Ryo
Product Designer

POCKET IMPROV

An improv audience in your pocket

This is an app that I designed, developed, and deployed to App Stores.

OVERVIEW

Pocket Improv is a tool to help improvisers practice their skills without requiring them to have an audience who are able & willing to give suggestions.

Problem: Improv students who want more time to practice are unable to do so in small groups (or alone), because improv exercises/activities mostly require a third-party "audience" to make suggestions.

Solution: This app enables users to generate suggestions at any moment, without requiring involvement from another person.

Timeframe: This project was done only on evenings and weekends. I spent one month on research and design, and two months on coding.

My Role:

  • UX research & UX design

  • Mobile development (I coded it with React Native)

  • Managing a visual designer, whose role it was to improve the aesthetic

Tools:

  • Pen & Paper — Initial sketches

  • Sketch — All of the UI and logo designs

  • React Native — The mobile development framework I used to code the app

RESEARCH
MSc Dissertation

MSc Dissertation

Background Research

While improv techniques are mainly applied to entertainment, there is a growing industry for improv consultants, who go to organizations and run practical improv workshops/activities. 

In fact, in 2016, I investigated the effects of such techniques in the workplace, finding such benefits as increased creativity, improved communication skills, and improved team cohesion. This became the basis of my 2016 master's dissertation, as well as the impetus for creating this app.

Empathy Map

Empathy Map

User Research & Empathy Map

I first reviewed my dissertation research notes, which included a survey with 72 respondents (with varying levels of improv experience), 4 interviews with improv consultants, and 4 interviews with former students of mine, to whom I taught improv. To supplement that earlier research, I interviewed 3 experienced improvisers until I was able to create an empathy map based on the data, which helped guide my designs.

Experienced improvisers tended not to have much desire for extra practice outside their normal improv schedule — which was usually once or a few times per week; but newer students who were eager to learn more found it hard to improve their skills outside their lessons. This is in fact one of Elle's most prominent traits: the motivation to learn more beyond the classroom setting.

IDEATION

User Stories

Since this was intended to be a free app with a very simple UX, it was not necessary to devise any elaborate requirements. I created only 4 user stories based on the user research, and determined that they should all be included in the app. The user stories were meant to be from the user's own words, in order to help convey their perspective.

Elle says:

  1. "As a student, I want to be able to practice anywhere, so that I can learn more outside my scheduled lessons."

  2. "As a performer, I want to be able to get a suggestion immediately, so the flow of a scene isn’t interrupted."

  3. "As an improviser, I want to access various types of prompts quickly, because sometimes I don’t know what type of prompt I want until the moment I need it."

  4. "As a newbie, I want to start my practice by jumping into a warm-up, so I can get into the creative improv mindset more easily."

Pocket Improv

Sketching

The four user stories enabled me to focus on certain requirements:

  • The app must be a mobile app that works offline (user story #1)

  • The app must have prompts that could be cycled through quickly, such as by a single gesture (#2)

  • Users must be able to select different types of prompts depending on the activity they were doing (#3), 

  • The app should facilitate warm-up activities (#4)

I began sketching out some concepts on paper.

Wireframe iterations

Wireframe iterations

Wireframes & Validation

Guerilla user testing was done to get quick qualitative data on each wireframe iteration. Seven tests were done on the wireframes; not including one with an experienced improviser, who tested an early wireframe and the developed product.

Key findings:

  • Users prefer larger text on fewer buttons, rather than having many buttons that take a while to sift through 

  • Users prefer a combination of icon + text for each button, which makes it easier to find the specific prompts they want to use

These suggestions were implemented in later iterations.

Since the app only needed basic usability testing, the main metric I cared about was whether people could easily figure out how to select & deselect buttons. Therefore, I told them to do a specific task (i.e., selecting a specific button), and if it took longer than 15 seconds, I considered it a failure. Otherwise, it was considered a pass. Fortunately, the iterations seem to have made the task more efficient for users.

Pocket Improv
Pocket Improv

Visual Design

The app was intended to look fun and casual, so I wanted to use bold colours that stand out. I used coolors to experiment with the colour palette, and kept different shades of purple, green, and orange.

We decided to use the flat design aesthetic for the buttons, and I started experimenting with appropriate icons for each category. They were implemented in the high-fidelity mockups used for guiding the UI development, along with a new menu button for the drawers.

Pocket Improv

Logo Design

I also experimented with the colour palette to design the materials for the App Store, including the logo. I tried to visually tie together something which embodies the iconic drama masks, conveys that this can be used “on the go” (by showing a mobile device), and makes sense of the name. This is a small sample of my logo iterations.

FINAL DESIGNS
App Store listing (under my legal name)

App Store listing (under my legal name)

Takeaways

What I learnt

  • However long you think it will take to release an app... it’ll take longer than that — While the coding itself was predictably time-consuming, I was surprised to see how much additional time and effort it took just to deploy the app to the App Store after I had completed development on it.

  • There’s no right answer for a logo — I spent a lot of time experimenting with designing the logo, largely because it was fun. But ultimately, there is no “right answer” for things like branding, so it's important to focus on the more important areas of the app.

My biggest challenge: I struggled for a while to make a UI that didn't look either too basic, boring, or serious; because the app could have easily become one of those. But the use of bold colours helped set a playful visual tone, as did the background shapes and the unconventional menu button.