What we learnt from our recent Hackathon
As a startup at the heart of Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa, we at Big Field Digital, a creative agency love building things. Last week, we decided to hold a hackathon as part of our plans towards developing solutions that Nigeria’s internet population can benefit from.
To get the hackathon right, we needed to plan it carefully. The first step of the hackathon was a brainstorming session which blew our minds into epic proportions.
Enter the room of thinkers and idea generators. Everyone’s mind is pacing and bracing, filled with eagerness and enthusiasm and ready to hit the floor rolling as ideas dart across the room. Like every brainstorming session, no one was left out. There was no doubt our team of creatives will soon start exchanging ideas akin to foreign tongues. Someone talked about some recipes, another wanted an hourglass for some funny productivity hacks; at least, no one made mention of drawn carts for some weird mind manipulation. It was mind blowing, it was fun. After three hours of intensive critical analysis and exhaustion of the idea banks in our minds – before they got refilled, what we had was up to a lorry-load. I suppose we underestimated the returns from each individual that participated in the brainstorming session.
Now with our heap of ideas, how do we filter? Somebody? When faced with a huge task of narrowing down such huge quantity of ideas, we decided to limit the number to 2 ideas that we could work on for the coming month. We soon figured out that this task would need some bespoke yardstick to measure against. When it came to selecting a winner, we entered a dilemma. We had a choice of selecting long-term creative ideas versus short term not-so-catchy ideas. I guess most of our creative ideas were long term. Or so we perceived. Since our plan was to deploy a solution within a month, we had to ensure the winning ideas could be implemented within a month. Creativity miraculously came in second as the second yardstick of measurement. This, of course, caused a more critical review of each idea. We figured out viral solutions all have a common characteristics which is creativity. You can prove me wrong. The final yardstick was feasibility. In terms of technical capabilities, requirements and development challenges, how can we pull these ideas off? By carefully reviewing all these factors we were able to easily eliminate and narrow down to two brilliant ideas.
Once we were done with idea generation and elimination (you can call it selection), we had to perform an in-depth analysis of the two ideas. This entailed a careful market research on similarity with existing products; followed step-wisely with a walk through of the design process. The market research provided a lot of useful insights; majorly the provision of standards to benchmark against. This helped our storyboarding. The storyboarding was one of the eye-opening stages of the build-up to the hackathon. We found out several technologies that would be required to develop the idea which was going to be a full-fledged I.T solution in the form of an Android app. One of the biggest lessons from this stage was the huge number of approaches available to whip this idea into shape; culminating in a careful framework selection process. The frameworks were endless. This forced our hand to come up with a bespoke software framework on the spot. You might be wondering why we didn’t use an existing methodology for our design. Our findings led us to a greater conclusion; that we are better off putting in the extra effort to developing a unique approach for every stage of the design process. This is not to say that we totally neglected some fundamental design principles. As soon as we were done with the wireframing, we fixed a date for the hackathon.
“Ionic is cool, what do you think?”, that was our design expert trying to confirm our new found love for one of the frameworks we would be using. We were all brimming with the idea of coming together to create something that will solve a problem under 24 hours; I believe most hackathons don’t last longer than a day. With our PCs, ideas and A-game we set to coding our beloved idea. Everyone soon got busy with his own portion of the development process. After an hour, we had completed the skeletal structure of the app, ready to wear a customized body of more codes, graphics and tweaks. We labored on and 11 hours later, a prototype of our idea was set to be deployed except, for one thing, we needed to test. The test would turn out to be the back-breaker and I would prefer not to delve into that.
Planning is key. For you to hold a successful hackathon, you shouldn’t delay all design processes till the D-day. That is not to say we didn’t face any obstacle along the way. In fact, we had one of our designers joking about how the hackathon should have been tagged as a hack-a –blow (that’s an inside joke if you don’t get it), given the messy design we came up with at some point. However, we believe our problem was half-solved through careful planning.
We hope more startups and businesses, especially in this part of the world, would embrace the culture of co-creation by holding frequent hackathons sometimes in the future. We held it successfully and we would do it again as we found it to be fun, rewarding and eye-opening.