Digital Summit ATL Reflections – Part 2

Today I wanted to go over another instance at the Digital Summit ATL conference where I saw Improvisation and what it teaches cross over into UX and Design (or is it the other way around?). I went to the Round-table: UX and Design Trends featuring:


Michael Salamon | Director of Experience & Principal, Lousy
Cliff Seal | UX Designer, Salesforce
Austin Knight | Lead UX Designer, Hubspot

Yes, once again, Austin was involved in one of the talks that crossed over into improvisation. I may have to convince him to go take classes at Improv Boston or Improv Asylum.

During the talk the question was asked, and I’m going from memory here, “When do you decide to use what is considered the latest and greatest design trend on your site or what you’re currently working on?”. While sitting in the audience I immediately thought of “flat design” and thankfully Cliff Seal said the same thing as I was thinking it. Cliff you are my UX whisperer. I believe during the answers by the panel “latest shiny object” or something like it was mentioned and it made me think of the Improvisation concept of “side support”.

In improvisation side support is used to clarify or heighten something that is happening in a scene on stage. Players on the side are watching the scene and looking for ways to add detail to what is going on or to heighten and add tension to what is going on.

Heightening Example 1:

2 improvisers are sitting in their chairs having a conversation but at this point in the scene it has not been established where they are. A supporting player on the side could enter the scene as a waiter coming to take their orders OR as a fellow office worker dropping off some reports. In both cases the side support has added new information to help clarify something. In these examples, WHERE the scene is taking place and possibly, who the main characters are.

Heightening Example 2:

Using our restaurant example from before, perhaps a character in the scene is going to propose to his girlfriend after desert. However maybe one of the players on the side decides to enter the scene as an ex who still loves the character about to propose…OOOPS. Now we have more tension in the scene and a “what’s gonna happen now!” moment.

In both these examples either clarity was added OR something going on in the scene was heightened to add some tension. Where side support in improvisation fails is when the improviser coming in to offer the side support is coming in for their own selfish reasons. Maybe someone heard a line of dialogue that made them think of a funny line that has nothing to do with what is going on in the scene. BUT because the improviser wants to get a laugh they go out anyway, deliver the line and more than likely just took a lot of energy out of the scene. The improviser wasn’t serving the scene, they were serving themselves and their own ego.

Now you may be asking yourself what does this have to do with UX and design? Well here it is…if you are adding the latest and coolest design trend to your site because it’s “what’s cool” and NOT because it actually helps your users then it’s probably not worth it to add it to the site. You’re adding it because you want to keep up with the Internet Joneses. Look at the new design trend(s) and ask yourself “If I add this is it going to make it easier for the users to accomplish their task(s)? Will it make this page easier to understand?” If the answer to those questions is yes then by all means work towards making the changes.

So the next time you’re looking at the latest and greatest designs and you’re thinking about adding them to what you’re working on think of improvisation and side support and ask yourself “Do I want to add this because it’s going to help the site’s/app’s users OR am I doing it so I look good and because I’m keeping up with the current trends for the sake of keeping up with the current trends”.

Yes and,


Digital Summit Atlanta Reflections – Part 1

I attended Digital Summit Atlanta on May on May 24th and May 25th 2016 and I had a couple of takeaways that I feel relate Improvisation to the land of UX and Design.

The first takeaway was related to the excellent talk given by Austin Knight titled “Design is Not Art”. The original blog post that became the talk is here:

Design is not Art

Austin’s talk went over the key differences between Art and Design but what really caught my “Improviser’s mind” was the last part of the talk that started off by talking about “The Death of the Ego”. And as Austin writes in his original post that lead to his talk…
“While the differences between design and art are interesting, they aren’t the key take-away here. Rather, from my point of view, the most important learning is that ego has no place in design.”
Austin then goes on to talk about the “humble designer” and lists a few things about the humble designer.

  1. Humble designers create things that exist ouside of themselves. The design is about the user, not the designer.
  2. In order to create a product that properly serves its purpose, the design must be adequately informed by outside data. Designers don’t magically create masterpieces; they collect and interpret information that empowers them to create masterpieces. Design is not a talent; it’s a skill.
  3. Designers must leverage creativity in a thoughtful way, so that the design can better serve its purpose. The design should be built with intent; there should be reason and justification behind the decisions made.

All 3 items in the list above most definitely relate to Improvisers and how they approach their work. Improvisers are trained to not have to think but do and not let their egos get in the way. I’d like to relate Austin’s list above to Improvisers and how they work.

  1. Humble improvisers create outside of themselves with their fellow improvisers. The scene is about what’s going on between the characters not what the improviser thinks they need to do to look cool/funny/interesting to the audience.
  2. In order for an improviser to create they need input from their fellow improvisers. Together they build a scene line by line. This is what improvisers are trained to do. Improvisers collect and interpret information so they can add new information and advance the scene in new, interesting and often, unexpected ways.
  3. Improvisers have to be ready to justify new information. Things can happen out of nowhere that can change the dynamic of a scene in an instant. It forces them to be nimble AND creative. However, if they let their ego take over and think that they’re idea is the most important new information will be brushed aside and the new idea offered will never be explored and die.

So improvisers are continually training themselves to be able to let go of their ego. It’s not something we normally think of in our day to day jobs. I’m completely guilty of it too. I’ve worked on wireframes and other designs that I thought were great only to have them picked apart during a review session. Usually when that has happened it’s because I wasn’t thinking as much about the user as I was about how I would want the interface to work.

I believe that all of us working in UX can benefit by making improv exercises a part of our daily routine. They can be included at the start of meetings, just for fun at the end of the work day or send everyone out to classes and bring that new knowledge and mindset back. BUT you have to practice it daily or it won’t become a part of you and how you think, operate and treat other people.

So thank you Austin for your great talk and stressing the importance of trying to be ego free and humble when we do our work.


Yes and,



We Did It!!!

This is a bit belated but THANK YOU to everyone who came out to amUX for our first talk on ImprovUX.

Everyone at the talk was energized and enjoyed the exercises and skills the exercises focused on. We hope all of you had as much fun doing them (in addition to the learning) as we did leading them. I know for sure there will never be any other kitten/otter non-profits created like the ones you all created.

For any of you that didn’t get a picture of it here’s our one and only, easy to remember, super fun slide.


The talk will always be different and will give the attendees a different takeaway every time and that’s what we love the most about adding Improvisation to the UX equation.

We look forward to doing the talk again soon!


Yes and,

Mike & Jim


Some “Action Shots”