What can you get from Makeathons and how to get the most

Makeathons and hackathons become more and more popular nowadays. I often hear a question if this events are useful and worth spending time and energy. In this text I will try to answer on that. Let’s begin with a short definition:

Makeathon — a workshop with time constrain that brings engineers, designers, developers and makers together to answer on assigned topic through creative solution and working prototype.

I divided this article into two sections. First, I’m writing in details about one specific event related to design process performed by my team and then I am trying to answer on main question from the topic. Look at this:

GE Makeathon.

What was this all about?

At early October I had a chance to be a part of Makeathon organised by GE Healthcare. Most of the participants were students from Umeå Institute of Design and HCI Master Programme from Umeå University. The theme for this event was focused on home and work environment and especially on preventing lifestyle diseases.

After a short introduction to this type of diseases, we were divided into teams of 4–5 people. My team consisted of five — Simon, Siddarth, Stefani, Nadal and me. After introducing ourselves, we realized that all of us have different backgrounds and that our team represents three continents! This diversity and experience in different areas were important because after 48 hours of intensive making and creating, we had to present working prototype for a jury in the form of a short presentation. Easy to imagine, the time constrain was a big challenge but we manage to deliver prototype on time. Here you can see a timeline of our process:

Brainstorming on ideas

Eager and excited we started the workshop about brainstorming. Our tutor, Linda Bresäter from Joyn Service Design gave us a short introduction on how we should conduct the brainstorming and what should be the final outcome. It was really productive time with many good ideas. It involved very fast and creative thinking, because we were working with a timer and each task should take no longer than 15 minutes. What were the tasks?:

  1. Answering on What are lifestyle diseases and what cause them?
  2. Putting the results in categories.
  3. Choosing one that we think is the most relevant (we voted with stars).
  4. Brainstorming on a question that we would like to work with.
  5. Choosing the question.
  6. Brainstorming on ideas to answer on this question.
  7. Linda put random pictures on our desk to open different perspectives.

After this brainstorm we came up with a question:

How can we prevent people from being static for too long?

Selecting this question was really useful for all of us. It helped to guide us to the final solution and not to lose the right track. If we had some concerns during decision making process we could always look at the question and think if this specific idea/feature would answer on it. It also accelerated our discussion because we always stuck to the point what with this time shortage was really important.

Along with answer to that question we came up with the concept of a device that analyse user movement through an accelerometer. The device would be a stand alone object that user can keep on her/his desk during working hours and that encourage to spend some time on stretching and relaxing through signalising a need for a short break. The device would be able to show emotions through happy or sad faces. If user isn’t moving for a long time, device “is getting sad” and the only way to make it happy again is to take it on a stretching walk.

Execution of the concept

To make our concept delivered on time we had to divide tasks. Siddarth was responsible for designing shape of our product that was later printed on 3D printer. We wanted to have a shape that encourage user to interact with it and create a feeling of friendly and reliable device. Simultaneously Simon and Nadal were coding the prototype in Arduino. They used an accelerometer to provide an information about user movement.

Me and Stefani focused more on our final user. We researched threats of sitting disease to show that problem is really significant and there is a need for this type of device. We created a persona who is 25–45 years old working at the office for many hours per day and trying to find the work/life balance. We were also responsible for general interaction and behaviour of the device. We really wanted to include social aspect and encourage people to take a break together.

Of course the most important decisions were made by all of us together and every one was partially involved in all of the areas of the project. As you can see on pictures we had a lot of fun:

But also minutes of deep focus:

Presentation

On a final day we had (right picture above):

  • Working prototype — yellow box with Arduino inside. The prototype doesn’t show shape but has all features and fully explains our idea.
  • Prototype with LED matrix inside but Arduino board in wooden box. This prototype was used in the video. We just hided cables so there is a feeling of fully working device with a final shape.
  • Three 3D printed devices in different colours. We wanted to show how final design would look like and to show that device can be personalised with colour but also with different covers.

During final pitch we explained the reason of choosing this topic and then we talked about main features and benefits of our device. Some of slides from the presentation:

We also made a short video about our concept:

End the winner is…

Big congratulations to the winners — my classmates Akansha Aggarwal, Lene Rydningen and Hector Mejia for creating a great prototype and service for kids! But also big congratulations to all teams! I really like all of concepts and I was really impressed by variety of ideas and prototypes that we came up in such a short time. I would really like to thank my awesome team:

What can you get from Makeathons

Personally I recommend attending this type of workshop to every creative person. It is a great way to spend time and learn something new. I hope that after reading our process you know better how Makeathons and how useful it is. If you are still unsure maybe those sum up bullet points will convince you:

  • You will meet people with different background that will bring different experience to the table. Don’t be scared that you won’t know anyone. Others will be also in the same situations. You will get to know each other during the event and those people can show you different perspective on design.
  • It is good for networking. As mentioned above you will meet and work with those people for couple of days. It is easy to get along during doing fun things. It is also a good time to improve your social and teamwork skills. Remember to exchange numbers. Those relations can last long after an event!
  • If you are tired of long projects, it will be really refreshing because you need to deliver fast. Probably at school or work you are working on the same project for couple of months. Sometimes it is good to take a break and for a change do something fast. You will need to get used to making quick decisions and going with the flow.
  • It is a great feeling to create something that actually work in this short period of time. Having a working prototype, even a rough one is a poor pleasure. Physical objects gives you this closer connection. The one that you will probably not experience when you design an app.
  • You will learn something new and you will learn it fast. Don’t be scared if you don’t know how to code or use 3D printer. Probably someone from your team knows that and can show you how to use it. Of course you will not learn how to be professional coder in three days but it is definitely a good start.
  • You will have a new project in your portfolio. We as students are sometimes suffering from lack of varied project in our portfolios. That is a good opportunity to get one. After couple of days you will have a good material and of course you can work on that and make it better at your spare time.
  • You will get different perspective on fast prototyping. Making fast prototypes and testing them can sometimes give more information than long and deep research. Talking with users about something physical will give you much more insightful feedback and open up on different solutions that could never come up so quickly during the design process.

How to get the most?

Excited, right? Ready for your first Makeathon? I prepared some tips for you. I would not call myself an expert but still have something that can be useful if you are planning to take part in one:

  • Think about food in advance. Funny but it’s really important. There is nothing worse than working with an empty stomach. Check if the host provides lunches and dinners (inform them about your allergies before the event). If not prepare your own sandwiches or find a place that you can eat even at late hours.
  • Get to know each other. Try to introduce yourself clearly, saying about your interests, experience, things you would like to learn during this event. Listen carefully when other are introducing themselves. When you will know each others skills and experience it will be easier to work efficiently and improve final result.
  • During brainstorming session try to avoid long story telling. Try to be as much precise and informative without boring your group for 10 minutes. When people are tired they easily lose attention. This can really badly influence group dynamic.
  • Negotiate for better result. Try not to think about your ego but to work for the best result for all. Avoid personal attacks and try to make discussion constructive as possible.
  • Listen carefully and build new ideas on your teammates ideas. You need to remember that for this short time you become a team and no one will be sad if you twist someone’s idea and make something completely different from it.
  • Have a clear goal for the concept. Try to define a goal for your team at the beginning of the project. That will help you not to lose right path for the project and also your team will have clear vision of direction you need to go.
  • Divide tasks. Involve everyone in the process and be. Important part of this type of events plays management of time and resources. If everyone will be making prototype who will make a presentation? Everyone at your group is important so if you see that someone finished a task and doesn’t know what to do, try to help with finding a new task.
  • Be active. Try to be involved into process as much as possible. When you finished something, ask if you can help someone else. It really helps for the atmosphere in the team that everyone has everyone’s back.
  • Start doing presentation as soon as possible. The way you communicate your idea is as much important as your prototype. Start to think what you would like to say and show on slide on the day before the presentation. That will remove a last minutes panic. Include video if you have time for it.
  • Have fun! You are doing this for fun. Don’t stress yourself and try not to think about upcoming deadline.

That is all. If you think that you would like to try a Makeathon, don’t hesitate. Find one in your close area and subscribe. Share with me your experience — I am looking forward to that.