How to hack a better music festival

Tanya Combrinck explains why hackdays are the perfect way to make new connections and get a dose of inspiration.

Last Saturday dozens of designers, developers, UX people and other creative types descended on the Clerkenwell-based offices of AnalogFolk for a day of idea-sharing and collaboration.

The 'Analog' part of the company's name comes from their ethos of using technology to make analog experiences better, never for its own sake. In this vein, they challenged the hack day participants to create something that would improve the experience of attending a music festival. The day was punctuated by regular talk sessions in which speakers including Sara Gozalo, software engineer at BBC Music, and Mixcloud founder Mat Clayton delivered doses of inspiration to participants. One attendee commented that each talk gave her a fresh perspective on her project and that she took insights from each to use in her work for the day.

Playing with drones

Although most attendees spent the day working on a project, plenty of people turned up just for a just few hours to meet some like-minded folk and to play with the various hackable devices that were available to the group. Techies were on hand to demo a quadcopter drone, Oculus Rift, Google Glass, Leap Motion, iBeacons and various other bits and bobs that could be used to prototype a product.

The evening gave way to much eating, drinking and general merriment, with some participants completing their prototypes in the late afternoon, while others coded into the night. The venue remained open all the way through to the following morning for those who wanted to sleep over or carry on working.

Hanging out in the AnalogFolk office space

On Sunday, each team delivered a ten-minute presentation on what they had come up with over breakfast. A recurring theme was the problem of people not being able to remember their festival experience properly, with many noting in the brain-storming sessions that they often felt unsatisfied with their failure to recall which bands they had seen after returning home.

Beavering away: a team brainstorm some ideas

One team proposed to solve this by adding a button to the festival wristband that, when pressed, would cause the user's location to be recorded with a timestamp. After the event, they could then log into the service which would work out which band they were watching each time they pressed their button and pull in videos and photos that others had shared around that moment.

Another team proposed that the best way to improve your experience is to make sure you're going to the right festival in the first place, and they prototyped a Tinder-style app that would show you bands playing at upcoming events and recommend festivals according to your likes and dislikes.

Co-founder Matt Dyke addresses the group on the hay bales

The winning team impressed everyone by building a functioning app that sent the user's location to a server every 15 minutes so that their festival experience could be tracked and recreated with photos and videos shared by others.

The team prototyped the app in HTML, CSS and JavaScript and demonstrated how it would work by making nearby pubs into festival 'stages', and showing that the app detected their proximity when they passed by and plotted the user's location on a map. The team noted that the data collected by the app could be used for many useful purposes besides delivering content to users, and won over the judges with their fully-functional creation that took just 10 hours to put together.

The winning team in their den of productivity

Ian Brennan, Head of Technical Concepting at AnalogFolk London, commented: "We were really impressed with the way participants from multiple disciplines worked together to tackle the brief. It was refreshing to see them validate their ideas both conceptually through paper prototypes, and technically through fast turnaround development sprints."

The winning app in action

Most participants came to the event alone or in pairs and seemed delighted to work with interesting people that they'd never met before, and to get feedback on their ideas, working style and process. The overall atmosphere was extremely inclusive and friendly, and the day was a brilliant opportunity for attendees to forge new relationships and meet people from a range of related disciplines.

A team explain their project to the group

If you're looking to make a change in your career, or you are a student or new graduate looking to break into the industry, hackdays like this one are a perfect way to find inspiration and to expand your network. And, unlike conferences, they're usually quite cheap or free to attend! Check out these lists of upcoming hackdays happening around the UK.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Combrinck is digital editor on net magazine.