7 things Dash design hackathon taught me

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Entrance of the Dash event venue in Wanha Satama in 2019. Photo: Helmi Korhonen

I participated in Dash design hackathon on October 18-20 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. Dash is a hackathon where over 200 participants solve complex problems from different organizations for 48 hours from Friday 7PM to Sunday 12PM. My team and I were solving the challenge offered by the organization Startup Refugees. The aim of the challenge was to create more efficient ways to integrate immigrants to Finnish working culture with Startup Refugees. My team was chosen as winner of our challenge out of five teams. Our concept revolved around the idea of supporting immigrants to recognise their entrepreneurial mindset and potential. 

Now it is time to look back and reflect what the DASH experience taught me. 

 1) Get to know your team

In hackathon it is typical that you meet your team for the first time when the hackathon begins. In working life projects one may have less than 10 meetings, so collaboration needed be started quickly and maintained effectively throughout the project. Based on my Dash experience I found it crucially important to get to know your team even though you would not have much time for that. After short introductions of oneself (regardless of what introduction method you use) don’t stop observing the other team members. By actively observing you will learn so many things about your team members: what motivates them, how they interact, and what are their special skills. You should not be worrying about feelings of being a mysterious observer. Be open to your team in the beginning and tell them that you want to understand how they do things and learn. In Dash I felt it was helpful that we were an open community with my team when we were negotiating decisions, or when we were sharing tasks and responsibilities.  

My team nro 41 in Dash: Esteban Solís, Anni Rupponen (me), Eva Galledos and Cherry Jeon. Photo: Helmi Korhonen

2) Apply design thinking to your work

In the prep-event Dash offered us useful training about design thinking lead by Idean‘s designer. Many design companies have developed their own guidelines of design thinking so there are multiple ways to do design thinking. Anyhow, some principals can be found in many of these guidelines: the double diamond model, an agile process, and encouragement to do quick prototypes and testing. This can be helpful in getting to know in the beginning what kind of potential and problems ideas may have. I have used design thinking many times but in every new project I learn something new. In Dash I learned that even in a couple of days with help of design thinking you can create multidimensional concepts.

3) Make decisions in collaboration

With little working time you need make quick decisions to keep moving on. I suggest that in every project you will make a schedule for decision making. But what is more important I think is how we make decisions. In Dash we gave all our team members opportunity to tell their opinions before making decisions. Decision making included argumentations and small debates but I think it is normal for decision making situations because it demonstrates participants’ ability to use listening skills, critical thinking skills, openness, and ability to change their mindset.

4) Ask feedback

I believe that giving and getting feedback are innate skills that people forget to use in the individualistic culture we live in at the moment. Anyhow, they are skills we can learn. In Dash we received feedback from our challenge mentors, challenge owners, and from other teams. With feedback we learn more about our concept idea and ourselves. I still don’t feel very comfortable when asking feedback from strangers but the more I do it, the more I start to enjoy meeting new people. By asking questions I learn how others think and why they think like that. Every time when you offer services or products you should remember that happy customers feel nice but unhappy customers are the ones that can help you to develop. 

5) Focus on visual presentation

We live in a visual world and see and experience a countless amount of images every day. Images can range from your present environment, to printed and online media. All the time when we see we also interpret what we see. My Dash team got positive feedback based on visualisations of our concept. What lead us to our success was 1) we shared responsibilities of visual presentation based on our team members’ skills and interests 2) we negotiated what should be in the visual presentation and what should be left out. My suggestion is that one carefully curate the amount of information they will offer visually for the viewer. Try new things and ask feedback from viewers. Only this way you will learn what is accessible, easy to understand, and what kind of reactions it will produce. 

6) Practice pitching

Aah, finally we reach a trendy topic, pitching.  Different research and medias around us are emphasising how important pitching skills are in the future working life. In a nutshell pitching means that you can explain your idea in a very short time for potential partner or client. Pitching for me is like pre-learned performance that I am ready to perform at any time and anywhere. Pitching has not been easy for me even I am used to speaking in front of big groups of people (in class rooms for example). I am happy to say that by practicing I have become a better pitcher, but I still have a lot of things to learn. What I learned in Dash was that I mentally preparing myself for the pitch: I will breath, observe my audience and share my knowledge in the best way I can.

My team pitching our concept in the Dash main stage after challenge’s winner announcement. Photo: Helmi Korhonen 

7) Have fun together

Having fun is the most important thing that I learn in Dash. I feel that world around is rushing in many sections of life. I am practicing to calm down, stop and be present in what I do. The presence helps me to have fun more often and enjoy my company in a more relaxed atmosphere. I would say that most of the self-confidence my team had in Dash was coming from the fun moments we experienced together, including lots of laughing. Smiling and laughing are free for us so why we would not do it more often.

Startup Refugees challenge’s 5 teams and Kati Lappeteläinen from Startup Refugees. Photo: Helmi Korhonen

Over all learning is a complex process that is happening all the time in all sections of our lives. As an educator and designer I have always been interested in how others learn, but staying critical towards your own learning is also important. I learn best when I collaborate with others. In my opinion, we definitely need skills of collaboration and team work to solve the problems of life and learning in the future. We need to stay open for multidisciplinary collaboration. This requires willingness to learn and create common understanding of your topic, which is exactly what I was doing in Dash.

What is Dash design hackathon?

Illustration: Dash

Dash design hackathon was founded in 2016 by two Aalto University students. It was an answer to the lack of design thinking at the time when business and startups were rapidly growing in Finland. At first Dash was focused on changing people’s mindset by teaching the importance of design. In the end the hackathon became the meeting point of different fields of art, tech and business. Today Dash is known as the biggest design hackathon in Europe. Dash doesn’t only focus on creating products and services, but uses design processes and knowledge to make a positive impact on companies’ processes.

Written by Anni Rupponen
NoVA Master Student from Aalto University

7 things Dash design hackathon taught me

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