Do Some Services Make You Crazy? Join the LA Service Jam to Crowdsource Better “User Experiences”

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“We have unsatisfactory experiences when we use banks, buses, health services and insurance companies. They don’t make us feel happier or richer. Why are they not designed as well as the products we love to use such as an Apple iPod or a BMW? (from Service Design: From Insight to Implementation)

The troubled rollout of Obamacare earlier this year cast a spotlight on the design of service, a discipline that increasingly uses “human-centered” “design-thinking” to tackle problems like the efficient, user-friendly, online delivery of health insurance or ease of getting from the sidewalk to an airplane.

We’ll bet there are poor “service” experiences that just make you scream with frustration, and you’ve probably got thoughts on how to improve them. Or you’ve imagined new ways in which to enhance people’s lives. If so, and if you’d like to spend a working weekend hashing out ideas with other “design-thinkers,” the “Los Angeles Service Jam” invites you to participate in a group “jam,” taking place March 7-9 at DirecTV’s digital innovation lab in El Segundo.

You don’t have to be a professional designer to join, and it won’t break the bank to participate: $20.

If you’ve never been involved in the design process before, this could be a fun introduction to that way of thinking. If you are a designer, you get to brainstorm with people of other disciplines.

For more on jamming, service design, and the kinds of problems you might get to solve, read this Q and A with the LA branch of the Global Service Jam.

DnA: Where did the global service jam originate?

LASJ: The global service jam was created by Markus Hormess and Adam Lawrence who are service designers by practice. They live in Germany. Their company is WorkPlayExperience, a service innovation and customer experience consultancy. They live in Nuremberg, Germany.

It’s aimed at going through the process of design thinking and using the framework of Service Design to prototype new services.

There are three kind of jam events throughout the year, and they don’t bring an idea of what they want to do. Service could be a way for people to share a common piece of land and grow local food on it; there’s no broad theme. Service could be non-profit, civic, for profit business, etc.

There are three kind of jam events throughout the year, and participants don’t bring an idea of what they want to do – they form concepts at the jam, inspired by a secret theme. There’s the Service Jam in March, and that is open to any kind of service. It could be non-profit, civic, for profit business, etc. Then in early June there is the Global Gov Jam, and in mid-November, there’s the Global Sustainability Jam.

DnA: Who runs these jams?

LASJ: Organizers in each city run them at same time; this year about 90 cities are participating, it’s really about empowering the community. I think it is up to 100 now! Jams will often connect with each other throughout the weekend, whether it is twitter, or skyping to say hello to see what teams are working on.

DnA: What makes this different from a design charrette at an architect or designer’s office?

LASJ: The event isn’t aimed at capital D designers, or visual designers or UX (user experience) designers, we are just using these tools of design to apply them to creative problem solving.

They are passionate about spreading this idea about design thinking and service design. The jam is a fun event even though it involves work. You’ll often find people wearing wigs or hats, playing with legos, squeaking rubber chickens. Serious work requires serious play and creativity.


DnA: Are there tangible results?

LASJ: It’s not just exchanging ideas – it’s about making those ideas real, through prototyping and talking with your hands. Doing and making to communicate…not just talking in circles!

Some projects do become real, yes. And that is always cool. But the Jam is much more about the people and what they learn. The Jams have led to new companies being formed, volunteer initiatives being founded, organizations adopting new ways of working, communities growing, people getting new jobs or work contacts,  new courses of study, friendships forming, lives being changed. This is why we Jam.

For example, one of the participants we had last year, Amy, works in finance and has nothing to do with design; she took a lot back in terms of what she learned like brainstorming and how to run meetings; even though she works in finance and is not a “designer” she was inspired by the jam and was able to take a variety of new tools and ways of working back to her job.

DnA: What makes this different from a hackathon?

LASJ: In the States there are hackathons all the time; the jam is a more freeform; also, hackathons focus on just a digital deliverable/outcome. Service Jam prototypes a service, by designing for the multiple touchpoints and interactions the customer has with a service. But everything is creative commons and there are concrete deliverables.

DnA: Who is sponsoring the event and do they profit from this?

LASJ:  Nobody profits from the event, all sponsorship and money from tickets goes directly into the cost of running the jam, covering food, supplies, etc.

DirecTV is the host and sponsor of the event. The jam will take place at DLAB, DirecTV’s digital innovation lab in El Segundo. The name is not mimicking Stanford’s famous “D-Lab” but it does promote that D-school kind of design-thinking.

RKS is a design and innovation consulting firm and is also a sponsor and so is Saatchi & Saatchi LA.

DnA: How many people will jam and who is eligible?

LASJ: We are looking to include around 60 people. Everybody brings different point of view and skills. It’s great to have designers there but we want people from government and social entrepreneurs, librarians; it’s a cross-sector thing.

DnA: What happens at the Jam?

LASJ: When the event begins the Jam organizers present a theme, and people can come up with ideas they are interested in pursuing. We start with a bunch of different exercises, mixers to get people talking. 60 people might breakdown into ten teams, and work on an agreed- upon idea.

We have a secret theme (which is the same for every jam location); it is more like an inspirational word or phrase to get brainstorming going, then teams and concepts will form around that. They do not have to be literally tied to the theme – it’s just a way to get people’s brains moving and open.

The founders describe it as being like a musical jam-session in music; you have ideas that people start to riff on. Some are LA-focused; some can be more broadly focused.

Last year the theme was “grow.” One team decided to create in-home delivery of organic food, delivered direct to customers.

Another took on artists or creators or designers who don’t have traditional backgrounds in art or design so we created a venue for aspiring artists or designers to get critiques.

One of the other examples that comes to mind was Liquid, where a team through brainstorming thought about smart devices relating to their water usage; though the team didn’t carry the idea through to manufacture, one of the mentors emailed us four months ago to say he had seen the same idea on Kickstarter. It was a smart water usage device to affix to any shower or tap and it was cool to see that someone else was thinking about the same thing that we dreamed up in a weekend.

DnA: How much does it cost to participate and when is it?

LASJ: Some jams have a large price, some don’t have any price at all. We set a price of $20 so people have made a commitment. It helps us cover goals of feeding people over the weekend, the cost of running the event. The jam takes place March 7-9.

Learn more about the LA Service Jam.

Learn more about human-centered design in this interview with Ideo’s Kelley brothers and Todd Lefelt of Huge, here.

All images on this page were taken at last year’s LA service jam.