Look at all the lovely post-it notes … I did die and go to heaven

Adventures in Service Design with Gov Jam Liverpool

Andy Tabberer
6 min readOct 26, 2019


This week I took part in my first GovJam and I had my first experience of service design and the designing of a service. This was a big thing. I’d been to Coop Digital to see what they do — courtesy of the kind and lovely Neil Vass (@neil_vass)— but this time I was going in, doing it for real.

I stumbled across the GovJam through that there Twitter. On a whim, I signed up. The purpose appealed to me. Submit, it said. Then a period of doubt descended — I will be exposed as an imposter. Weird how the mind works :/

The Liverpool GovJam day arrived. Got up, felt nervous, caught a train, got lost, got food, got coffee, got there. Eventually.

There is here — see below — an area of Liverpool that seems up-and-coming with makers and creatives nestled among street art. It reminded me of Rotterdam. The venue was Does_liverpool.

Street Art: One of Liverpool’s famous sons. Also the name for our ‘Stand-Up’ at PixelBeard :)


I walked into a room full of strangers. Bit pensive. My wife’s words of wisdom about me and social situations materialised in my mind. It whispered:

“Don’t drink too much coffee and don’t be mad”

Check :) I found a table and at that table was a woman called Jen (@jen_allanson). She spoke, I opened up, we chatted. Jen, by the way, is wise, magical and kind :)

We were officially welcomed by our Host, Joe (@JDBramall). He was followed by Ben Holliday (@BenHolliday), from the sponsors FutureGov, who talked about service design and the designing of services. Then the secret theme was announced. We paused. A pin dropped. Did I hear a muffled scream? We watched the theme again. Another pause… and then the ideas began to flow.

The Drill…

Write your ideas on post-it notes about the theme. Post these on the wall. Joe did a bit of affinity mapping magic and five ideas began to emerge, something we could gather around, breath life into, develop, learn to love.

We picked the idea we wanted to work on. Jen and I stayed together. Jess joined us. Jess (@JC_Robins), by the way, is scholarly, sharp and calm, a nice counterpoint to my messy mind :)

Our theme was ‘end of life’ planning, dealing with death and dying, the recycling of ‘you’.

Step one: Questions

Working as a group, we created our questions for guerilla research around our idea. This was our first ever guerilla user research. Questions for strangers about death. Gulp.

Nice badges :) and my handwriting looks almost legible this zoomed in.

The Streets

Our first lesson.

Your surroundings can have an effect on your research.

The first person we approached was off for a scan at the very nearby hospital — “I might have cancer”, he said. We then were moved on by a market trader as we were putting off customers — and he didn’t even know our topic.

The second person we asked had been to a funeral two days before. Too painful to talk about, he said.

We eventually found 4–5 people ready to talk about death, and it showed we were onto something. We headed back with ideas starting to form around helping people open up about the taboo of death.

Crazy eights

Next step, we were all challenged to sketch eight ideas in eight minutes using the Crazy Eight design thinking exercise.

We settled on a Death card game called ‘It’s your funeral’: a fun game with a deadly serious message. Our prototype was a set of cards with questions designed to help people talk about death & dying (below).

Death: deal with it :) Jess’s rather good card work

So, we built our first-ever paper prototype together. Jen and I wrote the questions, Jess did the creative bit — rather well, too :)

Guerillas in the Mist

Joe shepherded us out the door to do our first-ever guerilla prototype testing. It was, however, an aborted attempt as our proximity to the nearby hospital felt like we were playing Russian Roulette with our death-based card game. After a short walk, we headed back and decided to try Liverpool Lime Street station on the morrow. More fertile and safer ground.


Guerillas on the Concourse: the Sequel

This was so much easier and successful. A high-vis chap, a mother with grown-up children, a young woman, and friends and family provided a much-needed fillip confidence-wise in our idea.

We returned buoyed. Wrote up our findings. Then Joe sprung the next challenge. Take your prototype and expand this into a service design map. Gulp.

Quick interlude

We had a quick chat with Blackpool and we were asked to share our card prototype. They said that must have been difficult, an emotive subject. Indeed. I think I felt my heart stop and slowly roll down my body and fall out the bottom of my trousers at one point.

It was well-received though. Yay.

Design Service Mapping

Another first for our team, design service mapping. Thankfully, Elisse Jones (@ElisseJones) was on hand to take us through an example of a map she’d prepared earlier, Blue Peter style, to help us get going.

It was a slow start, but I know from personal experience of User and Customer journey mapping you just need to get on with it. It will come.

And it did. We ended up with this. Felt like a great achievement.

Me and our service design map, we’ve got each other
Look in his eyes, he’s loving this. And i was. Fact.

What’s your Death Wish?

One final push from Joe. Work on your vision and a bit more gentle prototyping. We decided to create another paper-based prototype of the final step of our service — a website to send folk to after playing ‘It’s Your Funeral’ game. We christened this website Death Wish :) obvs with the focus on ‘Planning’ and ‘Talking’, and how we link into Gov.uk and its services.

A couple of thoughts— why don’t we gift our possessions to those we love before we die with a reason why we are making the gift?

Psychology in action

While drawing the prototype, I started rabbiting on about a visual idea about hot air balloon floating away symbolising the lightening of the load as you plan ahead. It was at that point that Jess pointed out that the song 99 red balloons was playing in the background. What happens around you influences your thinking both consciously and subconsciously. Daniel Kahneman would be purring right now.

This is the End

We were done. All that remained was to present our work to the other Jammers. We Presented. Felt natural. No egos. Easy segways.

We said goodbye. We agreed to carry on with the card game idea. Hopefully more to come here ;)

In Summary

Humbling, tiring, happy, joyful, sad, difficult, emotional, stretching, out of comfort zone experience. Brilliant.

I’d like to thank

Thanks to the host Joe, my partners in death, the sponsors, DoES Liverpool, Bob Marley... just beautiful to be pushed to be better.

The pleasure was all ours

And finally…

This whole experience made me think about designing a similar set of cards with questions to use at the start of a project to get the team and clients to have an open discussion about risk, planning fallacy, the illusion of control and so on. Has anyone done anything similar or have any suggestions for questions they’d want to ask in a game setting?




Andy Tabberer

I'm curious about quality, systems and people. Proud to be a Principal DM at Coop Digital ❤️