MHacks Branding

Made with Tom Erdmann · Visit the site

Designing the branding for the world's largest student hackathon.

MHacks is the University of Michigan’s primary hackathon, and has been the largest student hackathon in the world. They’ve hosted thousands of student developers, designers, and everyone in-between to enable lots of experience and learning, while getting to build a few cool things.


Sometime after finishing up the semester in the Spring of 2013, my friend Tom Erdmann asked me to design a logo for a hackathon that he was running as newly appointed head organizer. He told me grand plans for holding the event at the Big House (the University’s legendary football stadium, the biggest football stadium in the world) and got me hooked on the idea of helping him out. He explained some problems with the past events that the organization had run; they lacked the diversity that he wanted to foster: engineers, designers, artists, and people that hadn’t done enough to identify with any of those demographics, all working together on equal footing. He wanted to have a well designed identity that could be flexible, and could represent the connectedness and diversity that he wanted to see out of the event.

So, while resting at a hotel in rural Pennsylvania during the drive up from South Carolina to my new internship at Fetchnotes, I sketched, designed, and sent over my ideas to him.

I tried imagining what the logo could be done with motion applied from the outset, and built a little prototype to test the idea (click rerun to see the animation):

See the Pen pLEyH by Kathryn Gonzalez (@rmg7344) on CodePen.

I wanted to do something simple, easily used and applied by other designers elsewhere, so I scrapped that idea (but made sure to keep it in the back of my mind to apply later). The mark also had to be recognizable enough to identify with the university, while also having a personality of it’s own. So, I made it striking and simple:

Watching it grow

The following September, when the event was actually held and the branding used for the first time, I took some time from my new job at Fetchnotes to go back to Ann Arbor and attend the event. It was a strange and wonderful experience:

Seeing your work in a public place, being presented to crowd and used for tshirts, posters, bags, footballs, and everything else is a strange experience, especially after being disconnected from the work leading up to the event for so long. I don’t ever think I’ll feel as strange a feeling as I felt sitting in that crowd, watching a video featuring overblown explosions, crazy music, and my branding in the backdrop of it all being played on your alma mater’s big screen.

It was everywhere, in all shapes and forms, and was used effectively and fluidly. I’m so thankful I was able to contribute in such a small way to that organization and event, and my design has had a much longer life than I would have ever expected because of that.

Riffing and continuing to change

It’s wonderful seeing something you helped start grow to become even better. For the next MHacks event, some unknown saint helped expand and grow the visual language I helped instill with the logo, with a wonderful network pattern:

The logo, in another variation, is still used today. You can see more photos from all the events at their Facebook page.