What I’ve learnt from my first Hackathon

Last month I was invited to participate to a Hackathon through universities in the UK. Hackathons normally take around 24 hours and you and your team need to solve a specific problem during this time, eating sweeties and working like crazy – with not too much sleep. Technically is not very different from working hours in a newspaper to get your project done before the news are published to the public. But well, this was different.

It was like playing a new game for hours. However sometimes it’s difficult to know what to expect from it. How do I find people to do this with me? Am I that good? What am I going to do? How can I help?

For this post I will highlight my experience (from the perspective of an UI/UX designer) and how we managed to get a prize in the end of the competition. Yay! /o/

The world can end while you are coding. Grab some really nice food!
Some people prefer to study and work with coffee. Oh well, that could be that case as we were doing this for 24 hours. But water and brain food as nuts and dried fruits could help. For me, what helped was chocolate and the idea of finishing the project with a very good result (why not?).

You can sleep. This will let your friends to take pictures like that:

Also, things like that could happen:


What about your skills?
First of all I got a little bit insecure about my skills and those very experienced “coders” around the team. What can I do being as I was not a “coder”? I knew I could do something around interface design or UX design. And there is where I put all my energy in. I tried everything I could till get the best wait to present our idea to the rest of the other teams. But the greatest thing I’ve learnt was: trust your skills and go for it!

In the end it doesn’t matter if you can’t code as quick as your colleagues. Just have fun!

Choose one idea and defend that till the end
The theme of this project was about collecting data from different areas regarding transportation, roads, weather conditions, floods and so on in order to build a good maintenance plan for streets. The event, created by SmartStreetsHub had a lot of good references about the internet of things, sensors and the “internet of places”, which is about context and people. For this theme, we had the idea to create the tool called CycleSport.

The main idea was to transform the data into something meaningful to people. In that case, our target was cyclists that use roads and streets everyday and need to know which route is the safest. The main idea should be always the creation of relevant things for people. That’s why we are here.

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Work with people that make you laugh and don’t go alone!
Spending 24 hours with people that are boring is not that good. For the team you need to combine skills and analyse the possibility to have fun with those people. This is a very big challenge and in the end, it will be what really matters. Imagine if you start doing what you think it’s the best, and other people from your team are doing another thing? Or imagine that you start coding in one language and then the team is working with other language. It doesn’t work like that. You need to have fun, learn and do what you like the most (that could be programming, planning, testing or even buying some chocolate for the members of the team).

In the end, this experience could open the doors for more projects with the same team in the future. Why not?


In the end…
I can talk about my role in this project. I was the one designing understandable interfaces to people. In other words, I combined UI with UX into the main idea, creating an identity for the project and a website.

As a result, I must admit that I’ve learnt a lot. Combining the concept of internet of places and contextual data, it was possible to draw significant experiences to people and help cyclists to get safe routes. In this situation and working as a team in a small amount of time made me feel responsible for the design field as much as my other colleagues felt responsible for their areas.

In the end, we’ve managed to win a prize in the competition. But for me, this reward was more than just a few pounds. The final reward was to work with an amazing team of talented people, which I hope to stay in touch and keep doing projects like that.

I can’t wait for the next hackathon. There is nothing best than teamwork. :)


And thanks for the brilliant team:



Gary Wills: gb@soton.ac.uk

Cherrett T.J.: T.J.Cherrett@soton.ac.uk

Prototyping experiences [#isa2012]

In the last post, I talked about Arduino and my impressions. The posts of this week will be about the Interaction South America, a big event that happened a week a go in São Paulo. Hope you like them! :)

The second talk of the day was conducted by Martin Zabaleta, partner and director of Insitum. He started talking about sketching user experiences, where prototyping and design are essential part of the process of innovation. This means that to create a user-centered approach, we need to think about people and prototypes.

“The only important thing about design is how it relates to people”

This is a quote from Victor Papanek, a designer and educator that defended responsible design. The relationship between design, social and environment can’t be ignored. “Design must be meaningful”. Meaning is the deepest and strong connection between people, context and expressions. That’s why experiences must be meaningful.

Innovation begins with an eye

Observation is learning from people’s needs. We need to understand how the social cultural scenario configures and then create a relationship between cognitive emotions and physical reactions. Observe extreme users, not the average people.

Quick, dirty and cheap
Prototypes must create a tangible and physical representation of an idea. You must learn its aspects and reactions.
Experimentation, risk-taking, learning, failing and fearlessness, must be your guides. The prototype doesn’t need to be too much planned: you need to build, learn, refine and build again. Fidelity can appear in different levels, depending on what you are trying to achieve. You can prototype services, strategies, business models, interfaces and interactions.

In order to describe relationships between services components we need to think about a conceptual prototype. For this, we develop a scenario (or multiple scenarios), that we can illustrate the experience and create empathy. We can prototype the user journey through the entire service.
Also in that context, trust can be built through design. The experiences created by tangible elements and prototypes. We need to design for people’s needs and factors that matter to people.

Approach a problem solving
It’s important to have empathy for the context and creativity in the generation of thoughts. In that scenario, design thinking should be the key. We need intuitive and analytical thinking.

So, can we design a better way to educate?
It’s possible to improve education in Latin America. We can create a better network computer, applications to learn math, an ecosystem or the method of teaching. Everything is related to the experience between students, teachers, parents and the society. The good thing about prototyping education is to build experiences that are related to the context and culture. Building an experience in Brazil is totally different from Singapore, China… Or even the experience in the same country can be diverse. It’s important to prototype to learn fast and build good and coherent experiences inside one culture/context.

This post was a brief introduction about prototyping experiences. Martin Zabaleta also gave a workshop in the first day of the #ISA2012.
*Images from Facebook/Corbis

Teaching Kids Design Thinking, So They Can Solve The World’s Biggest Problems
Designing to Build Trust : The factors that matter
Agile Problems, UX Solutions, Part 1: The Big Picture and Prototyping
Co-designing with Children
Design For The Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change
An Early Champion of Good Sense
Iterating for Visitors at the Exploratorium

photo credit: e350 paper prototype via photopin (license)

Arduino and prototypes – designing interactions [#isa2012]

A week ago we hosted in São Paulo a big event of interaction design. We had great people talking, like Massino Banzi, Martin Zabaleta, Olli Leino, Roger Pujol, Dan Saffer, Jonathan Hull and… Don Norman. Well, I decided to write a post about my impressions of the Interaction South America (#ISA 2012), but this post became so big that I decided to make it in parts. So this week you will have content to read every day. :)

Why prototype with Arduino?
Arduino is a small tool for computers to control the physical world, through open-source platforms. Massino Banzi opened the first day of the #ISA2012 talking about prototyping with Arduino and the possibilities to build interactive electronics projects.

Collaborative technology
In order to make Arduino we need a piece of hardware, software, process and communication. All the contribution of new tools (Arduino has some derivatives too) and new experiments goes to a ‘community’ that uses and shares everything. This is possible because Arduino works in an open-source platform. So, it shows that we are living a democratic place in technology, where you can share things and experiment the world. Exemples: GitHub that promotes collaborative coding and CERN OpenLab from LHC project.
So, things made with Arduino are a mashup of tools and elements and the documentation is creative common license. The only thing that is ‘protected’ is the brand.
Making collaborative things shows that we are transforming technology on our time. We are sharing knowledge and testing new things very fast. That’s why Arduino seems to be the right tool in the moment to build and improve new possibilities through prototype. We are now creating more interactions. Quick-and-dirty.

Internet of things
The planet, human and physical objects are connected and we can have access to all the data we are sharing through interaction. Devices are linked together using networks. Those networks can happen through internet.
So we can say that today we are living in the internet of things, which means that things (devices included) are connected together everywhere, through the cloud and related by data. Well, we are always transmitting data that can be transformed and storaged in the cloud. This cloud is not a place, but it is anywhere. We don’t see, but it’s here.
But let’s talk about things. So, things = things made with Arduino? That’s the key of what I’m talking here.
Arduino can help us to create things that talk to each other and use the data we transmit. Transforming data is transforming new forms of social relations and we can do this by our own hands.

3D printers and prototype
Prototyping is creating an early sample of a thing that we want to test in a specific context and get some feedback from it. Well, we have more examples of prototyping and transformation. The 3D printers are already a reality. You can imagine, create something in your computer as a prototype, print, test and see if it works. A new industrial revolution?

Creating possibilities
Experience can be promoted by a bunch of interactions. We can transform the virtual/fantasy into something real and tangible. Imagine the Clock in Harry Potter, for example, alive:

We can add another function to clothes:

Ruffletron – demo from lara grant on Vimeo.

And… Use Arduino in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN:

The possibilities seem to be huge in this scenario and everything is promoted by new ways of interaction. The role of the designer today is bigger than we can imagine.
Now the designer has the autonomy to create and prototype. It’s like a DIY technology, exploring the world through new materials. You can make whatever you want in single prototypes. Interaction appears everywhere.
That can help us to think out of the box. We need to image that things can happen out of our comfort zone, where plants can talk and tweet.

It’s a mixture of things, experiments, here and now. Break your paradigms!

One observation: I didn’t have the opportunity to create any Arduino prototype yet. Hope to build it soon and then I will post my experiences here. :)

Open-source your projects — and upload them to space: Massimo Banzi at TEDGlobal 2012
The Internet of Things: how it’ll revolutionise your devices
Medical and Health Related Projects with Arduino

photo credit: rometer via photopin (license)