Hackathon Ethnography

Quid Hackathon: When you’re living the dream everyday, what do you choose to do during the hackathon? If you are a user research and data designer, you observe and report on that hackathon. My design buddy and I teamed up during the hackathon to report on the team interactions during the hackathon.

Role: One of Two-person UX team

Deliverable: Marshmallows … and their visual encodings

Completed: Fall 2015



Every 30 mins of the hackathon (within working hours) we tracked:

1.Attendance. Presence/Absence of team members, any extra intruders

2.Proximity. Proximity of the team members together

3.Focus. Were they focused or relaxed?

4.Body position. If the team members were sitting or standing… or lying down (Stephan)

5.Speech? If the team members were talking to each other or other intruders

6.Location. Were were the team members within the office.

7.Tools & Artifacts. Paper, Whiteboard, Computer, Headphones

The Encoding


After all the data from the hackathon team interactions were gathered, we looked through the data to see the interesting stories to tell. We determined the most interesting were body position, physical artifacts in use by the team members and team member proximity.

We knew we wanted to create a physical visualization, so looked toward different media to understand what was doable. In the end, we decided to use… marshmallows. Where each team member represented one marshmallow.


Body Position

  • sitting: one marshmallow with “hair” on top
  • standing: two marshmallows with “hair” on top
  • laying down: one marshmallow on its side with its “hair” on the side

Physical Artifacts

  • On the computer: rectangle over eyes
  • Using whiteboard/pen & paper: two squares over eyes
  • Headphones: black dots on ears


  • Close (within 2 feet): small wire between
  • Medium (between 2-5 feet): medium wire in between
  • Far (greater than 5 feet): long wire in between
  • If speaking, two wires were used

Time: Each time slice was shown to see how each team collaborated overtime

Intruders, AKA, those not in the team were represented by a completely colored silver marshmallow

The Result

Each team member took on an interesting dynamic, snapshots in time below.

The Collaborative Dictator


One team member stands and speaks with two sitting team members in front of a white board/paper.


You still here?


Team members sitting side by side, on computers, while one ignores the other with his/her headphones on.


The Ultimate Collaboration


All team members on their feet, talking and using paper/white board to articulate their ideas.


Nothing matters except the hackathon!


One team member speaks with another (not on his/her team) while the other team member, with his/her headphones on concentrates on his/her computer.


I don’t need you!


The lone wolf tackles the Hackathon with his/her headphones on focused on his/her computer.


The Computer Cuddlers


One team member lies down, on his/her computer & other sits next to him/her, also on her computer.


One team’s relationship overtime

The top is how they started, the bottom is how they ended.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *