Hackday Review

Is that a hack? Or is that a lemonade stand?

Good question. But let me start at the beginning.

After many evening chats at the pub, we’d come to the conclusion that some of us were keen to produce more than we do now. Agency-based work can be busy, can be organized, and can be fun; but sometimes it can be hard to work on something new or challenging when you’re booked out for 60 hours a week on what you’re good at. And as part of a big team, it’s hard to get your personal stamp on something.

We readers of blog channels have seen the ongoing hackdays in the technical community. We were keen to join in, but felt we weren’t really ready to join that collective. Personally, I have visions of a group of ruby enthusiasts building amazing twitter/flickr mashups over breakfast, which sounds both tricky unless you do this often, and simultaneously quite dull. We are creative technologists, and appreciate fine layouts like fine wines. Sometimes a technical mashup just doesn’t cut it.

So we formed a plan. We chose our fellow workers carefully. And then we booked a full weekend at my home (to stay properly clear of office politics).

There were four of us got together on Saturday morning at 11am. Andy & I had discussed the primary idea for the site in the pub beforehand (days beforehand, not that morning). Our plan was something I’d been thinking about for a while.

The Idea

At the Digitas offices, we have several display TVs, which stay switched on all day. I’m no enviro-hippy, but I protest at this wastage (for some perspective, Saatchi have a 20ft screen on all day and night in reception, so we’re not so evil). One day, I stick the following sticker on our screen:

It was me. I killed all the polar bears with my wanton disregard for the Earth’s precious energy resources.

I liked this. Needless to say, it disappeared quickly. But it occured to me that actually, this was a protest worth taking further. Even, crossing boundaries in my weakly-principled, strongly-marketing brain (yes, I’ve been here too long), I thought we could sell t-shirts to the Jeremy Clarksons of the world, who couldn’t give a shit about the polar bears, and are more than happy in their 4×4. In fact, I’ve got the image of a dead polar bear under a tyre in my mind.

So we have the beginnings of an idea. “Taking the blame” without apology and t-shirts.
This formed the basis of our challenge:
To produce, by the end of the weekend, a fully-functional website.

The ideas quickly evolved, the domain got registered, and t-shirt apis were reviewed. None were found to be ideal (though clearly there is demand. Cafepress seemed closest, so were chosen.

We worked until 3am, then slept and worked Sunday from 9ish to 3pm. We called 3pm as our cutoff.

The site is live at:
http://confessionsofatshirt.com/

We then pushed the site out via twitter, facebook and blogs as much as we could.

Learnings

We had a good laugh, and I think we appreciated working so closely, and without the distractions of a busy office.

Things we found:

  • Cafepress is probably a bit expensive
  • It takes longer than you think to design each shirt, but it’s totally worth it (Jon’s designs rock)
  • Tech leading is probably not as much fun as coding
  • If you want to sell t-shirts, try lolcats
  • Design-heavy sites put a lot of pressure on your designer (though Jon reckons that he could have got half as much done with twice as many designers)
  • Our challenge was probably a bit too easily achievable…
  • but it felt good to get it done.

Summary

I reckon it was a good adventure, and we’re all pleased with the resulting site. We haven’t sold a single t-shirt, but hey, this was never about making our fortunes. All of us are clearer about what we want to do next time, and I suspect we’ll try another weekend some time next year.

Thanks to the team:

First Hackday

We’ve just tried out our first Hackday: our attempt to produce a website without the usual demands of work-related stresses. And all in 36 hours.

The result is “Confessions of a T-Shirt”. Follow this link to have a look:
Funny T Shirts

I think we’ve got a few learnings to share. I’ll report on it later.

For now, I’ll sign off with great thanks to my two friends who’ve helped me through this mighty effort: coffee and dropbox. I appreciate it.
Oh, and cheers to the other lads too.