How I Survived My First UX Hackathon

The cover slide for our team presentation. It includes a minimal logo, a set of paw prints, and info about the design team.
The cover slide for our team presentation. It includes a minimal logo, a set of paw prints, and info about the design team.

I’ve heard of hackathons before, but never actually participated in one. They always seemed so daunting to me, mainly because they’re full-day events (and I’m not just talking eight hours). Given a prompt/challenge, the goal is to come up with the best possible solution in a limited timeframe.

This particular hackathon spanned a whole day. My team and I worked for a solid 13–14 hours. That’s a lot of hours and isn’t exactly ideal, but I decided to do it anyway and I’m glad. I ended up learning how to strategically manage my time and developed other key skills, all of which I can speak to in job interviews.

Methods

Creating a Mini Roadmap

A notion board with three columns—not started, in progress, and completed. Each column has cards outlining key tasks.
A notion board with three columns—not started, in progress, and completed. Each column has cards outlining key tasks.
Notion Roadmap

We set up a shared board in Notion to plan our day and ensure we were staying on task. It was important for us to set time markers. Even if we felt more could be done on a particular task, we had no choice but to move on.

It’s worth mentioning here that this was a struggle for me. As a detail-oriented designer, I always strive for quality. So, as you could imagine, I sometimes find it hard to move on. This is one of the reasons why I’m proud I participated in this hackathon.

If nothing else, it allowed me to work on my time management skills and learn how to move ahead when time and resources are tight.

We also agreed as a team that we would continue to work on our solution post hackathon, so we could worry more about quality then.

Process

Empathize & Define

Analyzing the Market

A chart with three columns analyzing the visual identity of key competitors in the electric dog collar marketplace.
A chart with three columns analyzing the visual identity of key competitors in the electric dog collar marketplace.
Competitive Analysis

Gathering Data

A set of user research questions about our project brief—an electric dog collar.
A set of user research questions about our project brief—an electric dog collar.
User Research Questions

All in all, our research was rather limited due to the time constraints we were under. Looking back, of course we would have loved to spend more time on research. However, the data we did collect was enough to make informed design decisions for V1 of our solution.

Ideate

An application map connecting lines and rectangles outlining the path a user would take through our interface.
An application map connecting lines and rectangles outlining the path a user would take through our interface.
App Map/User Flow

Following this, we thought sketching ideas was critical, so we used the 6–8–5 method to draw out key screens and flows. We had so many ideas (which was great)! Ultimately, sketching provided us with a solid foundation for moving onto wireframes.

A set of sketches on a Figma board outlining various ideas for our proposed hackathon solution
A set of sketches on a Figma board outlining various ideas for our proposed hackathon solution
6–8–5 Sketches

Prototype

Test

Iterate

Lessons Learned

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

2. Gather just enough research

What is the final deliverable that needs to be submitted?

Ask yourself this question when analyzing the challenge and determining what you should spend the most time on. For example, we needed to submit a functional prototype, so we chose to spend more time on that.

3. Sketch out ideas

4. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to prototype

5. Be honest

We were still really proud of our work. Even though we worked all day on our solution, we accepted the harsh reality—it was okay to no longer be in the running for the competition. Each team member really participated in the hackathon for the opportunity to dive back into design and get more experience under our belts, not for the prizes. Regardless, what we decided to do was send an email to the hackathon organizer, explaining our difficulties. Our goal was to be honest and upfront.

An email addressed to the hackathon organizer explaining our failure to submit our proposed solution on time.
An email addressed to the hackathon organizer explaining our failure to submit our proposed solution on time.
Team Email

Doing so paid off because the hackathon organizer replied to our email, granting us an extra hour to submit. We didn’t see this coming.

This interaction, regardless of if we were still allowed to submit or not, was a huge learning lesson. Above all, it showed me the importance of being truthful.

Sure, we could have made up an excuse or lied. However, this would have done nothing but show what type of people we are and how we work. I’m proud of the team decision we made.

So that’s how I survived my first UX hackathon. If you’re interested, here’s our final prototype and presentation, which was a finalist in the competition!👇

Final Prototype
Final Presentation

Special thanks to:

A detail-oriented product designer focusing on design systems, interactions, and research | Open to work — celinefucci.com

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