HackIllinois 2014

Challenge

Engage over 1000 students and sponsors with each other during a 36-hour hackathon hosted by the University of Illinois.

Strategy
Role

Director of Media Team

Media Team

2013–2014

The HackIllinois staff is battle ready. Image credit Priten Vora.

How do you throw a good hackathon? All you need is Food. Power. WiFi.

How do you throw a great hackathon? With fun.

Here are the steps to planning, organizing, and launching a great hackathon using a human-centered design process:

1. Design for moonshots

What's a better way to encourage visionary ideas than space-themed hackathon? In addition to the huge operations and coordination efforts, as the Media Director of HackIllinois, I drove the vision of a space-themed collection of media, products, and event experiences. This built camaraderie among the staff and created a memorable experience for all of our participants, setting a tradition for future hackathons to come.

2. Focus on the user

Another mission of HackIllinois is to encourage mentorship and collaboration across teams despite competition. An iOS and Android mobile app was developed to connect hackers with nearby mentors, sponsors, and peers.

Downloads

An information architecture chart I created to align the expectations of the database developer and the app designers. Additionally, it was used for content management reviews.

3. Understand human needs

Most hackathons run on a hack-eat-sleep cycle for 24+ hours. This is unhealthy, stressful, and unproductive. As a human-centered hackathon, HackIllinois paid special attention to designing nap rooms, hosting breakout sessions, bringing in therapy dogs, and facilitating Nerf Gun fights for stress release.

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4. Iterate based on user research

As a side project, I led an effort to conduct formal research on the metrics of success at hackathons with surveys (with over 300 respondents, 50% of the hackathon participants) and interviews (30 interviews with hackers). I hope to share this data to help universities coordinate even better hackathons.

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