Like a garage band jam, apart from in every way
Aaaaarrrnng it’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I offer embarrassment and my usual excuses. I’ve been busy getting Lushai off the ground in Auckland and it’s actually been a pretty good first year for us here. In some areas Lushai Auckland has grown slowly where I had hoped it would grow fast but in other areas it has surpassed my expectations for what we could achieve in a first year. In particular we have been able to get projects of a quality I aspired to but suspected weren’t realistic for a new office in a new city.
I’m working on creating a bit more space to do some writing and blogging about all that but as a filler I thought I would brain dump a few takeaways about my recent experience as a mentor for New zealand’s contribution to the Global Service Jam.
Service Design has taken up more and more of my time over the last couple of years, and is a pretty natural extension of how I was working as a user experience designer. But for some reason being in New Zealand has bought a tighter focus onto this area of my practice.
Most recently I participated as a mentor in the The Global Service Jam, a first for me. The Global Service Jam is (in their own words):
A service Jam is a cooperative gathering of people interested in a design-based approach to creativity and problem solving, and of course in service design. It is there to encourage experimentation and innovation – participants come together without a team, without an idea and are given a subject or theme to incorporate in their new-to-the-world design while meeting new people.
The Global Service Jam is a community of Jams taking place internationally over the same weekend. All the Jams share the same starting themes, and publish their local results over a central platform. The theme for participants in the Global Service Jam will be announced at 5:00PM (local time) on the Friday, and results must be shared by 3:00pm (local time) on the Sunday.
Each local group has freedom to structure and manage the Jam to fit their local situation and needs (eg you can make your own version of the logo, see below). A few rules are in place for Organisers and Participants; if you want your Jam to be part of the Global event, you will need to follow these. Besides these rules, we hope that local teams will follow many of our recommendations so that we share a common experience and everyone can work on a level playing field.
I had actually just come off a fairly intense 3 month service design project for Chorus (which I’ll write about at a later date) and was up till 3am the previous morning pulling together my final deliverable so I have to admit the prospect of a 48 hour service design marathon weekend filled me with fatigue. But the energy of the Jam organisers and participants apparently has magical restorative powers as the time it kicked of I was feeling very engaged and energised.
My Role as a Mentor
Upon reflection I think I need to prepare more for my role as a mentor next time. The service Jam was an extremely unknown entity to me and I wasn’t sure going in how I was going to tackle it. I don’t think I contributed as much to this Jam as I could have as a consequence. Next time I plan to create a detailed plan of attack and set clear expectations for myself and the participants.
At this stage my ‘notes to self’ about what i’ll do next time as a mentor are as follows:
- Keep the focus on the process, and intervene quite proactively if participants are getting bogged down in the execution of their idea at the expense of experiencing a full service design process.
- Intervene with ideas directly if teams have gotten stuck to the point where they are no longer enjoying the event, but otherwise addressing the causes of the slow downs, such as fatigue, narrowing too quickly, or loosing focus on the big picture.
- Encourage participants to try ideas out as early as possible and not get bogged down in debates about theoretical ideas. Encourage them to make something that realises their ideas in a prototype they can use to demonstrate and test their concepts out on.
- As an extension of the last point, try to get them to avoid running mental models that run on unexpressed assumptions they don’t realise aren’t shared.
I’m sure I’ll revise and add to these as the experience filters through my brain over the next few months.
The relative freshness of Service design as a discipline in New Zealand means I found myself in the awkward position of ‘mentoring’ service design practitioners who were more experienced than I was. But gracefully, they allowed themselves to be mentored without even the slightest sign of a smirk or raised eyebrow, which is a credit to them as professionals and not something you can always count on in the fragile ego forest that is design.
Go! Fail! Repeat!
Seeing teams simultaneously and rapidly churn through a d.school type design process was an amazing learning experience. Seeing the same process filtered simultaneously (and extremely rapidly) through different personalities was like mainlining the learnings from months of multiple projects in just a weekend. I came away with my head brimming with possible ways to work and tackle problems. As the literature always promises I definitely felt like I learnt more than I taught. Much, much more.
Prototype! Prototype! Etc!
I’ve been moving towards a more prototype orientated process over recent years, but the service jam weekend super charged this for me. Seeing people bring their ideas to life by building mockups, storyboards, and role-playing and then quickly iterate on failures was revelationary.
One of the more impressive prototypes was a brown paper bus to test the ideas of public transport optimised for growing community connections. It started as a few chairs in a row and by the end of the weekend was fully enclosed bus with a simulated (through the magic of tape and iPads) swipe in video entry system.
Actually, it originally started out as a mobile photo booth, which shows how far an idea can evolve over the course of a weekend.
It was fascinating to watch the team role play their journey and experiment with different levels of prototype fidelity. Watching this team grow enthusiastic about an idea, then experience the idea through the prototype, declare it a failure (‘That was horrible’ is how one of them expressed it), take the learnings from that idea and develop a whole new idea, then prototype that idea again and again until they had it working was an amazing experience. You can see the finished idea here: The Social Bus
I’m definitely on board for the next one, as a mentor if they will have me or as a participant otherwise. There are rumours it will be in Wellington:
— Sam Ng (@snowmansam) March 3, 2013
So maybe I can nag Lushai Wellington into joining me in the next one …