At a hackathon, a demo can only take you so far, you also need the communication chops to get your point across that what you built is disruptive. And it starts with understanding the who are we designing for. Here’s a recap of what it took for our team to get there and win first place at the Code for Hillary Hackathon.
We set out to help underserved voters who have challenges getting to the polls or at the polls. The 311-4-Hillary application allows people to ask for assistance (in their preferred language), get care and also help from lawyers to protect their voting rights, all in real-time.
An hour before submitting our product to the judges, Carla drew a triangle on a blank sheet of paper with the points below. We turned hours of design into a fast sprint from Mission Impossible.
3 Magical Questions
(1) Why is this technology disruptive?
(2) How much will it cost to build the solution? (logistics, APIs, collaboration with Headquarters)
(3) How will the solution be implemented and be managed?
An hour before submission our product was not meeting the first point. We focused on meeting the needs of volunteers and voters. This led to busy screens that made it unclear to voters where to start — some of the people facing these challenges don’t have much education and need straightforward directions. On the volunteer side, we were replicating some of the features other applications are already doing. In that last hour, we chose to remove the features for the volunteers.
It’s easy to buckle down and start writing code right away. But what I learned from this hackathon is the importance of investigation. Before creating, or even drawing the information architecture, we narrowed down the focus of our product by understanding the needs of our users and also Headquarters. We conducted an in-depth interview with the Director of Engineering to understand what Hillary’s team is already using and not using. Mentors and organizers are not there just to set up and give a pep talk, they are also resources! Bombard them with questions. Better to ask than assume!
Preparation is key even at a hackathon. Don't confused preparation with destination. As a hacker you still need a map to outline your path so that when those twists and turns come, you face them with grace.