The difference between a good designer and a great designer lies in the way a problem is approached, answered and reflected. A great designer comes up with the greatest possible outcome, despite imposed limitations; they are innovative and adaptable. A great designer can put themselves into the shoes of their user; they listen, observe and have empathy. In order to do this, designers needs to think more like he/she did as a child before they began to be taught how to think.
In his TedX talk, George Land discusses why we “unlearn creativity.” When a test measuring aptitude for creativity and innovation was administered to 5 year olds, 98% of them tested at the genius level. When tested 5 years later, only 30% of the same group tested at this level. 15 years later, only 12% and at adulthood just a mere 2% of the population tests at a genius level for creativity and innovation. Why is this happening? Over the years, the way we have been taught has whittled away our creative thought. We need to change this because as Einstein pointed out, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
As designers, creativity and innovation should be at the core of our skill set. After all, it is our job to create; to look at a problem and to come up with new ideas and solutions to that problem. In order to tap into that inner 5 year old when our creativity was plentiful, we need to re-teach ourselves.
Techniques used in improvisation can help re-train our brains to be that creative 5 year old again. Improv helps us to “get out of our own head, to think less and feel more.” - osho. I often marvel at a child's ability to walk up to another child on the playground and just start playing, creating, listening and observing. Nothing outside that world matters to them at that moment. They are completely present, uninhibited, not afraid that their new friend will think their idea is stupid or silly.
With improvisation, we train our brains to be more innovative, empathetic, engaged, collaborative and vulnerable. At first this can seem uncomfortable because for years we have been trained not to make mistakes or act on instinct. But very quickly it will feel liberating and will open us up to an entire new world of possibilities. As a member of a design team, this will be what sets you apart from other designers. If your team understand and practices the basic rules of improvisation, all of your brains will together begin to light up with creative and collaborative thinking. Imagine the possibilities!
A few years ago, UX designer, Karen Reilly (who also happens to be an improviser) took an improv workshop on character building and light bulbs went off as she realised what an amazing tool this could be for design teams. It was then that she created her workshop, Improvise to Empathise. She has been running her workshop for design teams, transforming and inspiring them using improvisation techniques that enhance confidence, idea generation, listening, observation and empathy skills.