The Making of HackXD

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” — Henry Ford

As students, we’re all too familiar with the late nights working on homework or projects. Nevertheless, it’s always inspiring to see people white boarding away in the early hours of the morning. Henry Ford’s words echo what we saw in the teams who participated in our hackathon.

This past September, we hosted our first HackXD— a 24 hour design + development hackathon at Purdue. The hackathon was centered around bringing together people of different backgrounds to work together and learn from each other. During the event, teams worked on projects encompassing the theme of “hacking the future.”

Unlike the participants, it took us longer than 24 hours to put our project together. It all started back in 2017, when we first had the idea.

In our classes, we’ve always found few opportunities for designers and developers to work together, even though we inevitably will in industry. Thus, we were inspired to create a hackathon that redefined what it meant to collaborate.

We developed 3 main goals:

  1. Create a space for cross-functional collaboration
  2. Foster mutual learning about skills and roles
  3. Evangelize UX and increase PXD’s visibility on campus

In this article, we will highlight some of the various components we had to plan for this hackathon. Our hope is that by making our process transparent, we will be able to help and inspire other organizations plan cross-functional hackathons as well.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Back in February, we met with the Dean of Purdue Polytechnic, Gary Bertoline, and the Department Head of Computer Graphics Technology, Nathan Hartman, to present our idea to the and see if they would like to contribute. Fortunately, they both were very excited about the event and were willing to donate enough for us to hold the event. We would like to thank them for their generous donations because without them, HackXD would not have happened.

Advertising and Social Media

One thing that you will consistently deal with as you post flyers, updates, and other hackathon related materials to social media channels is questions. “Is the hackathon 24 hours?” “Can we go home to sleep?” “Will you provide food?”

Being a hackathon organizer, these questions may seem like common sense, but it is important to remember that for some participants this may be their first ever hackathon. The more questions you answer beforehand, the smoother the hackathon will run.

As for some general advertising tip for hackathons, remember to post consistently and often. We began posting to our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Slack) at the very beginning of August before the semester started, even though our hackathon was not until late September. Hackathons are a big time commitment and you want to make sure you give people plenty of time to get it down on their schedule before other commitments pop up.

It was a lot of fun being able to have complete freedom when it came to how we wanted to advertise for this event. We created our yellow logo for the event and then created banners and posters. Our overall designs for advertising turned out really cool and matched our theme of the future perfectly.

PXD board posing in front of our banner at the Anvil (where we hosted the event)

Food

One of the most appreciated parts of any event, especially for a hackathon, is the food…and of course, coffee. We wanted this hackathon to be free so that it was accessible to anyone. However, by making it free, we had to get donations so that we would be able to pay for all of the things that make the event run, including the food.

Organizing the food and drinks is a lot more than one can imagine if they have never done it before, especially for a 24-hour event. Finding catering that people will enjoy and is affordable, accommodating for any dietary restrictions, figuring out how much to order, ordering the catering from 5 different places, going to Sam’s Club to buy a boatload of snacks, going to pick up the catering during the event, and dealing with the student organization’s office to pay for everything. Like I said, there’s a lot.

What ended up happening was that we had too much food. We waited to order the food after applications closed, when we had about 60–70 applicants. We ordered food from each place for about 80–90 people to accommodate for anybody who was working the hackathon as well. Unfortunately, due to bad timing, about half of the applicants dropped out. So we ended up having double the amount of food for the number of people we had.

In the future, we should wait closer to the hackathon date to order food, so we don’t have an abundance of food. We also should work harder to better accommodate for students’ dietary restrictions.

Keynote speaker

We wanted a keynote speech that would successfully kickoff the event and get everyone in the mindset of collaboration and creativity. We got a resounding “yes” from the CEO of Crema Labs, George Brooks, who offered to bring other Crema employees for support. Due to a mixup with our venue (our original venue did not allow us to stay there overnight) we had to reschedule the hackathon. We were bummed by this, especially because George had already booked his flight and hotel.

Unfortunately, George was not able to come on the rescheduled date. But fortunately Landon, a Product Strategist at Crema, was able to give the keynote speech. Landon spoke about the power of hackathons and inspired the students to do their best work.

The Day Of

Promptly, at 6:30 pm, we started doing registration. At check-in, students received a copy of the schedule, a t-shirt, and were able to immediately have snacks. We found that a lot of participants who signed up did not attend. We had about 30 participants check in. After registration was over at 7:00 pm, we welcomed everyone, discussed the details of the event and had an opening keynote which will be further discussed later. This got everyone excited and we had the students form teams right after. We had about 5 teams of 4 or 5. The teams were then instructed to start and have dinner as it arrived.

During certain points of the hackathon, we had optional breakout workshops where students could learn new skills. The workshops we held included, Intro to the Internet of Things, Intro to User Experience, Intro to HTML & CSS, Low and High Fidelity Prototyping, Front-End Development, and User Testing. These workshops were either taught by faculty or students proficient in a certain skill.

UX Student (Haley) asking Drake (President of PXD) for help after a prototyping workshop

The students continued to build their projects, collaborate, and iterate upon their ideas. As they were working, the board members of PXD and other HackXD coordinators were walking around answering questions and providing feedback. During their work time, they played music, ate meals, played ping-pong, took naps, and worked on their projects; all while having fun!

When it came time to end hacking, we made an announcement and the participants had to submit their projects. We then had all of the groups give a 2–3 minute presentation on the stage in front of their peers and the judges. We had a total of 4 judges who were faculty at Purdue. We had 3 judges from the UX program, Dr. Colin Gray, Dr. Austin Toombs, and Professor Nancy Rasche. We had 1 judge from the CS department, Dr. Tom Schroeder. We wanted to have judges from different disciplines to ensure the judging was fair from all angles.

A team presenting their project for the audience and judges

Winners

Our two categories for winners were: Most Creative and Most Technical. The Most Creative winner was a team that made a device help the hard-of-hearing and deaf community be able to feel their music through phone vibration. The Most Technical winner was a team that created a robot security dog for the elderly. The judges provided all teams with feedback so that if they wanted to continue this project, they know how to improve it. The winning teams also got to choose between 2 different prizes—an Amazon Echo Dot or Amazon Fire Stick.

After the winners were announced, we finished up eating Chipotle and everyone began to pack up and leave. We received compliments on how great the food was, the organization of the event, and how the students loved meeting new people. We also heard that people would be interested in having another one next year.


This article was written by the board members of the Purdue UX Design Club: Meena Nanduri, Drake Long, Delaney Rundell, Madi Lindeman, Rhea Manocha, and Elizabeth Finley

Purdue UX Design Club (PXD) is a student-run organization that aims to encourage peer mentorship, establish a tight-knit community of designers, and aid in the development of professionalism to support the UX Design major and other interested students. For more information, inquiries, and requests to host workshops or events, please email purdueexperience@gmail.com