3 Things We Learned From Our First ‘Hack Day’

A team of Computerlovers, spanning design, development, and product management, recently joined together to take part in our very own self-run ‘Hack Day’.

While we’ve attended plenty of 24-hour hackathons in the past, a one-team Hack Day where we try to come up with something that’s actually useful and usable is something we’ve not really attempted before. Would this actually work? We set about finding out…

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The idea: A shared AR experience

Before we started the day, we came up with a rough idea for the app we were going to create. As augmented reality (AR) is a hot topic at the moment (even if consumers claim not to be particularly bothered about AR just yet, we thought we’d use the Hack Day as an opportunity to get to grips with this new technology, and decided we wanted to create a shared AR experience.

Users would be paired randomly with anyone in the world and create a permanent AR portal between those two places. Each user would upload a 360 image of their surroundings and that would be placed in the other user’s ‘portal’, allowing them the opportunity to peer into another person’s world.

The idea of creating a real world ‘glitch’ gave the concept a bit of a story and, in turn, a good visual jumping-off point that shouldn’t require too much production from an art direction point of view.

Glitch GIF

Bringing the idea to life: How much could we do in a day?

Having quickly realised that creating the entire product in one day was likely too much for us to take on, we split the process into three stages…

1. Setting the scene – getting a user understanding the app.
2. Getting the user to upload an image to open a portal (or ‘create a glitch’).
3. The glitch itself – Viewing it, moving around it etc.

… and decided to just see how far we could get!

Hack Day - writing code-min

We started by roughly setting out how the app would work. Since this was a new technology to the team, the first thing the developers did was to try and build a ‘hello world’ application. While we were spiking ARKit, we also looked at developing the app’s look and feel. Within a short space of time, the vision of the app was taking shape.

We quickly sketched some screens to allowed us to see the flow of the story, then mocked these up into early designs.

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When it was time to start building the app, we found that the varying levels of experience with iOS development within the team made this tricky. After a few hours build time, we decided to review the progress that had been made and look at where we could take it.

It turned out that ARKit was simply too much to learn in one day, and we finished up with a half-built product.

What we learned about running a successful Hack Day

1. Start with what you know

We underestimated the difficulty in trying to pick up a new framework and simultaneously develop a creative idea in the space of a day; we learned that a Hack Day probably isn’t the best place to experiment with new technology. To combat this, we’ve decided that if any future ideas for a Hack Day require a technology that’s totally new to the team, the developers will spend some more time learning it first so we can hit the ground running.

2. Do some upfront research / validation

Research – and realism – is important. AR was something that clients have talked to us about and it’s something that interested us – but a few hours spent playing around with the technology itself prior to the Hack Day would have revealed that, due to its complexity, this was not the best framework to move forward with. The same goes for the idea generation process; we need to be sure that we carefully select workable ideas rather than just going with our gut.

3. Aim for a quick prototype you can develop if worthwhile

While the app itself is a great idea, it was probably too ambitious to tackle in such a short space of time. In the future, we think we need to select an idea that can be prototyped quickly, but with the possibility of expanding on it in the future if the idea stands up against testing.

We have a clearer idea of what we want to get out of the Hack Days now. From now on, the focus will be on building a prototype that we can test and learn from, rather than creating an entirely new product.

Are you planning a Hack Day of your own? We’d love to hear about it – Tweet us @Computerlovers!

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