“Could Improv Troupes Become The New Creative Department?”

This is the first of, hopefully, many reviews of articles that mesh the worlds of improvisation and business. The articles may or may not have to do with User Experience and that’s OK. What Jim and I will do with our article reviews is pull out the main improvisational theme being referenced and give another perspective/take on that theme and then relate it to User Experience.

For this review I’ll be going over the article:

“Could Improv Troupes Become The New Creative Department?”

by Will Burns – @WillOBurns

In summary, Burns’ article focuses more on improvisation and how it can be of use in marketing departments, branding and communication to their audiences. There is, according to Burns, a push to make interactions between brands and their audience more real-time. With all of the different channels and platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.) today, the people working in social media for a brand need to be flexible, spontaneous, informative and entertaining.

And that’s where Burns talks about the possibility of having improv comedians becoming the people that are hired to staff “brand teams”. In the article Burns talks about the brand teams being fully briefed on the brand’s identity and then communicating that identity using the real-time platforms for communication. Basically the brand team would channel the brand when interacting in real-time conversations. Burns wraps up the article with this thought:


“As our marketing becomes more real-time and we have less time to think, it’s going to be important that our branding remain just as thoughtful, if not more so.

A few carefully chosen improv comedians might just, well, make up the difference (right on the spot, without even thinking).”


So the main point I take from the article improv-wise is the ability to think on your feet and being able to channel the brand’s identity. For improvisation on stage I relate this to being able to handle any piece of information your scene partner may throw at you and being able to justify it. As well as the ability to create a character and filter all of your thoughts and lines through that character’s point of view.

As an improviser you always have to be ready to change gears and shift your thinking. Improvisers are taught that they need to be ready to drop their idea if another improviser gets their idea out first. The easiest example of this is at the top of a scene when two improvisers take the stage. Both may have an idea for a great opening line but those lines are completely different. Well whichever improviser gets their line out first “wins”. The other improviser needs to completely drop their idea and work with the idea that has been given to them. The improviser needs to hear what the other improviser said, process that information in a very short period of time and then add their own new information to that line. From there both improvisers keep adding information and the conversation builds and the characters, emotions, what’s going on and where the scene is taking place, can all be figured out. Also, the characters points of view can be revealed.

Point of view is huge in improvisation and without it your character really doesn’t have much to go on. The improviser’s lines more often than not end up just being words that don’t add a lot to the scene (to reference Seinfeld you’re in a scene about nothing). However, if the character has a point of view the lines take on more meaning. If a scene is about a father trying to connect with his son at a baseball game the scene will be a lot more interesting if the father’s point of view is being filtered through the lens of baseball being one of the things he truly bonded over with his father when he was growing up. With that point of view the improviser can really add weight to all of his lines as the father. The improvisor can really make the lines have meaning from all the details going on during the game. Then the improvisor can relate those things to how they’ve translated into his character’s life etc. Instead of having no point of view on baseball and just sitting there in the stands talking about the game but not having any emotional investment because there is no point of view. The scene WILL BE BORING.

This makes me think of the really fun exercise and performance game called “Panel of Experts”. Panel of Experts is one of the best examples of filtering through a character’s point of view. The improvisers take the stage as if they’re a panel on a television show. The areas of expertise are given to them by the audience. Then a moderator (another improviser) takes questions from the audience to the panel on anything and everything. The key to this game is that no matter what the question is, the experts answer the question by filtering their answer through their area of expertise. A Plumber would always answer the questions by relating it to a plumbing situation (“Well a bad relationship is like a clogged pipe…”). A computer programmer would relate it to a programming issue (“Love is like an infinite loop that keeps going and going until you overheat and die…”). The great part about the game is you don’t have to be an actual expert you just throw out some terms from the area of expertise and map that onto the answer and it works because it’s coming from the character’s point of view.

So bringing this all back (finally!) to User Experience I see this applying to the area of user research. When creating the personas for who will be using your application it helps to have everyone involved in the persona creation. Let everyone work together to build up the personas. And again here’s where being agile and nimble and accepting come into play. Together the group will, more than likely, build a more accurate persona than one person sitting in their cube on their own. The persona will have details that allow for the entire group creating them to get what the point of view of that persona is and how it will relate to the application. And because everyone was involved in the creation there is a shared understanding among the team of who the persona is and what drives them.

And if you have the point of view of the persona, what drives them and why they do things, then you’ll be able to create better user stories, user journeys, user workflows, empathy maps etc. All because when you’re writing them you’ll be writing them with the improviser’s mindset of “I need to filter all the information I’m creating THROUGH the point of view of this persona”. And with better designed user journeys, user workflows, empathy maps etc. the rest of the team working on things from information architecture, interaction design, visual design etc. will be able to do their jobs better as well.

I hope this post is helpful to your UX work and a big THANK YOU to Will Burns for his article which inspired this post!

Until next time/post!
Yes and,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.