15 Jan 2018

Once you hack you don’t go back

This winter, Isabella stepped away from her desk and into the unknown when she helped facilitate her first ever hack. Here’s what she learnt.

As a Studio Assistant my job covers many bases. I schedule, organise, and manage communications, among a wide variety of other tasks. However, my work rarely involves me stepping away from my desk. Furthermore, even though I have helped assemble hacks from the comfort of my laptop screen, I must admit that I had never been to one. I can understand that this is confusing as I work at Snook, the purveyors of some of the finest hacks known to the Service Design world.*

However, this winter I joined veteran hacker Keira and experienced design wizard Greg in Edinburgh’s beautiful Dovecot Studios to help facilitate a day with Shelters’ tech team. We would be dissecting some of the issues they were facing, and thinking about how they could start solving them. The day was filled with energy, good ideas, bad ideas, and a whole bunch of surprises.

These are the key lessons I learnt from facilitating my first hack.

Prepare to be energised

When you’re helping a team identify, evaluate, and potentially solve a problem, you need to be on the ball and being energised is the way to do it. The atmosphere was the first thing I noticed when I stepped into the room at the Shelter Hack. There’s a mix of anticipation, nervousness, and adrenaline that comes into play when you’re put in a room full of strangers and you are asking them to do a demanding task. Thankfully, Shelters team were ready for the challenge; they absorbed the energy and turned it into hack magic.

You gain understanding by teaching others

Having observed service design principles and processes from afar, it was now time to put them into action. From journey maps to user profiles, researching and prototyping – I was suddenly helping implement the service design tools that I only understood in theory. However actually doing them helped me fully understood just how helpful these processes were. For example when we started mapping the user journey  with the tech team we soon discovered a range of issues and problems that might otherwise be undiscovered, as the complexities and issues were exposed at each step of the journey. In conclusion, as I was introducing these ideas to others, I was broadening my understanding of the practicalities and importance of design tools in the process – a win all round!

Bad ideas are welcome

Growing up as a (somewhat) normal person in society, you are told that bad ideas are not good ideas. I learnt that this in fact is not the case. During a hack it’s good to throw absolutely everything out there. Getting the weird and wonderful thoughts out of your system, including the ‘bad ideas’, will allow you find the good ones under all the nonsense, bringing you closer to finding a solution.

It’s not like fight club

There is no fighting, it’s good to talk about it, and, disappointingly, Brad Pitt is not there.**

Lemons can be squeezed in hundreds of ways

When someone throws a lemon into the mix (metaphorically, of course) your initial thoughts are somewhere along the lines of: ‘uuuhhhh – what’s happening now?!’. However, this exercise was one of the most important takeaways I got from my hack experience. The task was simple: faced with the question ‘how many ways can you squeeze a lemon?’, you had one minute to write down as many answers as possible and place them on the wall. The task, centred around quantity over quality, allowed the team to open up and create a broad variety of solutions. This valuable process could then be brought forward into other challenges – plus, now I know lots of ways to squeeze a lemon.

Beware of the rubber chicken

I had always wondered how you make a large group of adults go from boisterous to silent in one fell swoop. The answer? A squeaky rubber chicken. With one squeak from that chicken, the whole room fell into silence. This useful and annoying tool will certainly be used to get attention in the office in the future.

It’s fun to be serious

The hack environment is a unique one. From the outside it may seem all fun, games, and rubber chickens, but at its core the issues, and problems that are tackled can be quite serious. I learnt that taking a positive and exciting approach towards issues that are often quite difficult to manage,  develops unique solutions. Furthermore stepping out of the office gives a sense of detachment, and perspective – that can be key factors when addressing an issue head on.

One of the issues that the Shelter Tech team took on was corporate volunteering. They wanted to see how they could utilise the skills they had access to in a more effective way. By using service design processes, one team identified communication as issue. There was a breakdown in this area which was causing the scheme to be ineffective. So the team prototyped a network, which would assign the appropriate skill sets to the correct position. Furthermore it would store volunteers information for future opportunities and scheduling. This would be a simple and easy put in place and it would help save time and company money. Evaluating the issue with a hack mindset had been a fun way to develop a solution, to a serious matter.

Timing is everything

When facilitating a hack, time is truly of the essence. You must bring your most charismatic self that can talk freely, confidently, and unexpectedly, teaming it with the super organised facilitator that we all have deep inside of us. Making sure your team sticks to the schedule with adequate time for practicalities (like snacking) will ensure that the hack runs smoothly, creating useful and interesting solutions.

It’s kind of addictive

Facilitating a hack for the first time is a fairly nerve-racking experience but when you get out on the other side, despite being a little exhausted, you have this feeling of wanting to do it all again. Shelters’ tech team were a great group to work with and left me thinking that I should definitely step away from my desk more often…


* In our humble opinion

** Brad – call me