Strangers coming together to make magic

Mubarak Marafa
8 min readMar 2, 2017

48 hours.

48 hours to build a service.

48 hours to build a service that could potentially change the world.

That’s, in a nutshell, what I walked in on last weekend. Just kidding. I bought a ticket. This was going to be my first ever design jam. Honestly, this was going to be my first ever event of this sort. I’d heard of the Global Service Jam from a friend who recommended it to me after I complained about needing to meet more designers like me in Hong Kong. Boy oh boy was I in for an epic weekend.

The Arrival

I left work in a hurry, one eye on Google Earth, the other on my watch. I was running late.

The location was far. It was a primarily industrial area with old factories turned art galleries. Have you ever been on your way to an event and noticed others headed the same way. I’ve always found it entertaining. The look of confusion, trying to figure out where to go. If it’s a place that’s hard to find, it’s even better. You’re going forward, turning back, maybe following the other person, maybe not.

I approached the gentleman and asked “are you headed to Campfire Creative? The Global-”

“-Service Jam? Yeah! You too?” The gentleman asked with a relieved look. We were now lost together. Which, FYI, is much better than being lost alone. Fast forward and we eventually find our way to an industrial factory elevator. We take it up and the doors open.

This venue was perfect! Apparently Campfire Creative was a last minute clutch. Kudos to the organisers.


The neon lights were perfect. I felt a buzz of excitement. I walked into this incredible shared working space. Exposed concrete, industrial style lighting, neon motivational quotes on the walls, cozy cubby hole corners with floral wallpaper and yellow couches, a hammock arena and so much more. This place was so dope. Hello.

The Start


The theme was revealed. The Jam had begun.

The theme was…

“Hello? Lo? O? O.”


Confusion. That was the first thing that came to my mind. That and Lionel Richie. Oh, and Adele, but it was time to begin jamming. We broke out into sponteneous groups and started discussing what we thought of the theme. My group meandered around some interesting leads about global micro-funding, public social ice-breaking and breaking down social barriers.

BAM! We were handed A4 sized blank sheets of paper and instructed to describe an idea on it. I broke out my markers and sketched up a quick idea I had about a wireless badge people could wear that lights up when another person who’s wearing the same is nearby, indicating they were open to for a chat.

We then played a game. The rules were as follows:

When the music is playing, walk around the room in a random manner. Swap your sheet of paper with anyone you make eye contact with.

When the music stops, find the person nearest to you and take a minute to understand and explain the two ideas on your respective sheets of paper.

Allocate 7 total points in any way to the two ideas and write them on the back of the sheet of paper. E.g. 6 and 1, 2 and 5, or 3 and 4.

We did this for roughly 7 rounds and at the end we were asked to add up the number of points we had on the idea we were holding onto. The people holding the ideas that scored the highest were invited to the front and told to describe it to the rest of us. My favorite idea was literally a piece of paper with a bat and some sonar waves and a dog speaking gibberish.

All the ideas were thumbtacked to different locations in the room and we were to choose one to work with. I decided to go with the idea about “bringing strangers closer together using home cooked meals”. I went with this because it was very similar to an idea I had prior to the event, so I had already given this concept a lot of thought.

This was our starting point.

Quite a few people must have thought it was a good idea because we had a gigantic team of 10 people, as opposed to the recomended 5 members. We drew numbers from a hat to break up the teams in the least awkward manner and hey presto, a team of strangers that had just met was formed. Excellent.

The A-Team! Aakansha, Mavi, Matteo, Sherry, Me, and Amelia (Clock-wise starting from the top left)

The Sprint

So we began designing. Post-it notes flying like shurikens. Downing cups of coffee like there was no tomorrow. We were scribbling all over cardboard papers, making mind maps and solidifying our problem statement. We needed to come up with a basis for the user research we were required to conduct the next day. The problem statement needed to be in the form of a question, in design we call it a “Central Question”. This question formed the basis of all of our research questions.

“Can we use home-cooked food to bring strangers together?”

Stickies galore during our research and definition phase.

We outlined a few rudimentary personas in the form of general statements to guide us in the formation of our interview questions.

Someone who wants home cooked meals.

The foodie.

The enthusiastic cook.

The I’ve-always-wanted-to-open-a-restaurant person.

From this we began to design a set of questions. We decided early on to be contextualy aware of our location. We designed our research with this in mind. Below are just a few questions:

Have you ever hosted a dinner party at your place? Tell me about your experience.

Have you ever considered using Airbnb? How do you feel about sharing your space with a stranger?

Lickety split, the next morning we met up and consolidated our research plan and questionairre and we headed out to the streets. We split up into smaller teams to cover more ground because we had roughly 2 hours. I called up a few friends and prodded them for information (If you’re reading this Florence and April, I know it was a Saturday morning I am so… sorry and thank you!).

What was cool was that we very quickly noticed certain things being repeated. What began as a theory, or an assumption, graduated and became a pattern, which then graduated and became a trend, which then finally became an insight.

Users who cooked, wanted to cook for more people, but didn’t because of lack of space at home. They generally wouldn’t mind cooking for, and eating with, strangers but wouldn’t feel comfortable unless they got to know them a little bit first.

Based on this we returned and proceeded to create our personas and cover our little makeshift office with post-it notes. After creating Adrian and Angelica (Our personas for this design) we began telling stories. We made sure to keep in mind our core principle. We chanted it almost like a mantra to make sure it was never far from our minds.

This is not about the food… it’s about the relationships.

Meet Adrian! One of our personas. We stuck his profile on the wall as a constant reminder of who we were designing for.

The Finish

The next step was to prototype the ideas we had bouncing around. This is expecially tough with Service Design. Much of the product and systems design in Service Design is intangible. So how do you prototype for a conceptual service?

We decided to tell a story.

We made a storyboard as a prototype to test with potential users.

We invited fresh eyes to listen to our idea. People who hadn’t heard anything about it. We sat them down and interactively walked them through the story. Inviting them to imagine themselves in a scenario we painted for them. We bounced potential problems back and forth and slowly ironed out the details of our idea. In this way we went through a few iterations of our idea.

During the Jam we had mentors strolling around the chaos while teams were scrambling fighting the deadline. They were there to impart their vast knowledge from their years in the industry. A few were like flies on walls, silently observing before leaving a deeply insightful comment before retreating backards from whence they came and some mentors actively joined in on the process and helped hurl stickies.

We invited mentors into our “studio” to help us iron out details.

We ran into an interesting issue that one of the mentors very helpfully pointed out for us (Thank you Michael). We were getting bogged down with the details. He gave us some valuable guidance and told us to leave the details, take a step back and look at our design as a whole, make sure everything is sound from that distance and then, craft an engaging story out of it.

This is what we came back on Sunday morning ready to do. We had our concept, now it was time to execute. We made a plan, wrote a script and got to it. We decided to delegate the work so that we could work faster. Sherry and Aakansha were building slides, Matteo was writing the script and outlining the slides, Amelia was mocking up screens for our platform, and Mavi was coming up with our name and motto. I was responsible for the voice-over since I had done it before in previous work. I was also responsible for collecting all the assets and stitching together a 3 minute video for our presentation.

We worked all the way up to the last second. I was still rendering out the video as we rushed to sit in the audience as the presentations were about to begin.

The End

Our presentation went amazingly. We managed to present a relatively polished final video which I shall of course embed below. We played our video for the audience and the judges and answered a few questions.

I’m just full of awesome poses. 🙄

Over all the whole experience allowed me to experience working closely with a brand new group of people to prioritise and work together with a common goal in mind. I learned so much from the whole experience, I honestly think it’s the best breeding ground for growing as a designer and I now understand why hackathons and jams like these are growing in popularity. The Global Service Jam has me wondering…

“When’s the next one?!”

My name is Mubarak Marafa, a designer based in Hong Kong. Check out my work on my portfolio.

Thanks so much for reading! Please recommend, comment, all that good stuff and stay tuned for more!