Codestellation 2015 Design and Branding

Codestellation is Brandeis University’s first hackathon, aimed at students that are interested in the idea of spending a weekend working on a project but are very put off by the intense hacker culture that some bigger, more well known hackathons foster. The first Codestellation took place last weekend, March 27th — 28th, and was a success. While I have a lot of feelings about Codestellation, this post is purely my recounting of the ideals behind the hackathon and the way these ideals shaped its design and branding.

The idea of Codestellation started a little over a year ago, at the first Hackcon that took place in New York City. The main organizers — back then, the only organizers — were invited purely by luck through an acquaintance we met at MHacks. While Hackcon was immensely beneficial to forming our idea of what we wanted and valued in a hackathon, the idea of a hackathon at Brandeis seemed far beyond our reach at the time. We wanted to lead the revolution of redefining what a hackathon was, but were unsure whether that revolution would be taken kindly among the other computer science students at our school, the computer science faculty, and the overall Brandeis administration.

A year later, we had fleshed out the idea of a Brandeis hackathon that was (hopefully) accessible, learning-focused, friendly, and low-key. Above all, we wanted to create a positive environment that fostered friendships and an eagerness to learn. With these ideals in mind, I started working on the website.

I’ve made websites before, but I haven’t ever been in charge of the entire branding of an event. After a lot of frustration with learning the bezier tool on Photoshop, I finally finished the concept for the rocket. Another organizer and I were very drawn to pastel, ice cream colors — so much so that we looked up “ice cream” on Adobe Kuler for inspiration. The first iteration is below, and you can see why we didn’t stick with it:

The initial idea …

The mismatched colors on the rocket, lack of balance in the text, and bad spacing aside (all easily solvable issues), my biggest qualm with this design was the colors. While ice cream colors certainly seemed to be the right friendly aesthetic, those particular colors looked too much like a sign for a day care than a computer science event.

With the final design, I ended up changing the colors to a very space-y blue and purple color palette, adding shadows and drop-shadows to make the more important elements stand out more, and changing the spacing to make it seem more balanced. I believe that the final design I settled on encapsulates the friendly feeling we were going for without sacrificing legitimacy and maturity. At this point, I was satisfied with my portrayal of the event and the message that the design sent.

I built the website off of the main cover photo and tried to keep the theme consistent — friendly, but not immature; beginner-friendly, but not lacking talent; accessible, but not lame. The final website can be found archived on my personal website at this link. Here are a few screenshots:

The about section
The sign up and schedule
Loose ends

The website’s color scheme reflected that of the cover photo, except with a lot more pink as an accent color. Everything from the layout of the page to the wording used was double-checked to make sure it fit the theme we were going for. We were kind of going for the feel of space camp for adults, so we settled on calling hackathon attendees “cadets”, which we thought was the perfect mix of whimsical and awesome. A lot of effort was put into not only keeping up the friendly theme, but also into making as many space puns as possible. One of my co-organizers came up with the idea of spaceship.launch(), which we all ended up loving and using on a ton of promotional materials.

Some of the promotional materials I ended up making and distributing are posters:

I got very excited about puns
There’s spaceship.launch() coming back!
Giant poster!

And here are the sticker designs we ended up getting printed. I was really excited about these and I think they turned out great!

Finally, t-shirts! Cadets were dark blue (I was aiming for a vintage NASA t-shirt type of aesthetic when choosing this color.), mentors were purple, and organizers were bright blue.

Overall, I feel that the branding of the event accurately represented the spirit of Codestellation. While the branding of Codestellation as a friendly, cute, and learning-focused hackathon won’t change anytime soon, I’m planning on redesigning the logo and motifs every year to keep it funky fresh and new, and BITMAP has a few tricks and surprises coming up that will require a lot of design work on my part (and hopefully a partner). I’m eagerly looking forward to fun new design challenges next year, but for now there is a little time to relax and look back over how Codestellation has grown and how my design skills have grown along with it. I hope everyone that attended Codestellation enjoyed it, and to those of you that are considering going to a hackathon but are worried about not being good enough: there’s no time like the present to jump into making things. If you’re looking for a supportive environment filled with people like you that are eager to learn and create cool things, consider coming to Codestellation next spring. There’ll be more cute stickers.