Inspire creativity with a design competition
Throughout my career as a Product Designer and Art Director, I participated in several Hackathons, Startup Weekends, and also a Designathon. At first I thought the Designathon (which had been organized by my company) might take me away from more important tasks, but that wasn’t the case. On the contrary, the challenges of the Designathon inspired me to think more creatively at my job and changed my way of approaching design problems. I highly recommend it to any team.
A Designathon is different from a Hackathon since it is specifically for Designers, Marketers, Data Scientists, etc — not for developers. It focusses more on sketching out and mocking up ideas than on building them, which allows the participants to think freely and more creatively than they ordinarily might in their day-to-day.
The one I participated in was a challenge to improve our company’s Product Page. We received a brief from the product managers, clearly stating the problems that they had identified with the page and listing the most important facts and data points about it. This made the competition very interesting because unlike other Hackathons, where people work on any idea, we generated and compared solutions for the same problem, like in a brainstorming session.
The participants formed teams on their own and the leadership team acted as the jury, selecting the winners. I teamed up with another UX designer and we spent most of our time brainstorming imaginative solutions to this set of very real problems.
As we worked, I realized that in my everyday role, my creativity had become kind of stagnant. Stakeholder feedback, roadmaps, technical limitations and resource limitations can inhibit designers, demanding that we too think smaller and smaller until we find ourselves thinking inside the box. That’s why designers need a creative boost once in awhile, a gym to work out our artistic muscles.
During the Designathon, we had a full day to work on our ideas. My team spent a lot of time on concepts and UX and then quickly added some UI, stitching together a prototype before our time was up. The next morning, each team presented their work in front of our department and CEO.
While watching the presentations, I was blown away by how each team came up with a completely different solution to the same problem. Teams with Data Scientists, for example, had very interesting data-focussed solutions, while others were more marketing heavy. Another cool aspect of the competition was that because we weren’t limited to what could be coded in one day we literally designed anything we wanted. We each brought our full skills to bear on the problems, and came up with solutions that reflected our temperaments and style. I clearly remember how happy and proud everyone was of their ideas during these two days, and I was so impressed by the talent in the room.
But what resonated with me the most was the day after the Designathon, when I returned to my daily work after winning the competition. Looking at my designs, I realized that some of my solutions were just too simple, and that I should really take them to the next level. This creative push lasted at least for a few months — and not just for me, I could feel more energy amongst my colleagues too.
A Designathon is about reminding everyone that the company embraces creative thinking, and that even when there are push-backs, there’s no reason to stop approaching your work with innovative thinking and creativity.
It also helps to satisfy and challenge your most creative and entrepreneurial employees, the ones who work fast and independently but also become easily bored and complacent.
To attract highly skilled and motivated employees like these, you need to establish a culture that doesn’t just embrace innovation and creativity, but lives it.
That’s why I highly recommend organizing a Designathon two to three times a year, to give designers more confidence in their creativity and the opportunity to have fun and maybe show off a little too. Ready to get started?
The 3 Steps to Your First Designathon
1. Get approval to take 1.5 days off with your team, and involve Designers,
Data Scientists and Marketing
2. Team up with product managers to create a brief that focusses on
3. Select judges and think of a fun price