Berlin Service Design Jam 2023

We’re all familiar with starting a new project. A new brief, a team discussion, interviews with users, framing a problem, ideating, then prototyping, testing, iterating and finally presenting the final solution. But all of this within 48 hours? Now there’s a challenge not for the faint hearted.

Our Berlin squad of 50 eager Service Designers packed into IBM-X’s Berlin based HQ to watch our weekend project video brief, the same video that would be played in different cities to different squads around the world. The short video intermingled footage of different cities, buildings, skyscrapers, skylines, city inhabitants, streets, roads, traffic, all coupled with the words Build:Re:Build. Our brief was complete, if not abstract, slightly vague and perfectly open to creative interpretation for every person to think of the problems that faced them in their city.

As a group we honed in closer to our topic by discussing what we had deciphered from the brief by sharing stories, experiences and personal observations. We summarised the discussion by choosing three key-words that we agreed balanced issues, opportunities and serviceable futures. 




The next morning we prepared our research plan and went out in pairs to the streets of Berlin to speak to the inhabitants of our city.

  • Tell me something about feeling connected to a community here in Berlin?
  • What helped you arrive to this community?
  • Could you talk a bit about any obstacles?

Key quotes

“I’ve lived in Berlin since the 90’s when Mitte felt like its own village. This declined to virtually nothing until COVID and it suddenly returned. Why did it need a crisis to bring people together?”

Berliner since 1990

“We have a saying, “Die kleinsten gemeinsame Nenner” (the lowest common denominator).”

German visitor from Hamburg

“In our neighbourhood, I don’t feel connected unless there’s an issue, then suddenly everyone connects.”

Visiting couple from Moscow

It was interesting to hear various stories with a similar theme. Many people had experienced this incredible human connection during the moment of a crisis during the covid pandemic. Back at our HQ we discussed why it takes an event like this to bring people together. We reflected on the film, Independence Day which starts with human communities fighting with each other and ending with the human race uniting in a way never seen before in order to conquer the invading aliens. What was it that created this magic? The sense of urgency? The distraction from our every day quarrels? The threat of a new overarching power? Or the simple loss of power over our own autonomy? We wondered what opportunities were there in order to create this feeling and bring more and more people together. 

Problem framing

Problem: Deep connection within a community happens during a crisis (like the pandemic)

User: Two people from parallel communities who don’t want to talk to each other

Hypothesis: We believe that by offering a stressful yet bridge-building “Kobayashi Maru” Style community service, we can solve conflicting arguments and build relationships


Our original prototype was a role playing experience with digital and physical touchpoints that the participant had to carry out in order to learn the lesson of community. 

What we learned

Here is a selection of the most important comments that we derived from the user testing.

“It was fun!”

– User #1
  • Suggested Change – HIGH PRIORITY
    • Change: Our testers thought that the experience was fun, when we had created it to engender a sense of panic.
    • How might we… build tasks that are intense enough to create stress in a role-playing environment.

“The experience would have more impact if we were working as a team instead of individual participants.”

– User #2
  • Suggested Change – HIGH PRIORITY
    • Change: Create scenario tasks that require teamwork.
    • How might we… build tasks that rely on teamwork from two people from parallel communities to use their unique qualities to achieve success together.

Our final solution

Two members from parallel communities working together to complete tasks

Key learnings

For all workshops, avoid wasting time by electing a decision maker (usually your most valuable stakeholder) to avoid all squad members maintaining their subjective bias on solving the problem. Quite often we realised that we were slowing ourselves down by explaining competing actions that supported our own approach and not listening to the wider group. Imagine a scriptwriter describing a scene for a film, then we’re 6 movie directors with the job to build that set – we need a single director as a principle designer instead of a mash of 6 incompatible visions.

Working in our team I felt a genuine deep connection as if we had known each other for a couple of years rather than a couple of day. For me having worked through the 90s, 00s and 10s this has to be the most beautiful paradigm shift of our new generation of younger workers. We’ve learned to shed our judgement and to leave our bias at the door, we leverage our difference of opinions and actively seek out to listen to other opinions – for a designer these are the golden nuggets to make our solutions more robust and to mitigate risk. The workforce still has a long way to go, but more and more I see designers, writers, researchers and all streaks of creates with a deep desire and NEED to delve into the deepest mental models of why opinions differ so much. If we can understand, then we can design effectively for it.

The magic of having a deadline created the necessary (and healthy) restrictions for fast paced action and results. Give us twice as long and we’ll take twice as long

Our amazing team!

Next: How to get more buy-in for Service Design (as an in-house designer)

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