Event | UX mini-Hackathon: First Timer + Winner! by Lauren Barnett

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BEING A WINNER of my first hackthon has left me with the following takeaways:

  1. Talking through problems and commanding clarification is collaboration. Collaborate.

  2. Pencil and Paper is an efficient way to organize your thoughts and provided for a nice warm-up iteration

  3. UX is more than fancy slide buttons and clickable prototypes. Its a small part of a larger team working to connect a business strategy to a market of users with the help of other departments: engineering, sales, operations, product. Done properly you’re not considering what looks great, but challenging to carry the user through your intended experience that brings your product to life, the rest grows from there.

A UX designer recommended the level ups she exposed herself to by participating in Hackathons. “It’s the best way to try out solutions,” she said and we subsequently talked through my previous hesitations. “They always need idea people, not just coders,” was enough of the motivation for me to put my efforts where my mouth was and give it a go. I signed up for my first hackathon less than a week later: UX HQ Meetup + Beginex sponsored Mini Hackathon w/ Starta Accelerator.

Strata Accelerator invites companies headquarter outside of the US to NYC for 3 months to break into the US market. In preparation we were told to bring a laptop and review a brief that was only supplied to us an hour or so before the official start time. We’d be assigned to teams prior to the event by the organizers. I’m unsure what went into their decision making process

The schedule format included:

6:30 - 7 p.m. Founder Q&A
7 - 8:55 p.m. Work on prototype and submit link
9 - 9:20 p.m. 2-minute presentations, w/ Founder feedback
9:30 p.m. Winners Announced including: Best Overall; Best Wireframe; Best Prototype; Best Presentation

With a little less than 2-hours to complete the challenge, I hope that my lack of software skills would prevent me from contributing. Little did I know that I would be on a team of newbies.

Panda Money, a Starta Accelerator cohort member, is a Russian company with a live product currently in the EU looking to break into the US market. The overall concept of Panda Money is to teach children to be finanically savvy as a mobile banking app on their phone.
Target Users: Parents of children ages 8- 13-years-old
Challenge Focus/Key Objective: Create a intuitive, trustworthy and efficient way for parents to
(1) create an account
(2) add two cards* (for themselves and for their kid)
(3) transfer money to their kids account
(4) give card to the kid
(5) view transaction history

*Founder, Nickoli interchangeably used the terminology of ‘card’ and ‘account’. There was tense moments during the de-briefing Q&A that never fully qualified if the physical cards would be required to my satisfaction. Why would a parent ever need a debit card to oversee their childrens spending? This, to me, would be the use of their accounts interoperability between their banking institution or vendor and Panda Money, and the assumption used in the creation of our design.

[Box | Team 7 members: Jamie Chao, programmer; Melissa Ip, government communications; Lauren Barnett, product generalist]
Brainstorm/Gathering: With the prompt freshly in mind, we chatted through the problem. Using good ol’ fashion paper and pencil and talk through each design. We each drew the user flow that we envisioned and talk through similarities and unique call outs along the way. You can see each contributing team members captured below. As we went through each one, there were elements that were universally liked, specific visuals appealing and discussions of what that meant. Our first big decision was to hold off on the credit card set-up step and build trust in the product before entering sensitive financial information, (win! 1x). With only 2-hours and other teams hurriedly already working on their laptops, it felt like we were losing time and fast.

Iterate 1: Taking the numbered sequence of our brainstorm, Jaime went to work on creating our Sketch file while Melissa and I chatted about details still missing from the overall experience. With the ideas streamlined into 1 file, we now had a master to refine.

Iterate 2: Building trust and balancing efficiency focused our prototype edits. We needed the parent to want to complete the steps while gleaning that if adopted, the tool would make their lives easier. Considering the number of steps required in order to set up a financial application, tense conversations around semantics and scheme spiraled.

Iterate 3: It gets a little muddled here about what came first and who said what, but one ah-ha moment did come this late stage. Jaime, a Chinese American, thought we would be best to clarify what it is we meant by “allowances” on our sign up page. This was a conundrum for me because how do I explain a concept that I take for granted. In this cross-cultural moment, I asked how we would do so, and he backed down bringing his heritage as the rationale, it wasn’t a concept that was familiar to him. That gave me pause, of course! allowances in a stripped down noun definition would mean “the amount of something that is permitted, especially within a set of regulations or for a specified purpose.” not the verb that was synonymous to me growing up on Nickelodeon episodes tailored to the life of the average American kid, “give (someone) a sum of money regularly as an allowance.” And voila! We had our sales angle, the differentiator to discuss when breaking into the American family ethos.

Iterate 4: Final Polish
With 10-minutes remaining our screens were not conveying enough of the group insights. With the skeleton of the features visualized in our design, we were able to tweak our section headers from strategic to transformative hosting of the user through the sign-on process. We tweaked visual elements to add to the realism of the prototype with names, profile pictures and example budget and transactions, a requirement that felt almost an after thought in the rush of the two hours.

Presentations: Being Team 7, we waited through many evaluations of the same problems that we were attempting to solve. Considerations of to ask for a the card/account information toward the end of the process to build trust, check. GDPR adherence during sign up, check. Relying on routing numbers instead of a list of banking institutions, check. Transaction history, check. Not only had other groups decided similarity on conversations that felt like huge wins at the time, their designs and presentations contained bells and whistles that far exceeded our capabilities. These were designers and they made things beautiful that worked seamlessly. Only Team 6 made mentioned of ‘allowances’, and skeptically, I believe because they were sitting less than arms distance away from us. Sitting, watching teams present similarity after similarity I had no idea how they would decide the winner. Then it was our turn. I wish I had that 2-minute presentation on tape. I felt confident in my delivery, despite stumbling over my words, and new that the story and approach differentiated us from the ask to the metaphoric customer experience.

"As Panda Money enters into the United States, we decide on a uniquely American concept, one steeped in individualized bootstrapping and engrained in the American spirit: allowance. As a parent, I know that my children need to learn financial stability and I want them to learn the same way I did, but there’s got to be a way to improve on the efficiency of that experience, where children not only earn money for chores, but can save toward their future goals of contributing to camps, large purchase items, or gifting to friends or charity….” Of course the rest of our prototype included the requirements of the on-boarding process, but around getting to know the family and their children, of setting the expectation that this service wanted to help them improve their families life.

Founder Nickoli’s response was minimal: “Wow, that was great. I have no feedback. You did everything that I asked for and you really listened to me. Thank you.”

Needless to say, we won Best Overall and Best Presentation and I danced on a cloud to top-40 summer hits on my balmy subway ride home that Friday night.

You can find my case study in my UX portfolio here.