In improv comedy, there are really only two words that matter: “Yes, and.” You share a premise, form a scene, create a character, and if everything works out right, kill the audience. Then, you try and do it again with another, “Yes, and.”
Before I began developing for iOS, I performed stand-up and improv as a hobby. I never thought “Yes, and” would apply to the development of software and how to work with clients. But, in my best Louis CK voice, “It TOTALLY did.” This essay is about what I learned working with the artists who hired my company to create “A Beautiful Mess,” an app that went to #1 in the App Store 15 hours after its release (it’s still near the top of the app store).
Elsie Larson & Emma Chapman, the creators of the do-it-yourself blog ABeautifulMess.com are amazing at what they do. Over the past six years, their mix of recipes, photography projects, and other fun arts and crafts ideas, have amassed them a following of over 1.5 million visitors per month.
They came to my company with the premise for a “cute photo app that you add little sayings or doodles to your pictures and share them with friends.” I’ll bet no developer reading this has ever seen “doodles” on a requirements document, let alone it being the only requirement on a non-existent requirements document. When we started the project, I immediately reverted to a character I call the “Defensive Developer.” This character says things like, “We need requirements! There’s a ton of photo apps! What if they want to add on things? It could TOTALLY mess up my architecture! I mean we’re building a house here people!” Defensive Developers love the house analogy by the way. Unfortunately, the Defensive Developer shtick gets old. If he were on stage, his four to six minutes would be joyless and painful.
But this was a role I had played before and so sought comfort in what I knew. I was nervous. “What do artists know about software,” I thought. These women make scrapbooks and cupcakes. How could I possibly explain to them a navigation stack or view hierarchy?
Then, I had an epiphany. I realized they had not entered their projects with a complete, omnipotent understanding either. I realized I was discrediting them and their creative process because it was as foreign to me as Object Inheritance was to them. When we’re scared or insecure we tend to say “no” too quickly. “No” is why most of us can’t be improv comics and for that matter, why so many designers and engineers keep churning-out more of the same old tried-and-true work they’ve done for years. “No” is safe, uncreative, and boring.
There are times where “no” is appropriate however. “No” creates a framework through which you can move onto “yes, and”. In fact, you can’t say “yes, and” without starting with “no.” In improve comedy, establishing the premise is how you say “no”. For example, if an improve situation begins with, “You’re a lawyer who’s interviewing for a job,” the comic must go with it. If something occurs outside the constraint, say for example the actor pulls out a stethoscope, the audience will know the premise has been violated. A proper “no” creates the boundaries within which the performer can thrive.
While creating the app for A Beautiful Mess, the period of “no” was brief. The premise of “photo sharing that lets you add texture and content over your photo,” was strong and we went with it. “No” was only used to limit scope and focus the product. “What about a social network of scrapbooks?” — no, that dilutes the product. “What if you could make your own doodle?”– no, that takes away from A Beautiful Mess’s brand. Once we agreed on our basic premise, the process of improvising features and design through “yes, and” was natural.
One particular feature that was internally driven by “yes, and” was what we call our “Intro and Outro” screens. In early versions of the app, the user was dumped into the photo editing view. We needed a way to bookend the creative experience because the user had no real way of knowing what to do next. Users were unsure if they were supposed to select a photo, a background, or just start editing an empty canvas. So we started riffing:
“Can we make it more clear how to get started?” — “Yes, and…”
“Can we make getting started look more like Elsie & Emma’s brand?” — “Yes, and…”
“Can we make the end of the editing experience just as branded and clear?” — “Yes, and…”
“Can you share your creation or start over from the same Outro screen?” — “Yes, and…”
“Can we make the transition from Outro to Intro seamless and one-touch?” — “Yes, and…”
When we were done, we had a clear start and finish to a much better user experience. More importantly, we found our recipe for success.
After a couple months of what became collaborative rifﬁng, requirements emerged, design and development sessions ensued and ultimately, we came out with a beautiful product. In contrast to my Defensive Developers act, a new, much more enjoyable character emerged. He’s much more popular with audiences. People like watching him overcome new challenges. He’s imperfect, flawed, and has a lot to learn, but because he doesn’t get scared and start saying “no”, he gets a lot more laughs.
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- Will Clubhouse be a Habit or Has-Been?
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?