Using service design to create a business in two days

This weekend Helen and I attended DerbyRamJam 2014, part of the Global Service Jam which is now in its fourth year. The event took place in cities all over the world and is organised to promote the practice of service design. The Derby leg was organised by Jean Mutton and Clare Foyle and held at Derby Quad. There were a couple of service design mentors on hand to guide us in the form of Ben Smithwell of Project Me Consulting and Nicki Osborne from E.ON.

But what is service design?

Good question! Service Design is a relatively new discipline which takes elements from Customer Experience (CX), User Experience (UX), branding, visual design and much more with the aim of improving any and all interactions a business or charity has with its customers and supporters. I’m very familiar with thinking about how people interact with websites and interfaces but service design takes things to a much higher level and would cover anything from specific product features to what hold music you use on your phone system. The idea really is to focus your entire organisation on that which is most important: your customers and the service you provide them.

Doing not talking

The format of the weekend was an intensive crash course in brainstorming, research, prototyping and iterating. On Friday the participants were split into teams of about five people and given a rather abstract theme (a net of a flattened cube) before being told to come up with three ideas for potential services we could develop over the next two days. On Sunday we would be expected to present a prototyped service along with a business plan to a panel of judges. No pressure then!

Go team!

Our team, Isometric Elephant (don’t ask!), was made up of Chris, Daniel, Bernice, Helen and me. We started by writing down everything that popped into our heads while considering the ‘theme’. Each thought went on a post-it note, however random it might have seemed. We then sorted our notes into groups of related words and amazingly throughout this process ideas started to emerge.

Service design promotes rapid brainstormings with post-it notes

By the next morning we had early stage ideas for an organisation which could create temporary buildings from various materials, a system to bring the best features of online shopping to the real world and a service which would allow video games developers to share game concepts with players for feedback. The team decided to move ahead with the video game idea as it was one which interested us all. Here’s how we summed up the idea:

A platform which allows game developers to share early concepts, artwork, music, level designs and gameplay mechanics with members of the public and the gaming community. Incentives for players include: early access to games; inclusion in game credits; discounts; perhaps even payment after reaching a certain level.

Elevator pitch

Guerrilla market research

With our service decided on, we needed to get out and see if anyone was actually interested in this thing. Members of our team headed out to the game shops of Derby to chat with players about whether they’d be interested in getting involved with games at such an early stage. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It turns out that many gamers are tired of playing the same types of game over and over; they said they’d love the chance to talk to developers early on, perhaps even being able to guide games in a more interesting direction. We also talked with Simon Morris, the founder and CTO of game developer Strawdog Studios and even had a Skype chat with a game designer working for Ubisoft in Singapore. Both professionals were interested in the concept saying that while bug testing is common, early testing of the type we were talking about simply doesn’t happen much of the time. One of the major reasons behind this was the expense of getting focus groups together rather than any aversion to the idea and both said they could see smaller developers benefiting from our idea. As part of our research we’d discovered that the number of these smaller ‘indie’ developers has been increasing dramatically over the past few years. In fact, Sony consulted extensively with indie devs during the development phase of the new PlayStation 4 in order to make sure they would support the console when it was released.

The business plan

Feeling confident that we were on to something good members of the team started working on a business plan. It was important to make sure that the service would be pitched at the right price if it were to succeed. We came up with a tiered structure that would allow developers to run a certain number of tests each month for free. Anything beyond this would require payment which could be managed by choosing the number of participants each test needed; if funds were tight a test could be sent out to as few as 25 gamers, bigger projects could gather feedback from thousands of players. There would also be certain ‘pro’ features available on paid plans including additional types of tests and more detailed reporting.


Wireframes and prototypes are used to gain quick feedback

A major principle of service design is the need for early stage prototypes to test the validity of features before sinking too much time and money into a project. This is very similar to the way we design websites so Helen and I suddenly felt rather more comfortable with the manic pace of the weekend. We sat down and started wireframing and short while later we had a rough and ready representation of both the front end of our website and the developer dashboard which would be used to manage games and tests which were being run. If you take a look at this online you’ll hopefully get an idea of what our service is and how it works, it’s not pretty but it works!

The presentation

After only the briefest of breaks to sit in the sun and have a beer (this was Sunday afternoon remember) we got our presentation together. The judging panel was made up of Adam Buss the director of Quad, Carol Steed from University of Derby Corporate and Nicki Osborne, Customer Experience Designer for E.On.

Chris did a great job of leading the presentation before Helen showed off the prototype, we then fielded various questions about our service and business plan before the presentation finished. A short while later we were enjoying another beer while waiting for the judges to make their decision and…

We won!

To be fair, everyone involved with the event did cracking work and I was truly impressed with what everyone got done over a single weekend. It was like being in an episode of Challenge Anneka.

What did I learn?

I think the most important thing I got from the weekend is the realisation of just how much can be achieved in a short time when a group of dedicated people work together. I’m certainly going to bring more service design techniques into the work we do here which I’m sure will be a good thing for us and the people we work with.

The other thing I learned is that Chris makes amazing animated gifs with plasticine.

The Team

Photo by: Andrew Garford Moore

BerniceHelen, me, Daniel and Chris (Photo by: Andrew Garford Moore)