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7 and 1 extra tips for designers about hackathons - Part 1.

How we won our first hackathon focusing on little big details

Hackathons are creative platforms for creating new solutions and searching for a new perspective on how and which way the industry could advance in its improvements.

Many industry-focused hackathons such as fintech, insurtech, edtech, etc. competitions are working as idea shops. Stakeholders and juries want to hear about kickass technological advancements but even the best high-tech pitches can fail without having a clear business concept, a solid product strategy, and a clear presentation. And that is where designers come into place!

If you are a designer and thinking about attending the next hackathon, then hit that apply button now!

Hackathons are great communication practice between you and your developer fellows in a very fast-paced environment, and you will eventually improve your speed, craft, and workflow as well! You can also experience a short but end-to-end design process!

We participated in many hackathons with the Family Finances team. One of our favorites was Novathon by Intesa Sanpaolo where we took the 1st prize last year! We built an iOS app in 24 hours, that helps banks introduce investment services to millennials! But this is not a case study, so…

… in the following section of blogposts, we will provide you a practical guide on the approaches you should use and the tools that come in handy when you run a design sprint faster than a bullet.

Family Finances participating in various hackathons

1. Set up the right team

This is an old but gold one! Working 24 caffeine-fueled hours straight is less challenging in a coherent and dynamic team.

Our usual setup is the following:

  • one visual designer (Branding, UX/UI design, Motion design)
  • one business analyst (Research, Strategy, Pitch)
  • one full-stack developer or a front end and a back-end guy

We always go to competitions with our core team but it’s also a great idea to go alone as a single designer and join a cool team. Most teams lack designers so they are very happy if you can help them out with your visual and product mindset!

Things to keep in mind:

  • Cross-functional and diverse teams might build stronger solutions
  • Delegating tasks is harder at hackathons so it’s easier to go with senior people.

Family Finances Head of Design and CTO concentrating on the hack

2. Be prepared, choose your task wisely!

I would say that hackathons don’t work like flashmobs and it can be challenging to collect every little chunk of information so don’t leave it to the day of the event.

We usually scroll through the challenges on the event’s microsite and ask relevant questions: Do we have experience in this topic? Did we build something similar in the past? (If not, maybe that’s the reason we should pick that one). Do we have the right stack?

It’s also great to write an email to the main organizer in case you need more detailed answers and we also like to test the banking sandbox APIs beforehand.

3. Do your research! Go, guerilla!

Some would argue here and state that you should skip this part on such competitions because of the ridiculously small amount of time given.

But If you look around on a hackathon you can easily recognize that the stakeholders whom you develop your outstanding idea for are usually sitting right next room, so it’s a bummer not to shoot questions at them. You should not focus on quantitative data in such a competition but rockstar ideas are formed with the help of mentors’, stakeholders’ and potential users’ insights.

At Novathon 2018 we decided to disrupt investments so we interviewed 3 of the relevant stakeholders and 3 potential users. Guess what! They were all lurking around the bar, waiting for lunch looking at their smartphones in boredom. After 2 hours of chatting and synthesizing the interview insights, we shifted gears and created a service blueprint which instantly led to the wireframing part.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short: Don’t ask more than 5 questions at a time.
  • Try to validate your idea and make it bulletproof with stakeholder insights
  • Side events before the hack before can help you make research discussions early on!

4. Product strategy vs. Geeking out the concept

The stakeholders we interviewed were amongst the high-level executives of the participating bank and they made it clear that investments are a lucrative business for the bank and that’s super hard to broaden this service to younger generations. Building solutions which can fix real pain points in a big organization are more likely to win a hackathon in most cases than a very development-heavy approach.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you are on an industry-specific hackathon: Work on an idea which resonates with the current strategy of the sponsor company!
  • Solve a business problem and aim for a solution which is not just a fancy-looking user-facing one but it is also possible to build a solid business model around it.

Now you have read the first 4 tips, in the upcoming post we will elaborate on the remaining 3+1. Stay tuned! :) 

Family Finances team participating in various hackathons

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Ferenc Muck

Ferenc Muck

Head uf UX/UI, Product Designer, Co-founder

Family Finances

Member since

09 Apr



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