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Design Lessons from Kathy Griffin

The Mrs. and I are fans of Kathy Griffin's Bravo TV series My Life on D-List. Partially because my old friend Dennis Hensley appeared on the show in season one (although mysteriously, never since. Is he not one of her "best gays" anymore?)

In any case, watching her prepare and perform her live shows has some interesting process lessons for designers.

  • Know the audience. aka Know the user. Every time Kathy bombs at a gig, it is usually because the audience isn't who she expected them to be. In order to that you need to...
  • Do some research. When Kathy performed in a prison recently, she went there early to meet some of her audience and figure out what their lives were like and she could tailor the jokes appropriately. The lesson for designers is pretty obvious: find out the context and the users.
  • Prototype. When she is in "research mode," Kathy often tests out jokes with the people she meets. She sees how far she can push them and what they are going to laugh at. A small test of a concept goes a long way.
  • Use their language. When she performed at the prison, Kathy learned some of the prison lingo from the convicts, then used them in jokes, especially in her first jokes. They got big laughs and it immediately broke the ice with the audience. She spoke their language and established empathy and showed understanding right from the start. We should do the same: speak the language of our audiences, be they users, marketing, engineering, or business owners.
  • Keep a notebook. Kathy has a spiral-bound notebook she carries around with her and is even onstage with her often. It contains notes and ideas for jokes (I'm guessing) so she can change her show on the fly if necessary. It also (I'm guessing) is where she takes notes on her "culture research" which is really the subject matter from which she spins her shows. Designers (me included) would do well to keep a physical notebook for inspiration and memory refreshers.
  • Tell stories. Kathy onstage is mostly a storyteller, doing long bits on her encounters with celebrities. She does it in a very self-effacing way that puts the audience there in the story with her. Designers too need stories, about the product and about the process they went through to create the
  • Tell the truth. What's funny about Kathy's schtick is that she is often (as cliche as it is) saying the things you might think, but never say out loud. She can be merciless with some of the celebrities she skews, but it works because her observations (and impressions) are so dead-on. Designers should be so fearless in telling truth to power ("This new product idea isn't very good.")

I'm now able to write off my Tivo as a business expense.

Originally posted at Thursday, July 12, 2007 | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)

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