Last weekend I attended Good for Nothing’s Future Youth gig, a hack(ish) event where strategists, designers and technologists spent two days working to solve problems for non-profit organisations. Or, as one organiser described from his perspective, Good for Nothing asked them if they wanted to spend a weekend working with people they had never met and who didn’t know each other, solving problems they didn’t know they had.
Think, design, and a little bit of code
Good for Nothing asks participants to describe their skills in three buckets – thinking, design, and code – making it clear that the gigs are targeted for people from a range of disciplines.
They also ask the organisations to set briefs ahead of time. It was those briefs that really set the event apart from other hack events I’ve attended:
Cultivate London asked for help developing a communications strategy for outreach and funding, and a system for managing crops and sales.
Only Connect asked for help communicating their mission and updating their website and online strategy.
Discoverables asked for help communicating their story, attracting a critical mass of users, and developing a business model.
Only one organisation mentioned a technical need, but all asked for help in telling their stories. They didn’t need hacking in technology, but in branding.
Exposing the process
Representatives from each organisation were on hand all weekend, participating, answering questions, and providing feedback. This helped participants to better understand the organisations’ needs and processes, and to stay aligned with their goals.
It also meant that the organisations saw creative processes in all their messy glory. On Sunday, after filling walls with post-it notes and asking naïve and detailed questions about exactly how plants are grown, we grabbed the representative apprentice horticulturalist to sense-check a crop management interface. His relief was palpable. “Oh, that makes sense. It’s a lot less complicated than I thought it was going to be!”
What can you make in a weekend?
By Sunday afternoon, outputs from all the teams included digital and print graphic design, logos and mission statements, a brand guideline, a rehearsed funding pitch, and a three-year proposed budget. It also included many half-finished projects: a database structure without a database, rough cut videos, wireframes and UI sketches (but no HTML) for websites, etc.: all the beginnings of work that need much more development to become implementable.
Especially in a context where we’d all agreed to work toward clear goals (and given the perennial this’ll-just-take-a-few-hours optimism at the start of a project), it feels like a letdown to end up with notes and sketches rather than something immediately useful. Hopefully some of us will have time to develop the unfinished work to a point where we can hand it over.
But hopefully the organisations found the process itself useful, discovering those problems they didn’t know they had along with some solutions that they can implement now. At the end of the weekend, an organiser from Only Connect commented, “It used to take me half an hour to explain what we do. Now I have a sentence.”