An Interaction Designer at 3-Day Startup

40 people.  3 Days.  5 startups.This weekend, I participated in 3-Day Startup with the goal of launching a technology company in three days, on no sleep, and with people I just met.

The weekend started out with everyone pitching their ideas and then voting with their feet which project to work on.   I chose Tripgather, a data aggregator for travelers because I liked the people on the team.  I am lucky to work with amazing, passionate people every day at AC4D and was happy to have a similar privilege at 3-Day Startup.

Our team:

  • Jonathan Spillman – UT MBA, awesome leader, idea man
  • David McCleary – UT Masters in Engineering, Mr.Make Things Happen in business and marketing
  • MacKenzie Seale – UT Finance undergrad, content guru, Miss “I’ve never talked to random people, but let’s do it.”
  • Garrett Eastham- Computer Science whiz from Stanford, who Jonathan rightly called the “Michael Jordan of programing”
  • Levi Lalla- Engineer from MIT who just happens to also front-end code with the best of ’em
  • And me, AC4D interaction designer

What do you do with an interaction designer?

At our first team meeting when I announced my role, I got a few understanding nods from the programmers and understandably blank stares from the rest of the team.  What does an interaction designer do? More importantly, what do they do at 3-Day Startup?

My short answer – nothing and everything.  Here’s where I found myself:

  • Traditional Design:  An “agency” of three graphic designers worked with all the 3DS teams, and they were awesome.  I worked with them to help make our visual language matched our overall product message.

  • User Research: My heart leaped with joy when our whole team enthusiastically wanted to talk with customers.  I pushed for design research open-ended conversations rather than trying to collect quantitative data through surveys.    Steve Portigal’s got some great wisdom on the perils of bad surveys here and here.

  • User Flows:  What does a user expect to see?  What does a user want to see?  What user flow goes with our pitch story?

  • Pitch: Pull out the post-it notes.  Let’s craft a story that anyone can understand and that clearly tells the problem we’re trying to solve (Justin Petro would be proud of the post-its).

Looking back on the weekend, on the surface, it looks like I did nothing.

I didn’t present.

I didn’t code.

I didn’t do the financial model.

I didn’t do the graphic design.

Hell, everything I did was thrown away.

The home page I designed? Scratched.

The user flows and wireframes on the whiteboard?  Erased.

The post-it notes used to craft our pitch?  Trash.

But I couldn’t be more pleased. All that throw away meant that over the course of 3 days, we were iterating, reframing, and finding new and better ways to tell our story.  That’s what an interaction designer does and that’s what I brought to 3DS.