Design Research and Strategy, Graduate Student at Carnegie Mellon University

Service Design Jam

I participated in the 48-hour Global Service Design Jam, hosted by MAYA Design in Pittsburgh. The event brings together people from all backgrounds who are interested in learning about or experiencing first-hand a design-based approach to problem solving. We were particularly fortunate to be coached by five designers at MAYA.


Global Service Design Jam

With: Mathew McConnell and Traci Thomas
For: Serious Play
Duration: 48 hours

Design Brief: “Jammers” from across the globe are simultaneously introduced to the design brief (with consideration to their timezones). Briefs are characteristically ambiguous, but this year started off with nothing more than a soundbite. Our “problem statement” was the sound of a water droplet, or a pebble splashing into water, or a kerplunk. No constraints. No direction. Off we go...

Meaning and Sense-Making: The unexpected design brief pushed us immediately into a meaning and sense-making activity. The coaches timeboxed this activity to a seemingly impossible 10 minutes. On nothing more than intuition, improvisation, and spontaneity, we put everything that came to our minds and hearts onto Post-It Notes and up on the whiteboard for everyone to see. 

After the ten minutes activity ended, we reviewed our contributions and began to make connections. We were looking specifically for interesting, novel, and unexpected connections and let new categories emerge from it.

HMW: Our coaches empowered us with a simple way to start wrangling with some of these concepts, connections, and categories. By using the phrase “How might we _____, so that ______.” We could start to generate insights and problems that could be approached with service design.

We came up with six distinct concepts worth pursuing, but the prevailing theme was related to building a sense of place—the water droplet ended up triggering quite a bit of nostalgia for summers at the lake. After sharing our thinking with fellow teams at MAYA and our sister team in Chicago we closed the first night by focused our thinking to How might we use the power of nostalgia to create closer connections to the people, places, and things in a rapidly-changing Pittsburgh?

Hypothesis: We opened the second day by exploring some of the knowledge, assumptions, and questions that would drive our inquiry. Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are disconnected not only geographically, but also socially. We wanted to use this insight (assumption?) to explore the ways our service could introduce people to unfamiliar people, places, and things; and perhaps provoke people to expand their movement in and across the city.

Interviews: “Get our of your seat. Get into the street!” read a sign on MAYA’s whiteboard. Since our proposed project dealt with people and, to an extent, behavior change, our coaches suggested we attempt a few interviews. We designed and developed a novel approach constraining our interview questions to “secret places”—we thought the whimsical nature of the question would make people more open to speaking candidly.

We assumed we would only have time for about three quality interviews, so we approached an office manager who grew up and has lived in multiple Pittsburgh neighborhoods, a bartender who often helps tourists in the city find things to do, and a group of customers at a local donut shop to gather some general expectations.

Synthesis: Now that we had a basic idea of needs and requirements based on real people, we could start to organize our data and begin forming a product and service. MAYA’s coaches provided us with an arsenal of tools to frame our thinking. We employed a framework to help us not only consider how to entice, enter, engage, exit, and extend our service to individual users, but also how these touchpoints manifest themselves to groups, physical places, neighborhoods, and the city—a multi-layered approach.

Narrative Prototyping: At this point, our team was hopelessly running in circles trying to articulate the customer journey through the proposed system. We wildly underestimated the complexity emerging from exploring the different entrances, touchpoints, and exits; and wasted an incredible amount of time trying to document them.

Our coach started building the set pieces of our narrative and we used them to record “puppet shows” of interactions within our service. By giving us tools to directly apply our own thoughts and intuitions, we were able to quickly act out and document different journeys through the same service. We better modeled the way people behave in the real world and rapidly built a series of compelling personas and use cases in which to evaluate the viability of our ideas.

Outcome: Crunched for time, my teammate and I used our narrative prototyping tools and iMovie to create a video of a sample user journey. Each team presented their project to the other jammers and we all used a Rose, Thorn, Bud evaluation to explore and critique ideas.

Reflection: MAYA published our collective lessons learned to their company blog.