NYU-Poly’s NYC Service Design Jam: 48-hours to Change the World

From Brazil to Sweden — to right here at NYU-Poly — student innovators gathered to bridge the gap between consumers and service providers.


Just forty-eight hours to change the world. Though it sounds like a daunting task, it’s what participants in the “NYC Service Design Jam” set out to do March 1-3. This event, which was organized by the NYC Service Design Network, and hosted, by the NYU-Poly Design Tinkering Student Club and the Department of Technology Management and Innovation was part of a larger Global Design Jam that took place in more than 120 cities around the world. Made the world a tad smaller over the weekend, NYU-Poly checked in and corresponded with Jammers in Brazil, Scotland, and Washington, D.C. Jam hosts from Sweden camped out to encourage New York Jammers and watch the creativity culminate, their Jam having already ended. Roger Hall’s Regna Lounge headquartered ten teams collaborating to develop new ideas and concepts all in service of service design.

“Services themselves can be designed…many people are not aware of that fact,” said Ashwin Gopi, a researcher at NYU Poly and one of the event’s organizers. “So hopefully this [event] opens up minds to the fact of how you develop of holistic view of services.”

So what is service design? Service design aims to develop and deliver services that provide better experiences for consumers, and creates value for both the consumer and the service provider.

For Marshall Sitten, event organizer and founder of the NYC Chapter of Service Design, the Jam was an important and exciting way to promote and educate others about this relatively new field.

“My favorite part about this is seeing how much interest there is in understanding and improving services. It’s people being more aware of how much of what they do, and how much they interact, with services. It’s people deciding to take a more active role in the services they use.”

“Active” is exactly right. In a single weekend, students and professionals—from varied disciplines and experience levels—race against the clock to design a service that could one day change the way we bank, learn, socialize, shop, etc. Here’s how the weekend unfolded:

Day One: Meet and Greet. The theme of the Jam was revealed. This year’s theme: “grow.”

Day Two: Jammers brainstormed ideas, conducted field research, interviews and observation, then selected and refined their ideas into an innovative service that solved a problem.

Day Three: Problems solved! Jammers uploaded their presentations and prototypes for the world to see and presented in front of their peers.

By Day Three, Regna Hall was plastered in neon Post-Its. Whiteboards partitioned the large space into several makeshift mini-boardrooms intentionally furnished with mismatched seating. A thin frenzy hovered over the room as Jammers made final edits and adjustments to video-and voiceover-laden presentations. Groans and sighs, corresponding with the dwindling countdown to 3:00 pm, rolled from every corner of what had so quickly become a community of free-thinkers.

“It’s exciting said Assistant Professor Anne-Laure Fayard, event organizer who is also advising the Design Tinkering Club and teaching a course on Design Thinking. “Friday we set up the room. It was just an empty room with tables and now it’s a lively space full of post-it notes and sketches, with people working together. It has become a kind of a base or camp for people to go back and forth, check in and check out, going out to do some research and coming back to develop ideas.”

As the clock ran down, and Jammers made a final push, it was clear that everyone would come out victorious here (though there were no “winners” in this forum). The exhibition of collaboration and “growth” went far beyond the theme of the Jam.

“It’s great if there’s some ideas that can be implemented,” said Fayard. “But for the participants it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, collaborate…for students I think that’s the big learning point.”

Shirley Wu, a student of management technology at NYU-Poly and first-year Jammer, confirms Anne-Laure’s line of thinking. “Everyone in the group had different backgrounds and different amounts of experience so I learned a lot,” said Wu. “The way I used to do design -- the process -- was a lot different, so this gave me a different perspective.”

Pai-Hua Wang, an NYU-Poly biotechnology student, also appreciated this new experience. “It’s just practice,” Wang said, “but we can apply what we learned in the future.”

And that challenge to change the world in forty-eight hours?

“In the practices and the way people are going do things, [this event] is going to have an impact,” Fayard said. “I don’t think that in forty-eight hours you can have an idea that is strong enough that it can be implemented but it can be a seed.”

So says a proverb from our friends the Swedes, “All the flowers of all tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”