PixelUp: Improvised Design (Collaborative Improv)

I just got back from a 2-week trip to Cape Town, South Africa (and a short stint in London.) In Cape Town, I had the privilege to present Improvised Design to a room of 150+ participants at PixelUp. Special thanks to Farai Madzima and the organizers for inviting me.

Me, presenting at Pixel Up, explaining Improv is Reacting. Image via @warriorbunny on Twitter. Note the Edit mode for Powerpoint thanks to technology hiccups.

Key Takeaways

Overall, the talk was well received. Without a formal Q&A, the conference encouraged 1:1 conversations between attendees and speakers. One great conversation is documented in my Q&A Thread. Instead of focussing on my talk, I want to share some reflections on the conference as a whole.

Professionalism and Technology

One of my notes in Collaborative Improv is that technology is not your friend. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. In my case, despite a tech-check, my laptop did not connect properly to the projector and I was without Presenter View. Fear not, I minimized PowerPoint’s edit controls, the ribbon, the sidebar, the notes, and the show went on!

We hoped that was the worst of it. But the next three presentations, Cape Town received some much-needed rain and the building switched between the grid and generators. The next three folks dealt with mic-booms, black-out projectors, and overall a challenging environment.

And everyone handled it perfectly. The organizers scrambled to get a consistent power source. The presenters seamlessly continued their conversations, having mastered their content and the story they want to tell. Pixel Up is by far one of the most professional environments I’ve had the opportunity to share my work at, and credit to everyone for conquering the challenges posed to us all.

Key Takeaway 1: Chaos and Failure

Without going into each talk individually, I identified four key themes about the conference. The first, Chaos and Failure.

Many talks, my own included, addressed the notion of Failure in our process. We need to embrace failure. Accept it as part of our process. And remember the human element of our work and ourselves.

Key Takeaway 2: Design Systems and Tools

Design patterns. Design systems. Design Tools. Don’t get bogged down in the tools, but focus on the process. And design systems are here to stay. They save time, they save energy. They’re a superpower!

After my time in Cape Town, I visited our UK office in London. There, I met a colleague focussed on Design Ops and creating central repositories for our team’s tools. The catch? We have our own, parallel, track happening in the states. This was the most fortuitous meeting in London, and now we have built relationships to coordinate our efforts across the pond.

Key Takeaway 3: Real Content


Key Takeaway 4: Organizational Growth

A big focus of Pixel Up explored the human side of critique and fostering environments for creativity. Along with Key Takeaway 1, organizational growth focussed heavily on considering the human element of our process and our work over time.


A huge thanks to Eva-Lotta Lamm for contributing a talk on sketching and for sketchnoting throughout the event. Sketchnotes from my talk are below:

Sketchnotes courtesy of Eva-Lotta Lamm via Twitter

What’s Next

Settling back into Philly life, my indie team, The Flood, has our next performance in the Philadelphia area at The Grape Room on Tuesday, April 16. Feel free to check us out!

Regarding The Book

A quick note on the book, I have two peer edits in the rear view mirror and a lot of editing to handle. The layout, illustrations, and multimedia are all in various stages of pre-production and exploration while the content gets refined.

Stay Informed! Subscribe to the newsletter and be the first to know when the book goes live!

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