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What is design? Who interacts with it and why? Is it simply usability or aesthetics or can there be an intersection where these two meet together? The practice of interconnecting these two - form and function- is the sweet spot designers hope to hit. Understanding the impact that design can have on the world will enhance your interactions with it and offer new personalized experiences within a collaborative space, such as HackIllinois.

All aspects of design are key to the experience of a hackathon. Designers here at HackIllinois not only focus on creating a visual brand for the 1000+ attendees, but also an immersive and holistic event that continues to gain interest and spotlight throughout the university and invested viewers. The importance of creating a personalized experience for every attendee continues to be the driving factor of our design team’s work and is what makes HackIllinois unique amongst other hackathons in the nation.

“We’re not designing products anymore, we’re designing systems that eventually will influence human expectations and enable a change in behavior.”

HackIllinois 2019 swag items and trophy

The newly themed creations begin following the event, getting a full start on the year-long journey of prepping for the hackathon weekend. A small team of student designers works from scratch to collaboratively design every detail of the event that you may interact with: website and mobile app, print, swag, social media, and more. The team works long hours to brand each HackIllinois while pushing the limits further each year on what the event is capable of. The small agency feel of the team allows for rapid innovation and purposeful creation. While a design makes an event exciting and visually appealing, the depth of incorporating these styles and assets into the event goes beyond just first look and more into making HackIllinois what it is - an immersive learning and adventurous 48 hours.

Design is important and all around us. It influences our experiences, our decision making, our mood, and so many other things that you may not expect design to impact. With all these elements at play, design has the ability to transform the basic experience into the events that you talk about for months and years after it has happened. Designers steer the mindsets of those participating to get excited and be invested in open source, hackathons, and collaboration and keep them coming back for the following years. It’s more than posters hanging in the north quad, or the mobile app attendees use, or the amazing swag bags and clothing everyone gets excited about. It’s about creating an environment where the ease of great immersive design enhances students’ and mentors’ abilities to discover and generate incredible projects. Best said from Jan Hellemans, “We’re not designing products anymore, we’re designing systems that eventually will influence human expectations and enable a change in behavior.” Design at HackIllinois pushes the expectations of what open source can do for the world.

A group of HackIllinois 2018 staff members take a picture in front of the photobooth in their staff t-shirts and jackets.

As an outsider to the coding culture, it’s amazing to see the effect of design on attendees from all over the world. The curiosity built up by the branding of the event is exciting. It’s thrilling to see attendees interacting with the designs and noticing the details in the Siebel and ECEB Building. When students ask if there are extra pins and stickers for their friends back home or point out intriguing UI/UX features of the website and mobile app, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

The trophies given to the HackIllinois 2018 winners.

The next time you step into a hackathon, I urge you to take a few minutes and absorb all the design around you. What is the theme? How does it make you feel? What gets you excited about that event? How do the details, small or big, enhance your experience? While these answers may not seem obvious at the time, take a step back and you will learn to appreciate aspects of event planning that may otherwise seem ordinary. Think about design and how important it is in transforming your experience at events like HackIllinois. Good design is appealing, but exceptional design is what makes HackIllinois, HackIllinois.

Get ready to Explore. Connect. Build. at HackIllinois 2020.

Are you an open-source contributor interested in fostering college students’ interest in your work? Shoot us an email at to learn about how you can get involved!

Do you think your company would be interested in partnering with us? Reach out to our staff at to learn more about our sponsorship opportunities.

Do you want to attend HackIllinois? Applications will be released in the winter. Stay tuned to our website at!

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Charlotte Peloquin




The HackIllinois blog! Check out what we've been up to.

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