February 2nd, 2012

Brainyhacks 2 – full of Spark+Mettle

So… I’m about 8 weeks late in writing this summary of our second Brainyhacks night. For those of you that were there it’ll be a nice memory, all glowing and warm. For those of you that weren’t there (let’s just call you BH-curious) this’ll give you a little insight into what goes down on a (non) typical Brainyhacks night and hopefully inspire you to take part in the next one.

A bit of background or…’One day we had an idea’
Instead of donating money to charity, Pixelgroup donate their time and skills. Last year we all spent our spare time designing a site for International Sewa Day, a global volunteering day that brings joy, relieves hardship & poverty and also helps the environment – everyone donates their time and skills to make a better world.

Last May our Clare (@claresutcliffe) had an idea for an event that fitted with our giving ethos. She thought that it would be great if we could give lots of ideas to a person or cause that doesn’t normally get access to awesome agency brains.  So the idea was born and we ran our first Brainyhacks in July last year – you can see how it went down here.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat
We quickly realised that there’s quite a bit of planning and lots of little, important things that need attention – like sponsors, drinks, prizes etc. So this time we teamed up with Emma Sexton (@emmasexton) from SheSaysUK (@shesaysUK) who helped us organise the venue, and most importantly open the event to their huge (mainly female) following. They have tons of experience organising events and a huge following that we could tap into to spread the word for teams and volunteers.

As we were teaming up with SheSays, it was only fitting that we redress the balance and call for teams of mostly women – team entry criteria stated that you must have at least 3 women in your team (I was expecting a few guys in drag). All teams registered through EventBrite, which was a lot more effective than our ‘names on a piece of paper’ approach. We also thought we’d try selling tickets for a fiver for anyone who wanted to come and watch (I was skeptical – I mean who’d pay to watch other people work. after work?). In the end we had 40 people pay to watch us work! This helped beef up the coffers and pay for the prizes.

We were very grateful that Computer Arts sponsored the drinks and our client Digital Gurus sponsored the food. Our hackers used both to great effect – powering their awesome brains on the night.

Generously sponsored by Computer Arts & Digital Gurus

A few other changes, a tighter, focused brief, we also released the name of the ‘client’ (@sparkandmettle) on Twitter the day before so that the hackers would have time to do some research. If you don’t know about Spark+Mettle, they’re an awesome start-up charity, an aspirations agency who want to help disadvantaged young people get the careers they deserve – more about them here.

On the night
So after much hectic last minute planning it was ‘the night’. Clare and I headed out to The Pheonix – a nice little bolt-hole of a basement bar in London’s glittering Cavendish Square.. well more glowing (geddit?) than glittering.

After lots of shuffling tables around to fit eight teams in a tiny space coupled with a temperamental projector (I don’t think it got the memo about the R in RGB) we were set-up and the hackers and non-hackers, who’d actually paid to observe the magic happen (not sure if we just called them voyeurs, odd-balls or just lazy-slackers), started pouring in.

Everyone got their badges (Clare and I had an argument about who should write them – I won cos the rest of the Pixelgroupers/ies voted mine as the best handwriting – ha!).

Playing the charming host I effortlessly glided between the teams to say hello and welcome them… well it was more like I crashed awkwardly, interrupting their conversations and humbly thanking them for taking part.

What was really inspiring at this point was the range of roles that turned up – yeah, sure I was expecting planners & creatives…but we had project managers and developers too – just proves that ideas don’t just come from the people in Converse, checked shirts & Jarvis Cocker glasses.

I noticed that lots of the teams had brought printouts from the Spark+Mettle site and had come armed with knowledge (ideas borne of assumption are weak anyway), so that little tweet the day before was worth it as the hackers were literally itching/bursting with energy and couldn’t wait to tear open the envelope containing the brief.

Lots of people also brought their own Pads, pens, iPads, laptops, and I think I even saw one guy setting up a Quad core Mac Pro with 27″ cinema display, just in case he wanted to do a quick 3D render of his ideas.

So – to business
The judges were introduced…These are all people I respect for their work & thought. They were approached because we thought they would really be able to help the teams get the most of their ideas in the short space of time (and probably because we mentioned free drinks).

Gemma Butler, Nisha Lakhani, Jessica Gough, Richard Neville & Tiina Björk

We had the awesome:

Gemma Butler (@gembutler) – Creator of TWO of the best digital ads of the decade!
Nisha Lakhani (@nishajl) – From Tonic Music
Jessica Gough (@jessiegogo) – Creative Goddess from CHI & Partners
Richard Neville (@elecanimal) – Our token male-man and founder of invention agency Electric Animal
Tiina Bjork (she’s too busy to tweet) – Creative Director AKQA

The ‘client’
Spark+Mettle founder Eugenie took to the stage with 4 of the co-creators of their Star Track program to introduce the objective of the brief directly from the mouths of the people who it would help.

CEO & founder of Spark+Mettle, Eugenie takes to the stage with her co-creators

So there it was – time to open the envelopes and reveal the brief. You can read the full brief here – it’s only 2 pages. But in brief (sorry) it was all about getting young professionals (like 94% of the people in the room) connected with young, enthusiastic, aspirational people who needed help and advice quickly, to help them plan and develop their careers (the other 5% of people in the room – the other 1% were bar staff and some people that wandered off the street).

So for the next two hours the room was like a massive energy ball – people scribbling, drawing, writing (making sashes??!) colouring and generally getting well into it.

It was inspiring to see everyone getting involved – the judges were helping teams, the co-creators were talking and gesticulating wildly with their hands, and the rest of us.. well we were drinking the bar tab (thanks again Computer Arts) and munching on the leftover food (thanks Digital Gurus).

Them BOOM! Two hours went like a flash and everyone was told to put their pens down like an angry Michel Roux Jnr. off Masterchef.

Presentation time – strictly 4 minutes each… why four minutes, well last time people spent about 5 minutes re-telling the brief and then ran out of steam when it came to communicating their ideas. So we told them to get straight to the point.

It was no surprise that Social Media played a massive part in all the teams presentations. It’s ideal for quick, easy communication between like-minded groups or communities.

The judges watched each presentation intently, just look at the pic below.. but maybe thats because some people wrote their ideas in 18pt (can you hand-write 18pt type?) when the judges were 15 feet away.

Dil-iberation time
Put 5 creative heads around a table and tell them to make a decision in 15 minutes – optimistic isn’t the word. After pointing at my watch about once every 5 minutes for the next half hour they finally took to the stage to announce the winners…

Judges take their sweet time coming to a decision.

The judges elected Gem Butler as their spokesperson, who summarised the night as ‘awesome & inspiring’.

They felt that although everyone had come up with ways to connect the young professionals & the young people (all through social media) Team Sharpies pipped everyone else with their Spark Scouts idea, because it was the one that had real potential, and answered the brief objectives cleverly.

Team Sharpies take the prize

Spark Scouts
In a nutshell it was similar to a dating mechanic, but instead of matching up Cat-loving Cathy with Movie-buff Stuart, it was about matching young people looking for advice, mentoring or guidance in their chosen field with the people that actually live and breathe it everyday, and this is the killer bit… the professionals get merit badges awarded to them by the young people for the help they’ve received. It could even work on a company wide/CSR scale – imagine the headline ‘Shell unlock over 10,000 Spark Scout badges’.

I particularly like it because it’s a ‘rewarding reward scheme’ – both parties get something out of it, and the world is a better place.

It goes to prove that it’s not just enough to link together different communities & audiences through technology without considering the basic human need to want to feel good about yourself.

Spark Scouts - the winning idea - clever, clear, and simply communicated

So – what next?
Brainyhacks, Like I said before, is still in it’s infancy, not sure exactly what it’ll become, but what we do know is that we want to have lots of ideas – have them quickly, and then actually make something from them.

You know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention? (and assumption is his cousin who’s responsible for most of the F***-ups in the world) Well right now we think it’s absolutely necessary for people like us (who love our jobs) to help inspire and develop the next generation – the generation that’s been told they can’t afford uni, can’t get a job, and don’t qualify for a mortgage. All you Brainyhackers have helped us take the first step to doing just that. Someone once said ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step‘.

All of you – I tip my hat to you – you are the tinkerers, the thinkers, the givers and the drinkers. You rock.

See you at the next one.


Brainyhacks would not have been as much fun and not have inspired the momentum for Spark+Mettle without…

Brilliant event photography – Dai Williams
You can see the full set of photos on Flickr

Beautiful video production – Dan Gahnstrom
Drinks & food – Our sponsors Computer Arts  & Digital Gurus
Being judge-mental – Rich, Tiina, Gemma, Jessica &
Everything – Emma Sexton & ShesaysUK

We welcome your feedback on the event, and any ideas you might have for judges, charities, venues, anything really. We’d love you to be a part of the next one, so please drop us a line brainyhacks [at] pixelgroup [dot] co [dot] uk.

About the author

Dil is responsible for creating great brand experiences at Pixelgroup. He is particularly interested in patterns of human behaviour in retail.
  • Googe

    Great idea Dil.. sounds awesome (..and hey there Gem and Jess if you’re watching!)

  • Rajni Parmar

    Very creative an inspiring. Well done dil
    Best wishes to all in pixel group