ATX Div Hack Recap

My number one new year’s resolution this year was to make it to at least one hack-a-thon. After last weekend I am glad to finally have fulfilled this dream by attending the second annual ATX Diversity Hack-a-thon and boy am I glad that I did!

Participating in the hack-a-thon was a great experience that I would recommend to anybody with a creative spirit who wants to be a part of creating something new. I learned so many things that I never could have imagined I was going to and was also able to practice my design skills, applying them to solving a real issue in the world.


Eager as I was to attend my first hack-a-thon, I arrived very early. So early in fact that the elevator to the floor where the event was taking place was still locked. It did not take long before another hacker arrived and was also thwarted by the pesky elevators. We struck up a conversation and I was filled in about the prior evening’s activities. After hearing the project proposal that his group was working on, I was immediately on board with the idea and asked if I could join their group. I was kindly accepted into the group.

The problem our group set out to solve was one found within queer and transgender communities. Queer and transgender individuals are subjected to various issues that have a significant impact on their living situations such as violence against them and certain social stigmas. We set out to find a way to alleviate these problems so that they would be able to find safe and comfortable living situations.

The hack-a-thon kicked off with breakfast and then the teams were off to the races. Throughout the day speakers and workshops were going on in a separate room so  I actually started the day by attending the IBM Design Thinking workshop but only made it through the first exercise before being whisked off to start hacking.


We started with some good old fashioned research in order to understand our users better. First, we took a look at the ways LGBTQ people currently find housing. The as a group we discussed what assumptions we had about the situations and sought to validate these assumptions by comparing them to the real data. We started to see some patterns in the type of posts people used on the housing groups. Many of the people were trying to escape violence, most of them valued their identities by starting their posts by identifying who they were and certain other personal preferences were also noted.

Once we had a rough idea of who our potential home seeker and home provider might be, we did an empathy mapping exercise to gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and motivations. From these exercises we were able to create personas of each of our users. With a better idea of who our users were we created a storyboard to identify pain points in the house finding experience.


From here we broke off from group activities and were able to create an overarching user flow and start laying the framework of the backend and frontend code. I’m not going to pretend I know the intricacies of what our coding gurus were able to set up but myself and the other designer were able to start wireframing and visualizing each page at this point.

As the clock winded down, we put our final finishing touches into our product, hastily created a logo and ultimately summarized it all into a presentation to be submittal to the judges. After narrowly getting our presentation in working order we submitted in the final possible minutes.

Excitedly we watched as the other teams present their projects. It was really cool to see what everyone had collectively been able to come up with and I really enjoyed how everyone took such different approaches to vastly different problems. Finally after we presented and all the other teams completed theirs, we nervously waited for the judges to decide the winners.

There were four categories that teams could win. UX/UI, Technical Stack, Social Impact, and Overcoming Obstacles. The announcement for the Mark Dean best UX Design was first and we collectively held our breath… WE WON! I was ecstatic! We rushed up to the stage to take a team photo and receive our prize. All the bragging rights and a surprise cash prize, which was not a bad touch at all, were ours!


All in all I had a great time at my first hack-a-thon. Although at times it felt a bit grueling and exhausting as we worked non-stop for 15 hours, I have to say it was definitely worth it to be able to learn so much, execute on and contribute to a great idea and meet some great, very intelligent people. A big thanks to The Women Who Code, all of the sponsors and volunteers for helping to put this on. I will keep my eyes peeled because I am looking forward towards the next one!

The Power of Design

“Design is all around you, everything man-made has been designed, whether consciously or not.” –Mat Hunter

Look around you. How many man-objects do you see? Each one of the objects before you has been designed to some degree by someone else and hopefully they did so with you in mind.

We often don’t notice design at all because when it is done well, design becomes unobtrusive and invisible. Unless the design of something is particularly bad, it will usually go completely undetected.img_0311

When design is bad it frustrates us, limits our capabilities, causes errors, and ultimately keeps us from achieving our goals. Good design empowers and allows us to accomplish more. Regardless of good or bad, like it or not, Design is everywhere. If design is everywhere around us how do we make sure it falls in the good category?

The Power of User-Centered Design

As a User Experience Designer I often get to see firsthand the incredible ability of design to create or transform, often times mediocre, products, software and services, into meaningful experiences that are not only easy-to-use but empower people to accomplish more. Within the UX design community, it is widely known that great experiences are created most effectively with Human Centered Design, and more specifically with what’s referred to as User-Centered Design (UCD). Not all UCD processes follow the exact same steps in their methods but they are all comprised of techniques that seek to understand the user so that they are at the heart of every design decision.

UCD processes are exceptionally good at solving problems people have when interacting with digital products. At their core, digital products operate solely based on logic and as much as we hate to admit it humans do not always operate 100% logically. This division between how we function compared to our digital counterparts, often creates an unpleasant friction and can sometimes results in drastic consequences. In order to bridge this gap UCD starts with the key to understanding people’s problems, empathy.

Empathy allows you to step into the shoes of another in order to not only identify with them but actually feel what they experience. Utilizing empathy like this allows for a deeper understanding and the discovery of the user’s fundamental needs. UCD keeps these needs at the core of every single decision made about the product. Centering all of the thinking around human needs ensures the solution does not deviate from the ultimate goal – solving the right problem.

Trying to solve the right problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you will solve the problem correctly on the first try. Do not get discouraged because it does mean you’re on the right track. UCD techniques allow for incorrect solutions and errors to be identified quickly by rapidly iterating and then validating these iterations with testing.

Following UCD methods is not only touted as the best way to churn out innovative results but has proven to be exceptionally profitable and cost effective for businesses.

After witnessing how UCD is so easily and effectively applied to problems in the digital space, I can’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t UCD applied to everything else people use?”. This question was the inspiration behind why I created this blog. I want to explore what happens when you start applying design thinking to areas where it is not often applied and/or to applications where it is desperately needed. I’m not the first to notice the applicability of these methods in other areas as they have been explored most notably by IDEO’s Tim Brown with his “Design Thinking” strategies and in Don Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things” but I think with the exponential pace of increasingly powerful technology we are on the verge of a huge revolution in how businesses and society runs and it is important that there are many design thinkers on the forefront to ensure a pleasant future for all of humanity.

The Power of Design in the Future

Without a doubt Design will be the most powerful force in shaping what the future looks like. Everything that is created has to be first designed. You can sit on the sidelines as the future is designed for you or you can have a hand in shaping what it will look like. Ultimately somebody makes the decisions about how the world around you looks and operates. The easiest way to have a hand in ensuring it works correctly is to envision the change you would like to see by designing it. In the end you are defined by your decisions, whether you say yes or no, but designers get to decide what the context and constraints of what those decisions will be.

As people’s expectations continue to become accustomed to the power of good design it will become increasingly mandatory and demanded from consumers that products and services have well designed experiences. This means that as a business you cannot afford not to apply design, and that as a society we stand too much to lose by not applying design.

If you want any say in what the future looks like you will have to be able to implement design thinking. Luckily designers do not have a monopoly on design thinking, as anyone can and should practice it. Design thinking is a tool that enables anybody to conquer seemingly unsolvable problems and provides meaningful solutions to people’s needs.