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Improv Meets Design: The Art Of Spontaneity

the words "yes and" in red on a yellow background

Improvised design might sound like a paradox. After all, design is often seen as a meticulous process, with every pixel and Pantone curated with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. But what if we told you that the quick-witted, on-the-fly genius of an improv artist can be just what the design doctor ordered? It’s time to pull back the curtain and explore how incorporating improvisational techniques can foster better collaboration and create magic in the design space.


Let’s demystify the notion that improv is just for laughs.

Improvisation (improv) is defined as a creative act composed without prior thought (Gerber, 2007). It is an art of adaptability, quick thinking, and, most importantly, embracing the unexpected.


Designers, often faced with the challenge of a client saying, “I’ll know what I like when I see it,” can take a leaf out of the improv playbook. Improv encourages open communication, spontaneous idea generation, and a collaborative spirit where team members build on each other’s ideas. It’s about spinning gold out of the “what ifs” and the “why nots,” leading to innovative solutions and a more dynamic design process.


But how exactly can improv benefit your design team?

Yes And

One pillar of improv is the “Yes, And” principle (Fey, 2013). It is the art of accepting an idea and building upon it, rather than shutting it down faster than a pop-up ad. In improvisation, it is believed that more progress is achieved when we build on each other’s contributions (Johnstone, 1989). Imagine applying this principle in design meetings. Instead of batting down an unconventional idea, you roll with it, adding your own twist to see where it goes. “Yes, And” encourages collaboration and innovation, where ideas bounce around like a pinball machine on a caffeine high.


Fail Cheerfully

Improv artists know that not every line is going to be a zinger, and that’s okay. They aim to “fail cheerfully” and move on as it is a necessary obstacle to learning (Gerber, 2007). Similarly, a popular design mantra encourages us design junkies to “fail early, fail often,” but this is easier said than done (Gerber, 2007). As designers, we regularly find ourselves paralyzed by the need for perfection. But what if we sketched with the bravado of an improv comedian – bold, unafraid, and ready to crumple up the paper and start anew at the hint of a hiccup? Think of each misstep as a stepping stone to a design that truly resonates.


Spontaneous Creativity

Spontaneity is the name of the game when it comes to theatrical improvisation. Individuals must react to the unexpected and spur-of-the-moment stimuli provided by other actors and audience members (Gerber, 2007). This kind of spontaneous creativity can be a goldmine for designers too. Designers can benefit from embracing unexpected changes or ideas that arise during the design process. This could mean pivoting from an original concept when a sudden burst of inspiration strikes, leading to more original and wildly creative outcomes.


Explore and Experiment

Design, like improv, is about exploration, experimentation, and sometimes, just winging it with style. The next time you’re stuck on a design problem, channel your inner improv artist. Who knows, you might just find that your best work comes when you’re slightly off-script.

Interested in learning more about how exactly your design team can implement improv principles into your creative process?


But don’t take our word for it! Our friend, multi-talented artist, and skilled improv performer Justin Green, recently shared the art of spontaneity with us in a podcast episode. He details how it can be a powerful tool for collaboration and sheds light on hilarious and meaningful experiences that shape his performances.


Dive into the spontaneous world of Justin Green, where improv is a canvas for creativity & growth and how life lessons can oftentimes be hidden in unscripted moments. Listen to Episode 1: Mermaid Pants in Mom's Basement with Justin Green on the Artist 10 Podcast.

Author: Hannah Heine

Editor: Jenn Hart

Associate Editor: Kate Frabbiele



Gerber, Elizabeth. (2007). Improvisation principles and techniques for design. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings. 1069-1072. 10.1145/1240624.1240786.


Fey, Tina. 2013. Bossypants. New York, NY: Little, Brown & Company.


Johnstone, K. Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. Methuen Publishing, London, 1989.


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