7 Things DASH Design Hackathon Taught for Me

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Entrance of the DASH’s event venue in Wanha Satama in 2019. Photo: Helmi Korhonen

I participated in design hackathon DASH on October 18-20 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. The DASH is hackathon where over 200 participants solve complex problems from different organizations for 48 hours from Friday 7PM to Sunday 12PM. I was working with my team with the challenge offered by 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 with our concept that supports immigrants to recognize their entrepreneurial mindset and potential. 

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

 1) Get to know your team

In hackathon it is typical that you meet your team for the first time when hackathon begins. Working life projects may also only have less than 10 meetings so collaboration needed be started quickly and maintained effectively throughout the project. Based on DASH experience I found it crucially important to get to know your team even 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 the feelings of being mysterious observer. Be open for your team already in the beginning and tell them that you want to learn how they do things and learn. In the DASH it helped me a lot to when I felt that we are open community with my team when we were making arguments or decisions, or when we were sharing tasks and responsibilities.  

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

2) Apply design thinking to your work

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

3) Make decisions in collaboration

With only little working time you need make decision to move on. I suggest that in every project you will make a plan that shows when you need to make decision about what. But what is more important I think is how we make decisions. In the DASH we gave for all our team members possibility 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 endogenous skills that people forget to use in the individualistic world I live at the moment. Anyhow, they are skills we can learn. In the DASH we asked and got feedback from our challenge mentors, challenge owners, and from other teams. With feedback we learn more about our concept idea and ourselves. I still does not feel very comfortable when collecting feedback from strangers but more I do it 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 visual world and see and experience countless amount of images every day. Images can be for example on-time views or situations we see, or printed and online media. All the time when we see we also interpret what we see. That is why it is not indifferent how we see and how we and our acts are being seen. My DASH team got good feedback based on visualisations of our concept. How we ended up with that situation is that 1) we shared responsibilities of visual presentation based on our team members skills and interests 2) we had communal discussions what should be in visual presentation and what should be left out. It was also highly important to understand what you show for others. My suggestion is that curate carefully amount of information you 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 will reach to one of trend topics. Different research and medias around are yelling how important pitching is 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 is for me like pre-learned performance that I am ready to perform any time and anywhere. Pitching has not been easy for me even I am used speak in front of big group of people (in class rooms for example). I am happy to say that by practicing I have became better pitcher, but I still have a lot of things to learn. What I learned in DASH was that I am 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 the DASH. I did not learn to have fun for the first time but again. I feel that world around is rushing in many sections of life. I am practicing myself to calm down, stop and be present in what I do. The presence gives me also possibility to have fun and enjoy my company in more relaxed atmosphere. I would say that most of the self-confidence my team had in DASH was coming from the fun moment we experienced together including multiple laughing sessions. Smiling and laughing are free for us so why we would not do it more often.

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

Over all learning is a complex process that happening all the time in all sections of our lives. As educator I have always bee interested how others learn but staying critical towards your own learning is also important. I learn best when I do things in interaction with others. In my opinion, we definitely need skills of collaboration and team work to solve the problems of learning and education in the future. We need to stay open for multidisciplinary collaboration. This requires openness and willingness to learn and create common understanding of your topic. Just, what I was doing in the DASH together with other participants.

What is DASH?

Illustration: DASH

The DASH 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 hackathon reformer the event area and meeting point of different field of art, tech and business. Todays DASH is known as the biggest design hackathon in Europe. Dash doesn’t only focus on creating products, but using design processes and knowledge to make a real impact on companies’ processes.

Written by Anni Rupponen
NoVA Master Student from Aalto University

7 Things DASH Design Hackathon Taught for Me

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