Service Design Hackathon

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A few weeks back I got involved in the Global Service Jam in Los Angeles. Held simultaneously in 113 locations across the globe, the event is a 48-hour hackathon for Service Design. You may ask, what is Service Design?

Service Design is “the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers.” – Wikipedia.

Basically, it’s all about making services and processes better. This can be for an existing service (e.g. applying for a social security number, catching a taxi, ordering a hamburger), or creating a new service altogether (e.g. a faster and cheaper way to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco, how to recycle 80% of all household rubbish and so on). Uber is a great example of redefining the “catching a cab” experience. Throughout the Service Design methodology, you are analyzing and mapping the journey of people and processes.

Our team chose the topic “Find ways for tenants in Los Angeles to conserve water with minimal cost and effort”. Other topics from the LA Jam included:  “Improve the User Experience of the embarkation and debarkation for passengers of trains” and “How might we instill empathy in children?”

Over the next 48-hours we hypothesized on water conservation and tested our ideas by interviewing people on the street. Although it was somewhat confronting asking complete strangers for their opinions, it resulted in a perfect feedback loop that enhanced our learning and end prototype.

Don't Buy The Noise - Service Design Hackathon 03

Our team deep in ideation.

Get loose

What I found rather annoying for the first half of the weekend was the looseness of the Global Service Jam. There were no group leaders assigned, no order or processes spelled out, and no instructions of “do this next”. Inadvertently these things did happen, but in a back to front order. Each person in our team took turns in leading, we made our own processes and worked out what to do next.

Similarly, a looseness as to what we could dream up in the “ideation” phase was important to explore. In business scenarios my thinking is typically commercially constrained by budget, timelines, resources and the client. We learned to take a step back and initially throw those constraints out the window. Uncomfortable initially, however I soon got in the groove.

The result was a number of ridiculous ideas that were not instantly dismissed, but work-shopped and taken further. This teasing-out of an idea meant we may discard the overall concept, however some interesting components could be used in a real work situation. I learned to embrace some ridiculous ideas in the safety of the ideation process.

Don't Buy The Noise - Service Design Hackathon 02

Our water saving lo-fi paper prototype.

Get Involved

I highly recommend for anyone who works with a team to create or enhance products or services (which is most people in business!) to get involved at the next Global Service Jam or similar Service Design hackathons.

If Service Design is just not your jam, get involved with something that is like a user group related to your work/passion. Many technologies and professions have free user groups that meet on a regular basis in most cities. Often they supply free pizza and beer! Check out EventbriteMeetup and General Assembly in your area.

Further Reading

Global Service Jam website
Service Design Network

Shout outs (tl;dr)

  • Service Design is all about making services and processes better.
  • Get loose with your thinking. What if there were no economic or business constraints?
  • Try not to shoot down ideas no matter how ridiculous.
  • Get involved in other hackathons and meetups.
  • If you’re a manager, encourage your team members to get involved in events.