Jamming for service design: a playfully serious event | PDD

Jamming for service design: a playfully serious event


on May 4 2011

The field of service design is rapidly gaining its place alongside product design as a wholly important part of enhancing and supporting our lifestyles. While nothing too new in principle, the challenges and ways to approach service design are slightly different from those of product design. Toolkits, methods, ideation, prototyping, testing and release processes do not necessarily faithfully mirror those used to design products. The freshness and fertile nature of this topic, joined with the increased attention paid to realms which intersect private and public sectors are sufficient to gather quite a bit of attention.

So, rather than relaxing at home, my colleague James Steiner and I spent the weekend of the 14th of March in an intentional tour de force to design a service in forty-eight hours. Here is what happened…

Serious  play ? The GSJ (Global Service Jam) is a free yearly event taking place simultaneously in over fifty cities worldwide and is open to anyone who is quick enough to secure a place (no service design experience needed). Locally, participants divide into teams with the goal of designing a new service by Sunday evening. The output is then presented to all the other local teams and then shared online on the GSJ global site.

The spirit of the event is playful and joyous but, although each idea created belongs to that team under the Creative Commons license, one never knows whether some ideas may work their way to serious realisation beyond the walls of the event.

Volunteering  reigns: Participants  volunteer  to dedicate their time and effort to the event, while firms involved in service design and innovation make their facilities and some of their creative tools/equipment available, along with internet connectivity and refreshments. This year LBi and Seren Partners offered their creative spaces. Practitioners in the field of Design and Design Research volunteer their support and help to mentor the teams in need, and are available any time during the event if people get ‘stuck’ in their work. Each evening is a social occasion to exchange ideas about what happened during the day and expectations for the next.

The energy:  At the end of a working week everyone could have been forgiven for feeling too tired on a Friday night, however upon arriving at the event there was an immediately perceivable positive energy. At seventy participants, London had one of the largest  numbers  of jammers worldwide and while the creatively charged people were mainly strangers to one another everybody was open to meet and learn about each other. Silly, yet group-energising, questions helped to kick start the good vibes (“Who speaks more than three languages? Those who do, please run in the middle of the room and clap your hands saying “jam!”).

Personally, I think the most enticing moment of all three days was the  exercise  of dividing into teams. I’ve rarely seen such a jovial way of doing it!

Creating happy teams:  So, how to divide us all into cohesive teams? Well, GSJ employed three different  activities  to get everyone into their groups ready for designing. Firstly we were given a little chart and asked to self-portray ourselves along an axis from ‘introvert’ to ‘extrovert’ and then ‘conceptual maverick’ to ‘data head’. This determined our position in a quadrant, and then we had to find our opposites. Interestingly, we soon realised that most of the crowd gravitated towards ‘extrovert /conceptual maverick’, so it was a tad difficult for people to find their opposite, to the point of forcing the facilitators to add criteria based on difference in personality and attitude. Far from being scientific, this was entertaining and exposed people self-perception.

Next; a bit of line dancing! Each couple-of-opposites held hands and stood side by side to form a human “tunnel” to let people run through it. Each three couples running through were a team of six!

After the teams of six were formed, the third activity was designed to quickly gel the team. We were asked to come up with 3 statements about ourselves (likes, dislikes, etc.), one of which had to be false. The rest of the team then had to guess which fact was the false one. Clearly, the scope of this simple exercise was to encourage people to observe each other with more attention.

Room for improvement?  The open participation of GSJ does create, in my mind, a potential shortcoming of the event. Including people without any design or design research background does have the benefit of bringing fresh ways of thinking about service design and injecting other professional backgrounds’ frames of reference, however also potentially slowing down the productivity and focus of the group work. Some teams lost team members for this reason.

Learning: I think one interesting aspect that emerged as everyone presented their ideas was that for most people service design embeds a notion of being ‘socially useful’. Most of the ideas presented were focused on helping to grow communities, supporting the local (vs. the global), and helping those in difficulty or more vulnerable for a variety of reasons in a variety of ways. Only a few service ideas presented were genuinely aimed at profit-making.

It would be to hear your thoughts on the development of the service design industry, so to kick-start the discussion here is a question I’ve been thinking about:

Although inaccurate in essence, has service design developed an embedded quality that associates it with being socially useful rather than simply beingpublicly helpful?

Here is my team’s You are my Super-hero  service which won the prize for the wildest service, and James team’s Tiramisu’ service.