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Design Improv
A service for improvisational interaction designthe

Author: Nathan Waterhouse (United Kingdom)
Supervisors: Neil Churcher, Heather Martin and Philip Tabor

Idea/problem/context Interaction designers, for example IDEO and the Interval Corporation, have devised theatre-like performances to generate and develop ideas for approaching any problem area which a potential product might tackle. These performances, sometimes involving other participants like clients or users, aim to explore unknown territory rather than (as in client presentations) communicate known proposals. So they must have some unscripted, spontaneous elements.

What it is Design Improv is a service delivering improvisational techniques to design companies. It uses a kit of instruction cards (suggesting improv games and techniques) and props (like Velcro shapes and mats) which aid the invention, testing and development of interaction design-related products and services. It draws on improv methods used previously in the design context and the performing arts, and on improv experiments devised and conducted by its author.

How it works The service, represented by a facilitator (or ‘master of ceremonies’), is typically hired just for a short time during a project, particularly when large groups, perhaps including users and customers, need speedy coordination. The Design Improv kit provides a game ‘platform’ allowing designers and non-designers to ‘speak designthe same language’ and address the problem area through lightly structured and relatively uninhibited role-play and co-invention. The game’s first stage teaches the rules of improvisation; later stages (six in all) each aid a particular design stage (inception, idea-generation, user testing, and so on).

Value/Potential The results are significant for interaction design as a considered discipline because in some respects, which this project analyses, the interaction between participants in improv sessions resembles the semi-unscripted interaction between the user and the designed product or service. So this thesis proposes improv as not only a design tool but also a general indicator of how people interact with material or immaterial artifacts and, through these artifacts, with other people.

download QuickTime Movie (video by Andrea Pierri) - 2.36 MB


Nathan Waterhouse
2005 graduate
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