Feb 27

My First Design Jam

Ideas for connecting tourists with local people before their tripDesign Jam London 2 challenged 10 teams to create a mobile service that helped visitors to London feel more like locals. This is the story of Madeleine, our team’s idea for a mobile service to meet the brief.

In case you’re wondering, a Design Jam is where designers gather together, form teams and work on a design challenge. Like a hackday with no code.

This was a challenge where it paid to step back and consider the problem in the widest possible sense. Even though the strict time limits made it tempting to dive straight into features and interactions…

Research Always Pays

We started by brainstorming things that made us feel like locals in our own cities, from obvious ones like transport and orientation to more interesting ideas like knowing where the house parties were, experiencing the London rush hour and having moments of serendipity. Linda Sandvik, who flew over from Scandinavia especially, chipped in with some amazing real-life observations and got us on the right track.

User research (SurveyMonkey!) supported our initial ideas and added plenty more. It turned out that people strongly associated feeling local with knowing where to eat, getting around easily and being aware of ‘hidden gems’.

Ideas for populating a guidebook map with customised place dataBut most interesting was that 40% of users mentioned “people I know” as being the most important factor in feeling local. And most surprising, all respondents were in favour of meeting up with tourists that shared their interests, provided that they knew them in some way beforehand.

Value Propositions Rule

The research showed that it’s impossible to ‘feel local’ if you never hang out with residents of the city you’re visiting. So our value proposition was easy:

Madeleine is the only city guide created entirely by your local London contacts.

Why write a value proposition? Because when you have limited time you desperately need a way to decide whether ideas stay in or get jettisoned.

And we jettisoned a lot.

By lunch, we narrowed Madeleine down to a service that lets tourists use their existing contacts and personal interests to make connections with London locals to call upon during their trip. It felt like a great start.

It’s Fatal To Fixate On Details

Our scenario complete with context and mobile screensAfter lunch we got bogged down in details. How would tourists connect with locals? Would locals be overwhelmed by meeting too many tourists? Could we use Facebook and Twitter? Gowalla and Foursquare? What about serendipitous moments? Should it be HTML5 or native?

The mentors saved us. Aral Balkan pointed out that it sounded like a great web service, but that we should focus on the mobile part (RTFM basically). And Tim Brooke stopped us disappearing down a known-contact-only rabbit hole.

This changed everything.

We captured assumptions about the data that the web service would supply – a group of local contacts and a list of their favourite locations – and got on with the mobile application design. With about 45 minutes left.

Crossing Disciplines Gets Results

We had been warned to carefully consider the context in which the mobile app would be used.  I was out of my depth here, but luckily our team ran deep.

Richard Dron had a strong background in ergonomics and started us thinking about scenarios and storyboards. He led us to this sequence:

  1. After a day’s sightseeing, the tourist opens Madeleine to find a place recommended by his local contacts in which to spend the evening.
  2. Finding that the recommendee shares his interest in music, the tourist invites that local contact along using Madeleine.
  3. Although that local contact turns out to be unavailable, he uses Madeleine to invite his friends along that share similar interests as the tourist.

This neatly covered the core functionality of our mobile service. At which point Diane Faidy, an interaction designer from OrangeLabs, sketched the whole thing in about 15 minutes! Including some beautiful work showing the tourist and locals in context alongside the mobile screens they were using.

This is exactly what I hoped to get from Design Jam. Serious learning from people that know much more than me.

Final Thoughts on Design Jam

We did our final presentation using a Visualiser, which lets you show paper sketches on the digital projector. Like an OHP on steroids, it removes all barriers between sketching and presentation. Incredible.

Other teams had great ideas and presented them brilliantly. My favourite warned you in a Ray Winstone-ish voice that you were entering a dangerous area. With a video. And serious props go to the teams that actually mocked up their applications on paper and in Flowella.

Design Jam London 2 was a fascinating learning experience. I would have loved more criticism from the mentors, especially on final presentations, but that takes nothing away from what was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.

I’d love to hear what you think about this on @myddelton. Big hat tips to Leisa Reichelt and Gamestorming for the stuff about value propositions – I’m using them in everything I do these days. And, of course, massive thanks to the organisers of Design Jam London and the amazing Team Madeleine.


  1. myddelton posted this