking Coming Together

"Being Spontaneous"

No one knows the direction an improv scene is going go and we only have the moment to respond to what is currently happening. There is no time to think, only react.  Reacting opens our creativity to explore and experience the unexpected.  The results are often surprising even to us.  

This builds confidence.  We trust that however crazy an idea is, we will find meaning and purpose.  We are going down this path and it is a journey of discovery.  One of the best and simplest exploration methods is "Yes and"

"Yes and" 

"Yes and" is a concept from improv where you accept an idea and build off of it.  "Yes and" opens the door to many different paths of possibilities.  

Instead of slamming the door on an idea because it does not seem desirable, feasible, or viable, you enhance each other's ideas.  This moves the team forward and allows ideas to be fully examined.

"Supporting our Partners and Make Them Look Good"

When working on a scene, we strive to make our partners look good.  When we work with the "Yes and" concept; we delve into our partners' crazy ideas even if we don't fully understand them yet.  That level of support creates a vital connection with our teammates. 

What often hurts creativity is the worry of being judged or ridiculed. As we feel supported and trust is earned we become free to say what is on our minds.  This habit coincides with the users of our designs.

It's not about what I want to create, it's about working with the user's needs/wants and make their world a better place.  We do what we can to support our team members as well as the user.  

"Finding The Game (Guidelines/Pattern)"

Improv scenes are often "games" that are discovered in the moment. A game is a pattern that is understood and played by the performers.  It can be as simple as I take one step towards you and you take one step back.  Then I take another step closer and you take another step back.  

There is an obvious pattern/guideline to the game.  Improv teaches people how to find, observe, and create rules for engagement.  This is also important when understanding how a user interacts with a website, product, environment, etc.  Designers observe how the user interacts with the "game"(guidelines/patterns).  

If the user cannot understand what the pattern is then it is time to iterate the "game", which leads to the need for better design.  

 "Letting Go"

You never know what direction an idea will take when you improvise with a group of people.  

An example is when we are listening to someone and start thinking about what we want to say while they are still talking.  We begin to ignore what the person is saying in that moment and end up holding on to ideas even though they may not be relevant.  

When performing an improv scene or creating a design project we need to let go of what we originally thought it should be and be in the present moment.  Give the situation what it needs instead of what we think it should be.  This creates a more collaborative and supportive atmosphere.   

 "Seeing 'Mistakes/Problems' as New Opportunities"

Improv scenes are filled with curve balls.  We have a couple of choices: get off the stage, tell the person they are dumb, deny what they gave us, or work with it.  

There is no right or wrong choice, but the exciting and energizing choice is to find a way to justify what was given.  The user does not do what we want them to do and it is up to us as designers to work with the curve balls they throw at us.  

Find ways to integrate their behavior into the design process. 

"Being Okay in the Unknown"

Before beginning an improv scene we request a suggestion from the audience.  In the same way, design challenges are created when users have a problem (which can change as we develop a deeper understanding of the problem, as does the meaning of the suggestion for an improv scene).  

After the challenge is identified the rest is unknown.  The key ingredients for discovery is maintaining curiosity, and a child-like wonder for the world.  Let go of biases.  

Being in the unknown feels weird and uncomfortable but it is the home of discoveries and solutions that we never imagined.  We may even find the next iterations of the design challenge, so we start again. And that's okay.