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“Yes, And…”: Stealing The Rules Of Improv To Design Great Customer Experiences

Like improv, experience design is an action sport, best done by a committed and crazy band of folks who are purposefully creating the new. And like improv, experience design can be delightful for the creators and the audience when it’s done well. So get on your feet and get started on improving your brand’s experience.

Brand perceptions are built on reactions to experiences with a brand. As such, changing the experience is a powerful way of changing
brand perceptions and behaviors. Although the phrase “experience design” has
traditionally been applied to digital experiences, the practice can be applied
much more broadly. Somewhat still in its infancy, designing experiences can be
a daunting undertaking as it can encompass so much. Many don’t know where
to start and lack the framework to even think about how an experience can be
better. A few basic “rules” of improv can help as a starting place for
beginning experience designers.

Practicing improv is a great way to learn how to think on
your feet, be flexible, work collaboratively with others–all practices
critical to experience design. Some traditional “rules” of improv are useful in
the context of designing compelling consumer experiences:

  1. Don’t
    Deny
      In improv, this means
    don’t disregard premise, no matter how outrageous. If someone says “The sky is a
    crazy color of green today,” as a partner your goal is to build on that not
    shut it down by saying “No it’s not…it’s blue.” In experience design, you
    can’t start by denying what could be: “We can’t change the check-in process
    because…,” for instance. For a great new customer experience to come to
    life, it will have to break some of the conventions of the current
    experience. Make sure you’re open, especially at the beginning of a
    process, to accept what may be an outrageous premise or idea.

  2. Listen,
    Watch and Concentrate
       Improv
    requires everyone to be paying attention to what’s said, what’s unsaid,
    how someone is standing or moving, what their expression is. Anything can be fodder for where to take the scene. It’s the same in
    experience design. Sitting back, watching, listening and
    concentrating on how people are presently experiencing the brand (while
    leaving yourself open to the outrageous) can identify moments where the
    experience could be improved. Thoughtful watching (combined with asking
    “Why?”) is perhaps the most powerful tool in experience design.

  3. Be
    Specific
       In an improv scene,
    details are the building blocks for the continuing story. Saying “That’s a
    pretty dog” is less useful than saying “That’s a pretty Pit Bull. But why
    is he dressed like a pirate?” It’s easy to imagine how to react to the
    second statement because of its specificity. It’s the same with experience
    design. Greater specificity as to what exactly needs to be changed (based
    on your thoughtful watching) is the difference between “Make the check-out
    experience faster” and “Make the check-out experience faster by SMSing
    guests’ bills to their mobile phones.”

  4. Change,
    change, change
       A powerful improv
    scene is all about change. Where the scene starts and where it ends is
    usually where the humor, tension, and interest come from. In experience
    design, there is always something to be improved. Saying “New and
    Improved!” without being new and improved is worse than doing
    nothing at all.

  5. Get
    It On Its Feet
       Improv is not
    sitting around thinking up clever ideas…it’s about being on your feet actively discovering clever ideas. Experience design must move from the planning stage to the
    prototyping stage quickly. Rather than sitting in a conference room
    imaging how people will react to a redesigned customer experience, get out
    into the world and prototype it! Cobble it together with shoestrings and
    masking tape, ask real customers to participate and interact, then watch
    and learn.

Like improv, experience design is
an action sport, best done by a committed and crazy band of folks who are
purposefully creating the new. And like improv, experience design can be
delightful for the creators and the audience when it’s done well. So get on
your feet and get started on improving your brand’s experience.

[Image: Flickr user 2N Improv]

About the author

Russ is an expert on brands and sustainability, and currently serves as Global Director, Strategy and Insights for Siegel+Gale. Since becoming a marketing professional, Russ’s focus has been helping companies across the globe deliver remarkably clear and unexpectedly fresh brand experiences.

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