Sofia Calling

We’ve been doing a lot of work at 100%Open recently around innovation in cities with the likes of Abu Dhabi, Bogota, Delhi, Detroit, Dubai, Geneva, Glasgow, Kuala Lumpur, Leeds, Medellin, New York, Pune, Sheffield and Singapore.

So when it came to organising our recent 100%Open away day we wanted to do something a bit different. And it made sense to practice what we preach, and to do something around a city, namely Sofia in Bulgaria which is reinventing itself and we wanted to see what we could learn from that experience.

Last year, I developed an idea to create insider-led tours devoted to presenting the beauty and authenticity of post-socialist cities in Eastern Europe by way of an immersive urban experience. As I’m originally from Sofia, I wanted to start this project from my home city which I know best.


My enthusiasm and passion working on this project called UrbanEast, which was created initially as part of my master course at Goldsmiths, piqued the interest of my colleagues at 100%Open. They were very excited at the prospect of experiencing a new culture through exploration of the city of Sofia, and getting some insight into how this post-socialist capital has been reinventing itself.

As an innovation agency, prototyping new ideas is in our DNA, and a blog post shared by my colleague, Gina, reminded me that:

“The point is to show the thing, show it early, and give everyone a creative ‘in’.” Kate Towsey

This is, literally, what I did. The real journey of prototyping my new venture had started.  Here are the three phases we have gone through:

Phase 1: Blueprinting

First, I started by creating a rough paper prototype of the user journey experience for a group of 6 people, using the Blueprint tool. This helped me to design my UrbanEast service, Creative Walks, and allowed me to break down its different components and think more systematically about how to fit them together. As I wanted to keep everything secret before the trip to Sofia, I worked closely with my colleague Murray, our Head of Design. He is tremendously knowledgeable about service design and user experience and his advice was a great help to start prototyping the service from scratch, thinking about every detail and communication before we all landed in Sofia.

Phase 2: User experience

I chose a 2-day insider’s cultural experience to prototype Creative Walks in the real environment of Sofia and worked closely with a group of six colleagues to prototype the service. The aim was to explore the city’s hidden gems, engage with creative entrepreneurs and taste the local culture. We also shot a short video to give you a flavour of our experience in Sofia.

Aside from having lots of fun getting to know each other a bit better, the prototyping was hard work to do systematically, but I enjoyed using my local knowledge to plan what I hoped would be an exciting itinerary. My first learning was that it’s hard to create one perfect experience for 6 different people!

Phase 3: Learnings

When we got back I ran interviews with the group using the 100%Open Prototype Evaluator tool. The tool helps me to systematically review people’s experiences, harness the learnings from prototyping Creative Walks and better understand how its value proposition can be improved.

By using this tool, I understood how important is to get to know your customer fast and that to constantly interact with them. I also learned that I will need to balance the pre-arranged itinerary with more down time if I am going to satisfy more independent travelers. Last but not least, I will need to find the right balance of communication that provides people an idea what is planned, whilst keeping them excited to explore.

100%Open team_ Sofia copy

In summary, everybody in the group learned something on this prototyping mission, and we think that this trip brought inspiration for all city-related projects we are currently running at 100%Open by discovering Sofia.

Needless to say, I feel incredibly lucky to work for a company which culture is to encourage and support its people to unpack their creativity, collaborate together and learn from doing stuff. Thanks to all of my truly innovative colleagues who spotted the potential of UrbanEast, helped me to prototype it and develop the service further. Stay tuned!

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