10 Ways Stand Up Comedy and Product Design are Alike

We have a thing at the office called betterment Wednesday. On betterment Wednesdays, we do things that make us better people. For my first betterment project, I decided I wanted to become a standup comedian. (Weird, I know.) I took a course on weekends, attended Open Mics on Thursdays, and wrote jokes on Wednesdays.

I chose this project because; I thought Standup comedy would make me a better public speaker. And it did. I started to express my thoughts in a clearer way. I never thought doing comedy would make me a better product designer.

(This post is going to be jam packed of similes and analogies. Stay with me.)

Jokes are like Features

A standup routine is made up of a series of jokes. Products are composed of a series of features. Comic routines, products, and chains are only as good as their weakest link. You may have the best primary functionality ever, but crappy support features will cause user attrition (e.g. Bad On-boarding Experience). Same goes for jokes — silence is your worst enemy.

Remember: A feature is only a tiny piece of your experience.

Guidelines & Structure

You wouldn’t think they do, but comedy and product design have structure.

Jokes stick to a Setup-Punchline-Tag structure. Product design follows mental models and patterns. Both jokes and apps are about user flow.

A setup answers what, why, who how and when in the same way a landing page does. A standup joke has an identifiable observation followed by a reflection. Explaining your premise avoids confusion. In product design, premises are predefined design conventions like “underlined words” to represent a link.

Fun fact: There are 11 basic types of punchlines.

Everyone Can Do It

You don’t have to be Louis CK or Steve Jobs to write a joke or to design a product. There are techniques that help you come up with ideas and observations. I think Tom Kelley said it best: “It turns out that creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few.” As long as you have a method and you remain consistent you should be able to do it.

True, some people will be better at it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This is me doing it.

Stay True to Yourself

You are starting a digital product because you have a vision. Stay true to that vision. It is actually easy to get laughs with potty humor and dick jokes. It’s easy to make money with porn and drugs. But is that really what you want to do? You are launching a product because you want to change the world.

Don’t settle for easy money or cheap laughs.

It’s Still an Artform

There is a process, But that doesn’t guarantee every single thing you do will be great. In fact, most of the things you’ll do will suck. Our first approximations are mostly crap, but we work on them until we achieve something we are happy with. In the end, your product will be scrutinized and valued by people.

Better results working with a team

Comedians do a thing called “Workshop”. Digital product designers do “Sprints”. Workshops and Sprints are get-togethers in which professionals (& Guests) discuss premises/problems they want to solve. These get-togethers will lead to a great number of potential solutions.

Both of these reunions are based on the premise that 2 people think better than 1.

Your Comedy isn’t for everyone

Unless you are Seinfeld, not everyone is going to love you. And that’s OK! Your product and your comedy are not for everyone. Writing people-pleasing comedy and designing people-pleasing products will lead to an Ok experience, but you want GREATNESS. Software for everyone leads to bloated services.

Refine based on your audience

It’s a common practice in standup comedy to try jokes at “Open Mics”. At an “Open Mic”, you will test new jokes and refine old jokes. You get on stage knowing your jokes are bad, but you are still trying to make them better. Digital product design has Google Analytics and Intercom.

Even if you are a natural, you need guidance.

This point is self-explanatory. Being a natural with a method will lead to something even better.

It’s ok to solve the same problem differently

Most comedians have the same themes; but, they all talk about them differently. Digital products solve similar problems also. (Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram).There’s enough room in the market for everyone. You just have to find what makes you different and market it.

The Tag on the Punchline

(This is a Callback Joke).

It took me a couple of hours to realize product design and stand up comedy share a lot of similarities. Design and comedy are iterative processes that require validation from customers.

Emotionally speaking, design and comedy make you feel vulnerable. You have to show your work to strangers; they will set it’s worth.

But more importantly, I think both of them are rewarding and I can’t see myself doing anything else.

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