Reflecting on my first hackathon as a UX designer

I recently took part in my first ever hackathon working as the sole UX designer on the team. The hackathon was organised by Deen Developers and Venture Studio from Crisis, and was focused around tackling homelessness in the UK. My team pitched a solution which would provide people who are experiencing homelessness with a digital identity, enabling them to have easier access to creating bank accounts as well as other benefits.

nomadx website

Here's what I learned during the process.

Speed vs Quality

There is a fine balance between working fast and working to a high quality when completing a hackathon. Since the goal is to create a functional MVP within only a matter of days, speed becomes really important and naturally, some quality will go out the window. The skill is in identifying where to skimp on quality.

It wasn't possible to completely follow the design thinking process and I found myself only covering some of the steps. Mainly, it's the steps which require getting users involved that have to be skipped. So that would include user interviews and usability tests. This meant that user research could only be carried out by simply reading articles about our end users, and this made it possible to create some very basic user personas.

I also came across the concept of developing an MVP flow, which is slightly different to a typical user flow. It's essentially a way to narrow down all of the potential user flows into a single flow which allows the user to achieve their most desirable goal with minimum friction. It's a great way to get designers thinking about what needs to be prioritised, and how to minimise user interactions to make the product as simple as possible.

Imposter Syndrome

This hackathon was probably my first time experiencing a sense of imposter syndrome. The rest of my team were established career professionals who are paid to do what they do. And then there was me, who's still in the process of completing a UX bootcamp - I haven't even completed my first project yet! So being thrown into the deep end and being expected to create high-fidelity designs for an entire product was definitely a big leap. But hey, that's exactly why I signed up for it in the first place. I am now a step closer to feeling more confident about my abilities in design, and I'm looking forward to seeking out more opportunities to develop my UX design skills. Expect to see me at future hackathons.

Collaborating with developers

This is the most important skill I've identified as an area I want to improve on. I was a little bit clueless about what the front-end devs were expecting from me when it came to designing mockups for the final product. In the end, I think we went with a pretty inefficient process where the devs simply copied the designs I had created on Figma by sight. I know that there are better workflows in place when it comes to developer handoffs, especially when using Figma. But then again, maybe those aren't suitable for a hackathon where best practices tend to go out the window. I'm also guilty of not designing with grids, which isn't doing any favours for developers.

Guide to developer handoff in Figma

Designing with dignity

Professor Peter Childs from the Dyson School of Design Engineering gave an incredible talk at the hackathon kick-off event about the concept of designing with dignity. This is especially important when dealing with sensitive issues such as homelessness.

In UX design, the approach that's often talked about is user-centred-design, where it's all about the end user. But designing with dignity goes far beyond this, in the sense that design (and the way design is communicated) will have an impact on all stakeholders involved with a product, not just the end users. This includes partners, investors, the wider public, and more. By keeping dignity in mind, designers can shape the way in which a product is perceived and drive opinions towards a more positive outlook.

Read more about dignity in design when tackling homelessness in the link below.

Crisis Venture Studio blog: Talking about homelessness and your start-up: Small changes can make a big difference

Overall the #HackathonForHomelessness was a great learning experience and it has pushed me to become a better designer. I'll end this post with a brilliant quote from Professor Childs -

"Are you going to be subject to change? Or are you going to be a supplier of change?"

Watch everyone's final pitches below.