Leveraging community to create authentic memories, not itineraries.
Designers are often told to have humility when they design, but what does that look like during the time crunch of a design-a-thon? For me, the most poignant moment of the competition was past the end: when the winners had been announced and I was sitting in my chair wondering what I had just struggled 36 hours for.
If you're interested in playing with the prototype, you can view it right here (on desktop). If you’re interested in what I learnt from participating, keep reading!
Running the gauntlet
I was participating in this design-a-thon with two of my GBDA classmates, Vedant and Elliot. We thought it might be a fun challenge (Elliot and I have never participated in a hackathon-style competition) to keep our skills fresh; and the prize money was extra incentive - at least, that's what I told myself.
As the hours ticked by and we ran through the full-spectrum product design gauntlet, I became more and more confident. We'd done this plenty of times before, we had a good idea, and great teamwork to execute it with.
We quickly brainstormed some ideas and burned through the basics of ideation.
Ideation & Design
Then, we jumped into wireframing and prototyping to flesh out our idea, bouncing ideas off each other to speed up the iteration.
Finally, we used our last two hours to record a basic product pitch.
Taking a step back
Just like that, we had arrived at judgement hour. I sat at the finals ceremony, watching the live finalist pitches and trying not to fall asleep. As the presenters went on, my stomach began to turn. What was it that we had missed? Where had my confidence gone?
All of a sudden, it struck. One of the presenters said: "My first thought, when we heard the challenge prompt? To go out and ask my fellow students for their answers." I knew right there that we had lost, but more importantly: I knew that I had not designed with humility.
This hackathon actually isn't the worst sleep to work ratio I've lived through...
Looking at our pitch deck really clued me in: we hadn't shown anything about how real-life users came into the picture!
Testing (or the lack thereof)
In the pursuit of finishing within 36 hours, we also used plenty of heuristics; which meant that we did no real user testing (getting feedback from each other doesn't really count).
As a product designer by trade, I thought that participating in a beginner-oriented design-a-thon was just going to be portfolio fodder: even then, I was lacking the humility that designers strive to embody. Don't get me wrong: I'm proud of what we made, and it took a lot of effort! But if you asked me how many users would use the product right now, I'd be hard pressed to answer with real names.
"Beyond expertise and experience, not assuming you know the answers in advance can help you truly focus on people’s needs."
The quote sums it up pretty well. Not assuming means talking to real people and having conversations (the winners), not sending out a survey with canned questions or reading online articles (our team). Truly focusing on people's needs is about design bridging the experience gap between solution and problem (the winners), not applying old interaction patterns to new scenarios to beat a deadline (our team). Both of those things add up to products that go beyond the scope of "hackathon project" and give the project a "raison d'être". Going forward, I have three takeaways that I'm going to integrate into my workflow:
Humility is an attitude, not an attribute.
Heuristics help you go fast, but going fast isn't the goal
The finished product
That being said, I’m still proud of the work that we created. You can watch the recorded pitch or play with the prototype below (desktop only):
The most valuable lesson I learned from this experience was that humility isn't just an attribute for me to talk about in my resume: it's an attitude and a practice. It's part of the ethos of co-creation and a way forward in a contemporary society where Figma prototypes are a dime a dozen.
Thanks for reading! If my skillset sounds applicable to obstacles your product is currently facing, feel free to get in touch.