Coming up with good ideas is a funny old game! Dr Gillian Hatcher from the University of Strathclyde presents a compelling case for the value of improv in the creative design process.


When we think of creativity, we often think of it as something magical, that some people are just born with. But actually, anyone can be creative if they’re given the right tools and the right environment to work in.

Designers are a group of people who need to find ways to work together to generate creative ideas. According to INNOVATE UK, one of the key challenges for improving design culture across UK businesses is the need for design teams to ‘step beyond their comfort zone, embrace new possibilities, and adopt new ways of thinking’.

Another group of people who need to be creative are comedians. Their job is all about making unique observations, surprising connections, and finding new ways to make their audience laugh. And if you think about it, a funny joke is a lot like an innovative product— novel, surprising and satisfying. Humour in general has long been associated with creativity. Studies have shown that when we are amused we relax, we lower our inhibitions and our problem-solving abilities improve.

Our research at the University of Strathclyde is exploring how elements of humour could be applied to creative idea generation in the early stages of the design process, when divergent thinking is most valued. We wanted to find out if some of the techniques used by comedians could help design teams to break down boundaries, reveal new insights and view the design problem from different perspectives.

In particular, we’ve been applying some of the techniques used in improvised comedy (or ‘improv’). Improv is a style of comedy in which the setting, characters, dialogue –everything– is created entirely in the moment. It promotes spontaneity, teamwork and idea-building in an uninhibited yet structured atmosphere. We’ve found that when designers employ similar techniques to generate ideas, they are able to get out of their comfort zones, work more collaboratively as a team and generate more divergent solutions to design problems.

Get involved

We are hosting a free workshop on 5 May as part of the University’s ‘Engage with Strathclyde’ week. This is an opportunity to learn more about our exciting new approach to creative idea generation; and to join a discussion on the value of humour, playfulness and improvisation in the design process.

Practitioners from any creative or design-related sector are invited to attend. For more information and to register, please visit the event web page.


Look-out for more posts from Engage with Strathclyde participants on the Glasgow City of Science and Innovation Blog and follow them on Twitter @EngageStrath