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Table of Contents

  • How To Use This Book
  • Section 1 – So What is Improv
    • Defining Improv
  • Section 2 – Rules of Improv, Understanding the Basics
    • Rule 1 – Everything is True
    • Rule 2 – Don’t Force Funny
    • Rule 3 – Failure is OK
    • Put it to Action: Practical Activities
  • Section 3 – Rules of Improv, Evolving the Fundamentals
    • Rule 4 – Listen to the Scene
    • Rule 5 – Support Your Fellow Players
    • Rule 6 – Location, Location, Location
    • Put it to Action: Practical Activities
  • Section 4 – Rules of Improv, Escalating and Elevating
    • Rule 7 – Raise the Stakes
    • Rule 8 – Yield to the Strongest Offer
    • Rule 9 – Remember Everything
    • Put it to Action: Practical Activities
  • Section 5 – Applying Improv
    • On Callbacks & Game
    • Structuring Improv & Applying It

How To Use This Book

Who Should Read This Book?

This book is intended for anyone who works in a team. As a user experience (UX) designer, I define a team as any group of designers, developers, project (or account managers) and the client or internal stakeholders invested in a project’s success. Given the collaborative nature of product design and development, I imagine many picking up this book fit into one of the above skill sets.

Thinking more broadly this is intended to support both managers and team members when collaborating and supporting one another.

What’s In This Book?

Section 1 – What is Improv

We’ll start by defining what improvisation is, and more importantly what it is not. We’ll talk about some common applications and hint at how it applies to everyday life. There are a number of common misconceptions about improv, such as the need to be funny or clever. We’ll start drawing parallels from improv to collaboration and how we can work together.

Section 2 – Rules of Improv, Understanding the Basics

While a member of No Parking Players, an improv troupe at Carnegie Mellon University, I learned some improvisation rules. While these vary by theater, they are a good baseline introducing the mindset of improvisation while drawing parallels to product design such as supporting our teammates and having an open mind.

Section 2 introduces the first three Rules of Improv:

  • Rule 1 – Everything is True
  • Rule 2 – Don’t Force Funny
  • Rule 3 – Failure is OK

Section 3 – Rules of Improv, Evolving the Fundamentals

After establishing a baseline vocabulary for improvisation and how it parallels design, we want to build on the fundamentals for a more comprehensive experience. The basics free us of our inner critic. Evolving our skills includes actively listening, supporting our teammates, and exploring details through the following rules:

  • Rule 4 – Listen to the Scene
  • Rule 5 – Support Your Fellow Players
  • Rule 6 – Location, Location, Location

Section 4 – Rules of Improv, Elevating & Escalating

The final three rules take our established baseline and elevate us to the next level of creativity. These rules are where good improv teams become great and where good product ideas become industry-wide disruptors. This is because teams are behaving for the common good and putting the show, or product’s success, before their own success. The closing rules are:

  • Rule 7 – Raise the Stakes
  • Rule 8 – Yield to the Strongest Offer
  • Rule 9 – Remember Everything

Section 5 – Applying Improv

We’ve defined improvisation and the rules. We’ve talked about how improv parallels collaboration. The final chapters explore some nuances of improv and draws connections to interpersonal interactions with our colleagues.

Section 1, What is Improv

Defining Improv

“What you are about to see is entirely made up on the spot. It has never been seen before, and will never be seen again”

– Abridged welcome to most improv shows

Improvisation is active listening followed by a genuine response. Improvisational theater is when performers create a show, often based on a suggestion from the audience. From there, a show may be a series of individual scenes, known as a montage, or one cohesive story, referred to as narrative improv. A show, or set, may run as brief as 5 minutes or over an hour. Many teams perform in the 20-25-minute range. In order for a show to succeed, all team members must be actively paying attention to what is being said, done, and created.

Articles & Media

Throughout the book, I reference some articles and external voices. Links to specific articles may be found below:

The Improv Network is an avenue to connect with improvisers and instructors from around the globe.

The Applied Improvisation Network is a professional network connecting professionals who bring improvisation into work environments.  

To learn more about some of the anecdotes and references, please refer to the following material:

Working with Judd Apatow on Improv and ‘This is 40’

Milton Glaser: “Do no harm”

Jerry Seinfeld: How to Write a Joke

Sam Hinkie: What Does ‘Trust the Process’ Mean?

Christopher Booker: The Plot Thins, or Are No Stories New?

University of Michigan – LARA

A farmer Shares His Secret For Growing the Best Corn

Discussion Design, Adam Connor & Aaron Irizarry

Alan Cooper – The Origin of Personas


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