We recently hosted our second annual Service Jam at our home office in downtown Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Service Jam is one of approximately 100 locations that participate in the annual Global Service Jam based in Germany. 2016 marked the fifth year for this 48-hour event that highlights the value of service design. The Global Service Jam engages participants across the globe to tackle tough challenges and prototype service design solutions.

This year, Pittsburgh was represented by a group of nine “Jammers” from various industries—including graphic and web design, product management, journalism, marketing and sales. The Jammers were split across three teams with support from five design coaches. They worked to tackle this year’s secret theme: a sound clip resembling a small pebble being dropped in water. Despite the vagueness of the challenge, the teams rolled up their sleeves and wrestled through the ambiguity. By fueling their curiosity with field research, each team was able to produce a physical prototype of their service solution—all while having loads of fun in the process. With only 48 hours to imagine and prototype a solution, the teams managed to produce real results as they worked through the design process.

Here are six takeaways from the Jam that you should consider when designing for services.

1. Embracing Ambiguity is Essential

When the design brief lacks a problem statement—or even an area to focus on—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With the sound of this year’s theme fresh in their ears, the Jammers used free association and mind-mapping—two brainstorming techniques for rapidly generating ideas and making connections—to map out a list of potential focus areas. This was one of the largest hurdles of the Jam, but the teams quickly found problem spaces worth exploring. Ambiguity resurfaced throughout the weekend, forcing teams to reflect on their progress and shift their plans accordingly.

The possibilities are endless! (That whitespace didn’t last long).

2. Avoid Jumping into Solution Mode

The line between a problem statement and a solution is very thin, especially when you’re defining both in a very short amount of time. Narrowing in on a solution too early stifles broad, exploratory thinking and limits the ability to generate innovative ideas. Resisting the urge to generate solutions early in the process allows for a deeper understanding of the problem to sink in, and more possibilities can emerge. In the end, teams spent time in both mindsets (problem-framing and ideation), using what they learned from prototyping to refine their solutions.

Jammers surrounded themselves with insights to help fuel the design solutions.

3. Using Play to Break Down Barriers

Collaboration isn’t always easy—especially when you’re working with people you don’t know under a tight deadline. The newly formed teams were able to break the ice with improv activities to help them understand how they can collaborate together. This improv warm-up helped establish a set of guiding principles for working together and building on each other’s ideas. They included:

  • “Yes, and…”: accepting contributions from others and building upon them
  • Active Listening: giving your full attention to the ideas of others before responding
  • Open-mindedness: suspending judgement and bias
  • Collaboration: building stronger connections to push ideas forward
  • Playfulness: thinking outside of the box to spark creativity

Our mascot, Sam, kept us smiling and having fun!

4. Designing for the Intangible is Difficult

The nature of services makes them unlike products because services are mostly intangible and their design involves choreographing people and interactions that play out over time. Given these qualities, thinking in terms of service experiences can seem unintuitive. As a result, there is a temptation to shy away from services and think of solutions through a more tangible lens, like products and apps. Throughout the weekend, Jammers learned to situate their product ideas as touchpoints within larger experiences in order to envision a holistic service.

5. Prototyping Services is About Enacting Them

The Global Service Jam’s tag line is “Less talking, more doing,” which aims to encourage participants to make ideas real through sketching, modeling, and prototyping. Because a service is more like a performance than a thing, a static sketch or bit of writing doesn’t usefully capture the experience of a service in an immersive way. Jammers modeled props and used improv and role-playing techniques to demonstrate their services. Played out in real-time, the service concepts became more tangible, which allowed teams to fully embody the experiences and reflect on them.

Physical prototypes bring service concepts to life.

6. Providing Feedback Advances Ideas

Critiques are essential to the design process. They help keep the design team challenged and motivated to iterate and make improvements. It’s important to nurture healthy feedback, as poorly handled critiques can derail progress. Throughout the weekend, we captured our feedback using a technique called Rose-Thorn-Bud to evaluate the teams’ work and strengthen their concepts. This technique helped us to structure our conversation by identifying the bright spots (Roses), weak spots or challenges (Thorns), and other opportunities (Buds) that the teams might consider to advance their solutions. We also connected with Jammers in Chicago via video chat to learn how others were approaching the design challenge and gain new perspectives.

We want to the thank all the design coaches, volunteers, and (of course) the Jammers for being part of this unique event. Without you, there’d be no Jam!

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