USABILATHON — how we started the 1st usability-focused hackathon

During my time at Iowa State, I was approached with an opportunity to build and foster a UX event. I helped co-found ISU’s USABILATHON, the first hackathon-style event focused on usability, with my dear colleagues Alex Lim, Melynda Hoover, and Kaitlyn Ouverson.

My role:

My tasks:




1- Successful Event
Successfully ran the whole event without hitting any major hurdles during the day-of.

2- 9 Sponsors
Managed to get 9 sponsors to help us fund the event. This allowed us to keep the event free for participants.

3- 22 Participants
Over 30 RSVPs; had 22 final participants show up and finish the Usabilathon challenge.

4- Increased UX Exposure
Build up excitement and a new team to take over for the next event. Participants are now able to build portfolios.


How might we help bridge partnerships between students and industry while helping them gain UX experience?

There wasn’t a need to reinvent the wheel in terms of hackathon-events, and we saw this as an opportunity to expand from the original idea, but cater it to ISU students’ needs.

This usability based hackathon-style event focused on bringing interdisciplinary students together where they would spend a whole day designing, iterating, and developing solutions. At the end of the event, participants will get an opportunity to showcase their solutions in front of judges and fellow participants.


  • Provide a safe space that allowed students to experiment and leverage existing skills.
  • Bring in mentors and judges from established companies and allow them to network with participants.
  • Showcase the HCI, Human Factors, and UX community.
  • A completed case study for students to use in their portfolios.
  • Build and foster a community.


  • No previous predecessor


What exactly is USABILATHON?

How did we make it happen?

Mapping out the journey

Mapping out event timeline
Mapping out participants, sponsors, and volunteers timeline

Understanding user needs and opportunities

Student persona
Hiring Manager persona
user journey map

Distributing roles and responsibilities

  • Event planning and strategy
  • Competitive analysis
  • Journey mapping
  • Set and ensure brand
  • Help recruit industry sponsors
  • Create event materials and templates
  • Website creation and design
  • Host main event
  • Mentor participants
Using Trello for task delegation (Kandan approach)


Event execution pillars

1- Duration

  • Pre and post networking

2- Number of participants

  • Small group — enough to handle

3- Location

  • Ensure location serves our needs (Wi-Fi, seating, projector, team spaces, bathrooms, convenience)

4- Budget

  • Breakdown by category
  • Allow for in-kind sponsors/donations

5- Date

  • No overlapping events

6- Prizes

  • 1st and 2nd places
  • Motivate participants

Branding, event promotion, and website

Branding, logo, resources, and templates
Event schedule
event pictures


Our biggest hurdles…

​We worried that we wouldn’t be able to deliver on our promise — judges were hard to find, we didn’t have the money without donations and sponsorships, and it took a while to recruit participants.


In the end, it all worked out!



USABILATHON is something dear to me, and I will always root for its success. Although I will forever be jealous of those who got to participate, I will always cherish the fact that I helped start this wonderful event.

Special thanks to the original crew — this wouldn’t have been possible without you.

UX Designer