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:

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,



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