Global Service Jam Aberdeen

This past weekend was exhausting but incredibly good fun. A weekend of problem solving, research, prototyping, video making, and working with new people.

The Global Service Jam is a global event applying product design principles to service design (please don’t shoot me for that description service design fundies! ;).

To get the best feel for what went on head over to the archive site where a stream of progress reports from the teams gives you a genuine feel for the amount of effort everyone put in.

Here are a few thoughts and observations from the weekend though:

Setting up

Getting ready for the service jam was good fun. As one of the organisers I had to ensure that the participants had a good weekend, knew what was going on at all times, had something to eat / drink etc…

Beer and Jam

The Basecamp set up by the GSJ team globally made this pretty easy (if reading dozens of messages a day for weeks in the runup sounds easy). The one thing I’m ashamed we forgot was simple A4 paper. We had lashings of worksheets and posters and post its, a mountain of stattys. We even had branded JAM! But no A4 paper.

Experts corner

For ‘experts corner’ we had a number of tools, books, worksheets and lego for participants to use. You could turn up with nothing and take part fully. The event was free thanks to our sponsors, I think it’s important that events like these should be as non exclusive as possible.

Kick off

Once the theme is announced on the Friday evening all participants start throwing post its around. Issues, problems, areas, anything that springs to mind based on the theme.

Post It Wall

Once we had the massive window nicely covered in scrawled sticky notes we had to form some more concrete ideas around these concepts. This was a fun, interesting session where the most unrelated post-its imaginable seemed to lead directly to what looked like good ideas.


One of the most powerful aspects of the GSJ format is the inclusion of regular feedback and validation points. At these points you are incouraged (and if it comes to it, forced!) out onto the street to ask the public what they think of your ideas, your assumptions, and your approach.

Now, it has to be said, Aberdeen isn’t the easiest place to do this. Approachability, friendliness and generosity with time are not the first bullet points on the wikipedia page for our city. That said, all teams managed to get some genuine feedback from the street – and social media proved fruitful in seeking wider opinion.

Cook a cow

The value of validation feedback cannot be overstated. By the end of Saturday morning more than one idea had been disproven, discarded, and the team returned to the drawing board. The process and guidance of the GSJ format ensured that ‘negative’ feedback was turned into ‘positive’ evidence that the team needed to rethink.


Another key concept of the service jam is that a prototype is worth a thousand words. Get building. More making, less talking.

On the first day we had lego models, example marketing campaigns, food containers, wearable devices all helping to bring the service some shape and make it more real to everyone. This is much more than a gimmick. As soon as you have a model, you have photography of the model, as soon as you have photography you can describe the concept more easily. You can video the model / prototype while explaining the function.

Cook club model

The speed with which Youtube Channels and Facebook Pages can be created really helped to bring the projects to life. An idea which hits the wall on a post-it note at 10am can have photography and video content by noon, and have survey responses coming in while you lunch. The feedback loop really can be that quick – all the teams made use of these channels to some extent.


Among the other tools available to the teams were more ‘traditional’ service design tools like the business model canvas, stakeholder analysis, user profiling etc… These were well used, even though most participants hadn’t used them before.


We had pre-printed sheets for many of these, which really helped. When a team got stuck you could just say ‘here – complete this’ and talk them through the tool. The value often came in the first 2 minutes of thinking about the problem from a new viewpoint.

Production Values

We had a number of iPhones and an HD camcorder available throughout the weekend so something in the region of 50 videos were shot. Most of these were simple status updates which I forced the teams to make at set times through the weekend. This made sure that the teams slowly got used to having a camera pointed at them, which meant that over time they started making their own videos. Some of the creativity in the videos was remarkable.

Another side effect of the quick, single take, ‘just tell us where you are’ style of the videos was to make poeople think about content, not production values. Grab prototype, find a quiet space, point the camera, have a 2 minute discussion about what needs to be said, 3, 2, 1, shoot.

Cook Club Demo

If we’d started making second attempts at updates I’m sure we would have ended up with a third as many videos, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have got across the ideas nearly so well.

Saying that – some teams took the videos pretty seriously.

Team Dirty Tatties


The measure of success of an event like this, for me, is whether I feel that the investment in time was repaid to the extent that I’d do it again. Before the weekend was out we were discussing things we could do to make next year better – and I’m still enthused. I fully intend to make sure that GSJAberdeen 2014 is bigger and better.

Some ideas for things to do next time:

  • Have participants warn their friends and family that they might need some feedback over the weekend, and that they might need their wider networks feedback. I think this may have helped us to spread some of the polls more quickly.
  • Pre-create a shared facebook page where all participants can share validation questions – so other Jam cities could give feedback.
  • Work harder to explain the event before hand – quite a number of people have told me they would have loved the day but they thought it was something else (entirely my fault!).
  • Live blog. I wish I’d been more prepared to live blog the event.
  • Bring A4 paper.

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