“He is the greatest teacher I never had” - Bill Gates on Richard Feynman’s Legacy.
First of all, a little homage to a person frequently called “The Great Explainer”, Richard Feynman: a Nobel laureate who mesmerized the passionates of Physics. There is already an almost infinite amount of achievements and contributions he made in the field of science. However, there is something that I’d like to focus on for the sake of keeping this article short, and that is his exquisite ability to explain the most complex topics in simple language. His teaching technique is widely known as one of the most effective mental models for communicating ideas and also for learning.
To summarize his technique crudely, his mental process breaks down to the following phases/steps:
Identify the concept you want to learn.
Explain it in a simple way.
Identify knowledge gaps.
Reorganize and tell a story (use a simple analogy)
It looks quite simple, doesn’t it? Inspired by his method, I used what I already know, what I don’t know (knowledge gaps to find answers) and my experience to explain what the Topcoder UI Design track is all about in simple terms, using some of the artifacts from Feynman’s technique.
HEY COLUMBUS, I’M TALKING TO YOU
Yes, you, the discoverer and explorer enthusiast getting familiar with the Topcoder Way, who found a myriad of information but maybe you’re not sure how to get started or what this is all about. Unlike Columbus, you’re not mistaken by thinking you found the Indias instead of America. It happens that you might have just found a treasure: lots of competitions for UI Designers to grab experience and prizes from!
You’re not alone. We’ve all been there with tons of questions and doubts that make it difficult to take action in these competitions. In order to spread knowledge like Feynman used to, it is important to ask the right questions about a concept to explain it to others. Here’s my attempt to explain the main UI Design track concepts, fair and square, simple, once and for all. Buckle up, grab your popcorn and enjoy the show.
WHAT IS A TOPCODER CHALLENGE?
UI Design challenge in a nutshell
Challenge is just another word for competition, a match where you face off against other people around the world to solve a design problem. There is a set of rules, a set of competitors (other designers), a workflow/process and the possibility of winning prizes (US dollars).
In Topcoder there are four main tracks for challenges: UI Design, Development, Data Science and QA. For this exercise, we’re focusing on UI Design. There are several types of UI Design challenges that you can join. We can briefly define some of them as:
Wireframes: low-fidelity design of a user interface, including thoughts on information architecture, navigation, layout, and workflow. The main tool used for this is Axure.
Tablet/Mobile App: user interface designs for native tablet and mobile apps, including watch gear on some occasions.
Responsive App/Website: user interface design for websites or web applications.
Branding/Presentation: print-based design such as logo, icons, t-shirts, and decks.
HOW DO I FIND CHALLENGES THAT SUIT MY SKILL SET?
Challenges page with proper filters for available opportunities
Good question. In order to get to that part, I’d first suggest you be open-minded about trying different opportunities Topcoder has to offer, even different tracks! First of all, you need to address the filters on the challenges page. My suggestion for new designers:
Check the design challenges toggle. Uncheck development and data science.
Click the Open For Registration preset on the right panel.
Open Filters and select a sub-track if needed.
The next logical step after finding a challenge that you like would be to register. As seen in the beautiful hand made diagram above, we can summarize the competition workflow in four main stages: join, submit, feedback and submit final. That is the representation of the workflow of a typical design challenge.
The first step is to register in the challenge. But once you’re there, reading the spec (another word for requirements), analyzing the spec and asking questions in the forums is very important. It helps you clarify doubts and stay in the loop about the challenge phases and requirements, since all the communications between you and the client or copilot (person in charge of running challenges) happen in there.
Submit for round one
After you worked on your design solution and it is ready to ship, you must follow certain guidelines to format your files and send them through the submission page. From this moment on, you wait until the checkpoint feedback is released.
This is the cornerstone of a design challenge. This is the moment when your design receives feedback. Here you can also win a checkpoint prize, which is a selection of the top 5 winners for the client, normally, each designer gets paid between $50 and $100.
Submit for the final round
After receiving feedback, you must incorporate it into your work, prepare the design files again and submit for a final review. The client receives the submissions, makes a selection, and you cross your fingers that you’ll become the first place winner. You must be aware that if you become a winner of the challenge (any placement), you will be asked to perform final fixes. This is the last phase of the challenge in which the client will ask for adjustments or request to fulfill the requirements or vision of the design problem.
To finalize, there is more specific and technical content about the competition and rules. You can find it in the Design Community Page. Hope this post works as a simple introduction to you.