Hack Western 6 : Our Design Story

How we designed the moonshot — a space-themed Hack Western 6

What is Hack Western?

Hack Western is one of Canada’s largest annual student-run hackathons. With over 500 hackers coming together from November 22nd to 24th, 2019, Hack Western 6 is slated to be an exciting weekend of collaboration, creativity, and competition. Our hackers are engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, and most importantly, the next generation of innovators.

Space has always illustrated an experience looking into the unknown and imagining the impossible. The night sky and its galaxies mean adventure, discovery, and catapulting yourself into something new. On a more tangible level, hackathons similarly represent this idea of exploration: you create, test, and learn to push your own boundaries — you are building your own moonshot.

by Donna Xue & the Hack Western Design Team (Erica Yarmol-Matusiak, Jenny Tran, and Justin Zhang)

“Building your moonshot” is the Hack Western team’s goal for our hackathon participants; brainstorming grandiose and outrageous tech ideas and then leveraging the weekend’s resources to seriously consider how to develop those ideas both incrementally and for real-world impact. We plan to integrate this idea graphically into all our designs: from our cover photo and communications, to swag and decorations at the event.

In this article, we wanted to give you a peek into some of our preliminary graphics, including our mood boards, sponsorship package, brand book, cover photo, and what’s next!

Keep reading, and take a journey into our design world…

The Evolution of the Hack Western brand

Hack Western has been around for six years, and in the true spirit of being iterative and hack-y, we’ve modified some parts of our design annually. We’ve had a great foundation to build on: the HW3 team who designed the classic Mustang logo, clean white and purple colour scheme, and geometric shapes. Our past designers also hand-drew some fantastic illustrations for HW5 which helped embody last year’s theme of bringing your ideas to reality.

The idea of personal illustrative pieces started from here — thus, for HW6 this year, we’re excited to have recruited a dedicated design team who have spent the past few months re-imagining the brand with in-house visual assets.

Our Design Process

Design isn’t a defined journey or known final product. It’s a process where, with the skills and experiences of your whole team, collaboration and iteration gradually leads towards an end product In practice, this means our team spends more time together defining the goal we’re designing for rather than designing and editing design drafts. This method is much more efficient for encapsulating the brand theme and designing the best end product. We individually create prototypes, then come back together to amalgamate designs. We may do a few rounds of this to create a singular design that encapsulates everyone’s vision. Experience and inspiration from everywhere is valued in design.

Mood boards

In our team of four, we made our own individual mood boards on personal interpretations of the visual themes of space, extraterrestrial adventures and varying geometric compositions. We gathered our visuals from sites like Behance and Dribbble for inspiration. This brainstorming step gave us a lot of ideas about how to design our colour scheme, understand the complexity of graphics, and build the overall narrative.

Sponsorship Package

Our humble hand-drawn sketches of the cover page were the beginning of the iterative process to design the overall sponsorship package. Most of our focus was on the first page, as it was the first impression sponsors would have of what’s in store for Hack Western 6. The process was primarily designing individually, then convening and presenting our designs as a group, and taking elements from everyone’s design to combine it into a finalized masterpiece!

We looked at the different assets to feature on the cover page, such as aliens, astronauts, planets, galaxies, stars, and gradients. Did we want an out of world look with holes in the page into another universe? A telescope shooting out a galaxy? With visual displays on paper with graphite, the composition that most made sense was one with a singular dimension, gradient background, and a mix of few assets to create movement and intrigue. This cover design was to set a consistent standard for what the rest of our package’s graphics should look like.

Our next step was digitization: transferring our physical drawings into digital vectors and assets with Adobe Illustrator. This means drawing shapes with the Pen Tool, adding colours and gradients, and placing text to create more complex digital designs. It can often be the trickiest part of design: going from sketches and images you have in your mind to something real on your screen. We focused on creating reusable assets and gradients that we could transfer to our other graphics for continuity. We experimented with various colour schemes (we all fell in LOVE with the coalescence of orange and purple for a gradient) and proportions of the text with the graphics.

The sponsorship package was the first major design deliverable to consolidate, and the brand’s theme was more solidified after finalizing the package, even though we have several more months of exciting things to design. In the initial phases, we chose to go for a dark theme with bright gradients and fun avatars, making space more fun and familiar. We wanted hackers to interact with the galactic, choose-your-own-adventure narrative as it will also be incorporated into the hackathon weekend.

To best present our sponsorship information, we focused on brevity and clean layouts within our space design: here’s our final sponsorship package below. From our wide range of samples, we chose multiple facets from each designer’s spreads: the planet graphics from Jenny, the colour scheme from Erica, the gradient dimension from Donna, and the icon layout from Justin. This was from many nights of calls and Slack messages for physical tweaks and feedback.

Brand book: Building a consistent HW6 Identity

Design is all about communication, whether that be for our hackers, sponsors, or internal organizing team members. We made the brand book to maintain consistency for when non-design members post and write promotional material on behalf of the team. Our brand is everything from fonts to colours to visual assets and more.

This brand book keeps us, the design team, and the greater Hack Western team on track with planning the visuals and narrative pieces for all designs leading up to the weekend. We also strive to have this consolidated brand be a user-friendly experience for our 500+ hackers: the astronaut characters convey a feeling of being a part of our greater community and going through the weekend-long space-tech adventure collectively.

Western University's annual student hackathon. Join us for Hack Western 6 on November 22rd-24th, 2019!

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