Global Service Design Jam 2017

Team DUMBO: Community Corner


I got to participate in this years Global Service Design Jam. What's a jam? Think of it like a hackathon for non-coders, where we spend time coming up with a services rather than "building" it. I like jams better than a hackathons since we're encouraged to sleep and they serve real brain-fuel—not pizza. 

Global Service Design Jam took place all over the world over the same weekend, with the same, albeit obscure, theme. This year, the theme was "Hello? Lo? O? O".... That’s it! It's up to each team to interpret however they wanted to and basically run with it. But given the nature of this jam, the idea is to practice Service Design.

My team—Team DUMBO—was made up of a teacher, a documentary film maker, a digital producer, a fellow designer and me. We kicked off the night with figuring out what the theme meant to us and how we wanted to design around it. We gave ourselves 5 minutes to ideate onto Post-Its, and while unsurprisingly we all wrote down the word “communication” and things related to it, there were some unexpected ones like Adele or even a canyon! 

Personally, when I first heard the theme, I imagined an elderly lady on the phone, trying to get in touch with services like Medicare, being confused about her options, being mislead, and ultimately ending in disappointment... I know, super cynical! But probably accurate, non? Situations like this is why I studied UX in the first place and why I’m so eager to pivot my focus to strategy, innovation, and Service Design!

Anyway, after tossing ideas around, we gravitated to these pain points: getting locked out; getting someone to feed or walk your pet if you're somehow unable to; not knowing when there’s filming or construction happening on your street; not having a central place to learn more about the neighborhood and events that are going on; and just not feeling connected to your neighbors in general.

Our How Might We statement at the end of the night was this: "How might we better connect people to their neighborhood so that they solve their problems within their community? Success looks like identifying hurdles to community connections!" (We didn't want to over promise). 


The next day, we quickly faced 3 deadlines: by 10:30 am we had to be out the door to gather data by speaking to people; we had to be back by noon and at 1pm, share our thoughts and process with another group; then at 6pm, we had to have a prototype to test with yet another group. 

Given our five pain points, we narrowed ideas down to these services:

  1. A neighborhood "doorman" to receive packages, hold spare keys, etc.
  2. A SMS listserv for information like filming or construction happening on your street.
  3. A neighborhood hub to get information about what’s happening in the area, and to be especially helpful for those new to the hood.
  4. Neighborhood events like block parties and progressive dinners.
  5. Some sort of neighborhood plan for times of emergency.

We decided that we were going to approach people by asking a few questions and then have them pick one of the above services that they'd like to have. Some of our questions included:

  • What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you been there?
  • How connected do you feel to your neighborhood or community?
  • Do you care to be more connected?
  • What would make you want to be more connected?
  • How do you get information about what's happening in your neighborhood? 

Our team split in two and I went with another team member to Washington Square Park. We spoke to a dad and his young son living in Greenwich Village; a long distance couple: one who lived in East Village and one lived in Logan Circle in DC; a teacher visiting from Santa Barbara; some long-time New Yorkers playing chess; a family who recently moved from Buffalo; and two med students living in the Bronx. We quickly realized that people had something to say about each service listed on the board so if they were willing to talk to us for a bit longer, we asked about each service rather than just picking one.

We got some great stories and feedback on experiences that are currently working and validated that there is an appetite to become more involved in communities, even if some already felt pretty connected. We also got some good information about existing services and information-hubs like the Prince of Petworth blog for DC.

One thing that stuck out to me was the desire for "hyper-local" information. There’s plenty written about what’s going on all over New York City, like Thrillist or Time Out New York, but there’s little information about what’s happening with your neighbors or on your street.   

As planned, we regrouped at noon and went through all of our notes on each person or group of people we talked to. I wrote down each point on a sticky so we could do some affinity mapping and to easily refer to the notes throughout the rest of the project.

We had two outliers and outliers are great for inspiration and help point to what you're "missing". One man had been in the East Village for 35 years (35 YEARS!) and said he didn't need any help talking to people or being connected to his community. He walks the streets of the East Village to get his hyper-local information. Another outlier were two guys from BedStuy who didn’t feel any need for the services we listed because they lived with or very near family and for instance, would just wait on their stoop for someone to come home if they were locked out. They already felt connected to the community by organizing a charity youth basketball event where everyone in the neighborhood looked-forward to and viewed it as “the place to be”.  

After sharing our progress with another team, we were urged to prototype. Thinking that we had to go back out into the field, we opted for a storyboard that we could easily carry around. 

We swirled a bit with different ideas, debating what would have the biggest impact and use. Looking back at our interviews, we realized that no matter the age, gender, if they felt connected or not, everyone (save for the outliers) living within the Five Boroughs expressed a keen desire to get construction information. We had even talked to a construction worker who was tired of getting hate from people and wished they knew his schedule so they wouldn't be unpleasantly surprised and take it out on him. So, we decided to design a service for an SMS listserv which sent out notices like construction information.

Here's our storyboard: 

  • Mary just moved to the East Village.
  • Upon signing up for services like electricity or the internet, she is automatically enrolled to receive community notices (which she could opt-out of).
  • She decides to receive notifications once a week on Sundays. There is no planned construction for the following week--great!
  • But on Wednesday, she receives an emergency notice about a water-main break in her area.
  • She is not directly affected and feels bad for those who are so she sends out a message to those in the affected area only, saying that she is happy to share her bathroom and kitchen between 8 and 9am the next morning.
  • Jon, a fellow listserv-er and recipient of Mary's message, responds to Mary thanking her for her generosity and to let her know he would be taking her up on her offer.
  • The next day, while Jon walks to Mary's, he sees that the are coffee shop is offering 50% off of morning coffee to those in the affected area. Jon shares this information with the listserv. 

We shared our storyboard with another team and while they understood it perfectly, some had reservations about inviting people into their homes and the annoyance of group chats. I also noticed the conversation went elsewhere, like to someone talking about how she needed a bit of salt and was trying in earnest to engage her next-door neighbors but they wouldn’t answer the door…. Basically, our idea was boring--and nothing's wrong with boring! But it didn’t really hit home with people. It wasn't clicking with them. And to be honest, it didn't resonate with any of us either.

It was time to see the other team's prototype and give feedback, and wow, what a prototype! They turned their room into a subway station and car. They designed a special subway car for people who want to chit-chat with others during their commute. The inside of the car was plastered with questions to start conversations. I thought it was genius and loved their interactive prototype! It turns out that we didn’t have to go out into the field one more time so we could really build something out.

Seeing how great the other team's idea was compared to ours, we ended the night feeling a little lost and a bit defeated.

I couldn't stop thinking about the Jam all night and all through my commute the next morning. My thoughts swirled around community and how to get people involved. I realized that we had to get people invested somehow. I thought of my home in Japan. It’s a remote town and growing up, they had something called “Kan Ran Ban." It was a community information news-packet that was passed house to house. We’d always receive it from the house east of us and if I was around, I always had to drop it off at the house south of us. It forced you to meet face-to-face with at least two people, and you had to pass it around as soon as possible so that the information would continue reaching the rest of the neighborhood. That "investment" piece is so crucial and lost in today’s digital world. We're communicating more than ever are so "connected" yet we are so passive with our participation.

I also thought about the outliers. They didn't mention anything digital in their experience of being connected to their communities. They either had local spots they frequented or some sort of hook that attracted the whole community to gather and meet face-to-face.

When we regrouped in the morning, it was clear that we all itched for a solution that wasn't digital and wanted a service that brought people together in a way that wasn't manufactured like an event or Tindr. We looked over our notes from the interviews and narrowed our scope down to two pain points: being locked out and package receiving. Our services was going to target people living in neighborhoods that didn't have a lot of doormen buildings. We also wanted people to become more invested in their community by relying on each other. 

Our statement changed to: "How might we empower people so that they become more invested in their communities? Success looks like people being able to solve their problems within their own neighborhoods."

 We came up with Community Corner: a system of services to implement in existing central locations, like bodegas or a friendly retiree’s house, for those living in the neighborhood. Services include a spare-key lockbox, a package receiving service, and a community announcement board. Membership fee is $10 a month. $5 goes to the bodega or host, and $5 goes to a charity the members choose via a voting system. Non-members may participate in the voting for a charity by buying $5 tokens to use to vote. 

Our prototype was an interactive role-play scene. I acted as the bodega owner and we gave volunteers prompts such as, “you got locked out,” to then solve by interacting with me and the make-shift store. As the owner, I had a key lockbox behind the counter and a community message board that featured things like construction notices and a place to vote for the different charities.

We felt really good with our idea and proud to have been able to turn things around at the last minute. Judges loved our idea too because not only did it solve common pain points in daily life, it also utilized existing services and supported local businesses. Also, it was low-tech and one of the more feasible solutions that could be implemented today.

Even though I was absolutely exhausted from a crazy week at work, I was excited for Global Service Jam and happily  powered-through. I loved the opportunity to work on something that was low-tech and served real people with real needs in a way that was simple and leveraged existing infrastructure and services. I would love to make projects like Community Corner a reality and continue to focus my energy towards Service Design.    

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