5 Improv Exercises Every Designer Should Know

5 Improv Exercises Every Designer Should Know

Using improv to get in the mood to collaborate
Neil Stevenson
Anna Silverstein
Yoshi Yoshitani
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More and more designers are using improv games in order to get groups in the mood to collaborate. There are many of these games, taught at places like Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. We picked five simple favorites.

1. To create a happy group atmosphere… Hello & High Five

Everyone walks around the room in random directions. At intervals, the facilitator instructs them to interact with a person they are passing. At first, the instructions are to say, "Hello." Then, it’s a high five. And finally, it's a compliment about some aspect of their appearance. Even though you know it’s an exercise, it’s impossible to receive greetings and compliments and not feel a little better about life.

2. To get people into an agreement mindset… Yes, Let’s!

Stand in a circle. Someone suggests an activity by saying, “Let’s,” followed by a verb. For example, “Let’s ski!”

Everyone else loudly agrees together: “Yes! Let’s ski!”

Then, everyone mimes that activity, until someone else suggests a new activity. After a few minutes of this, it's much easier to hear ideas from other people and greet them with encouragement and agreement.

3. To stretch capacity for attention and focus… Red Ball

Stand in a circle. (Have you noticed that improv involves a lot of standing in circles?) Pick someone in the group, look them in the eye, say, “Red ball,” and mime tossing them the ball. They say, “Thank you, red ball,” to acknowledge receipt and then throw it to someone else. Once the group has the hang of this, you can add a green ball and blue ball. To make things interesting, these balls can be different sizes and weights. (They could even be a feral cat or a baby.) Pretty soon, the group will be highly alert to one another and focused on cooperating on the task at hand.

4. To free people of their inner censor… Ba Da Da

Everyone in the circle claps to create a beat. The first player says a word to the person next to them. They respond with whatever comes into their head. The entire circle then says both words and then adds, "Ba Da Da” (pronounced in the same rhythm as “potato”). For example, first person: “Crazy.” Second person: “In love.” Everyone: “Crazy in love, ba da da.” Then the second person starts everything again by saying a word to the next person in the circle. By doing everything to a rhythm, people are forced to respond in the moment and not overthink their choices.

5. To get everyone making eye contact and collaborating… Pass the Clap

Look into the eyes of the person next to you and without using words, coordinate so that you both clap together. That person then turns to the next person and does the same. Pretty soon, you’ll have a rhythm going and a clap will move quickly around the circle. See how fast you can go without losing rhythm. If you want to add some challenge, create multiple claps moving simultaneously in different directions around the circle.

Illustrations by Yoshi Yoshitani.

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Neil Stevenson
Neil Stevenson is on a mission to understand creativity and find new ways to enable and encourage it in others. He's particularly interested in how the slowly-evolving human brain interacts with the rapidly-changing tech environment we live in, and the strange and wonderful new behaviors that emerge as a result.
Anna Silverstein
Marketing Lead
A former actor and improviser, Anna lives for moments of hilarious vulnerability and unexpected candor. She finds these daily as mother to her 2-year-old son.
Yoshi Yoshitani
Yoshi Yoshitani is a Designer and Illustrator who unlocks the potential of design and play. When she's not researching the latest video game, she's making work for galleries.

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