Saturday, November 13, 2004

Done any good improv lately?

Last weekend, I attended a performance by the outstanding BATS Improv company in San Francisco. It is always a delight to watch the members of this company get inside the heads and the experience of multiple characters so quickly, and to interact meaningfully and fluidly in those roles with others, without benefit of either script or rehearsal.

Have you seen any good improv lately?

Have you DONE any good improv lately?

I'm sure you have tried to put yourself into the "shoes" or heads of potential users or customers, in an attempt to figure out what they want, what they think, how they might react, what they might experience, etc. But few people fully employ improv in this effort, though role playing has been advocated and effectively used in this context for many years.

For example, IDEO has asked all sorts of people engage in role playing as part of "experience prototyping" (see Buchenau & Fulton Suri, 2000), and employ it from the earliest stages of design and throughout the entire design process (see Simsarian, 2003). They use it to help teams develop a shared understanding of existing experiences and use contexts, explore and evaluate design ideas, and communicate ideas to others.

Last month, Steve Portigal had a CHIFOO (Computer-Human Interaction Forum Of Oregon) audience in Portland engage in improv and drew important parallels between the rules of improv and the rules of good ethnographic research.

And there is much about the rules of improv that can be applied to facilitating collaboration in the workplace. As described on the website of Progettoratto Compagnia di Improvvisazione Teatrale (based in Rome), the rules of improv are about creating a solid work group -- requiring the application of knowledge, attention, listening, not prevailing on others, never saying "no," and accepting.

Have you done any good improv lately?

Improv classes are offered by lots of improv companies, community colleges, university extension programs, etc. Some improv companies are willing to teach their classes in your business or can come to engage in or facilitate role playing at different points during your product conceptualization and design process.

Readings (all but Portigal available in ACM's Digital Library):
  1. Buchenau, M. & Fulton Suri, J. Experience prototyping. DIS 2000 Proceedings, pp. 424-433.
  2. Portigal, S. Whose line is it anyway: Innovation, ethnography, and improv. CHIFOO (Portland, Oregon), October 2004.
  3. Sato, S. & Salvador, T. Playacting and focus troupe: Theater techniques for creating quick, intense, immersive, and engaging focus group sessions. interactions, September-October 1999, pp. 35-41.
  4. Simsarian, K. T. Take it to the next stage: The roles of role playing in the design process. CHI 2003 Adjunct Proceedings, pp. 1012-1013.
  5. Svanaes, D. & Seland, G. Putting the users center stage: Role playing and low-fi prototyping enable end users to design mobile systems. CHI 2004 Proceedings, pp. 479-486.