29 Sep 2023 Frank Spillers


Learn improv: get more from AI

Learn improv: get more from AI

Summary: Generative AI improvises responses based on the nuanced interpretation of the intent of your request. By learning improvisation, you can become a stronger UX actor while “outperforming” to get better outputs from AI.

Upcoming workshop: January 12th 2024: Improv skills for UX

Improvisation skills can make you a better UX designer or communicator and help you get more from AI interactions. AI, particularly generative AI, relies on nuanced interpretations of user intent to provide meaningful responses. One unconventional yet highly effective way to improve your AI interactions and become a better UX designer or communicator is by learning the art of improvisation.

Improv is about responding fluidly to new information and scenarios. By being sharp in your improv skills, you can stay ahead of unexpected responses from AI interactions.

Beyond enhancing AI interactions, learning improv can significantly boost your communication skills, a crucial asset in UX design and various professional settings.

Benefits of improv 

Let’s back up and review three benefits of improv as a 21st-century skill:

1. Confidently influence and express ideas

Improv helps individuals become more confident communicators and storytellers. By practicing spontaneous ‘pivoting’ and acceptance of anything that comes your way, you develop better influencing skills when working on UX projects or collaborating with colleagues.

2. Actively collaborate with stakeholders

In UX work, collaboration is huge. Improv teaches you how to bypass resistance from stakeholders by becoming a better listener and responding more strategically to offer more healthy collaboration.

3. Unexpectedly embrace ambiguity

Improv equips you with the ability to handle unexpected situations with grace and creativity. This skill is invaluable in UX, especially Service Design, where ambiguity is the default for navigating unexpected challenges.

Understanding the link between AI and Improvisation: By improving your improv skills, you can better guide and coach generative AI queries to get richer results, save time, and spark more creative output.

Sidenote: Ironically, generative AI is terrible at doing actual improv, however it’s conversational ‘on demand’ style uses improvisation. You can use this to your advantage.

Why this matters:

Generative AI like ChatGPT, requires human coaching. AI systems respond in real-time based on user inputs by generating an improvisational dance between the user and the large language model (LLM). AI performs better if your nudge offers intent and context clues. For example, “suggest tasty fruits” will yield different results to “suggest fruits lowest in sugar.”  The more you can quickly pivot your inputs and reactions or redirections of AI, the more powerful and valuable the results will be. If the results you get from ChatGPT are off-track, it’s time to improvise!

By pivoting quickly, you can avoid useless or nonsensical AI interactions.

Adapting in real-time

Improvisation involves on-the-spot creativity and adaptation to changing scenarios. By honing your improv skills, you become more adept at adapting to unexpected AI responses and guiding the conversation towards the desired outcome. Without the “quick pivot” of improv, your AI outputs can run wild, wasting your time and leading you astray.

Improv can improve how you do UX, too. This topic will be covered in the Improv for UX Masterclass specifically.

User advocacy and Human-Centered Design

UX designers are tasked with creating interfaces that cater to users’ needs and expectations. To do this effectively, designers must understand user motivations and pain points and communicate those to stakeholders. To do this, UX and Service Designers fight for users’ rights, called User Advocacy. Improv emphasizes active listening and responding, a vital skill for managing stakeholders and advocating while facilitating UX processes.

How Improv techniques build better AI interactions

Improv helps UX collaboration with stakeholders and can be used to get the most out of your AI interactions. How?

1. Develop Active Listening

In doing improv, active listening is paramount. Similarly, “listening” carefully to the system’s responses (i.e. how it responded to you) is essential when interacting with AI. Generative AI offers co-creation, so you can pick up on nuances and adjust your queries accordingly. This way, active listening fosters a more meaningful and productive exchange with AI.

2. Embrace Uncertainty

Improv thrives on uncertainty, as performers don’t have scripts to follow. Similarly, AI interactions can be unpredictable. Instead of fearing uncertainty, embrace it. Use improv techniques like “Yes, and…” to build on AI responses, even if they deviate slightly from your expectations. Let AI expand your limited vision but work with it in a more fluid dance like improv actors or comedians do.

3. Build a Collaborative Story

Improv often involves collaborative storytelling. Apply this concept to AI interactions by engaging in collaborative narrative building. For example, if you’re using AI for a creative project, shape a cooperative storytelling process where you and the AI collaboratively shape a captivating narrative. This approach can result in more engaging and coherent AI-generated content.

Go deeper: Learn Improv for UX in this month’s Improv for UX UXIC Masterclass.


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The UX Inner Circle is a professional learning community with a program of monthly events for UX researchers and designers, managers, and directors practicing UX and Service Design. We are a small group of currently 50 UX and Service Designers, Directors, and Researchers currently 100% working in UX. Attendees come from orgs like Harvard, Google, IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, Capital One, US Bank, healthcare, government, and non-profits. So why join?

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About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

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