Seated around banquet tables in teams of twos, threes and fours, students stare intently at their laptop screens, periodically consulting each other about things like typeface, color scheme and cohesive branding.
Yogurt Park, it was overwhelmingly decided, should be upbeat and colorful, while many felt Cafe Milano was better served by subdued themes and clean lettering. Others decreed that King Pin Donuts lent itself to a more down-home feel that highlighted its comforting glazed treats.
Packed into Heller Lounge in UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Saturday, the participants represented a broad mix of design aspirants — from computer science geeks to hipster artists to intellectual Stanford University graduate students. The competitors were participating in Innovative Design’s first-ever designathon — the only competition of its kind on campus.
The student design club, partnered with Adobe Systems, reached out to local food establishments interested in letting students compete to redesign their logos, menu boards, signage and Facebook cover photos, among other aspects of their visual brands.
“We wanted to build a community between Berkeley students and the surrounding area,” explained Quinn Shen, one of Innovative Design’s vice presidents of external relations. “Places like Cafe Milano and Yogurt Park have been here for years — they’re part of what makes Berkeley a college town. We should be helping them make Berkeley a more beautiful place.”
The teams chose between Cafe Milano, Yogurt Park and King Pin Donuts and were judged according to three main criteria: how well they fulfilled their client’s requirements, the conceptual thinking behind their ideas and the the execution of their designs.
Jeff Fan, a 2012 UC Berkeley graduate who helped found Innovative Design, returned to campus to compete against about 100 other would-be designers. His team chose to redesign Yogurt Park’s logo because the establishment’s design specifications seemed to “lend themselves to more creativity.”
In fact, Yogurt Park had requested a design that was “modern and hip and … true to Yogurt Park’s history.”
“(Yogurt Park) said they wanted modern, so we did a sort of modern meets blurry photography (theme),” Fan explained. His team chose to create a Facebook cover photo for the firm that featured a girl enjoying one of Yogurt Park’s famous creamy desserts.
“It’s a beautiful girl eating your product,” Fan joked. “How can it not sell? Yogurt Park … is all about people, so it’s important to show people in the design. It’s not fluffy, its not cartoony — it’s all about people.”
Teams across the board demonstrated meticulous thought behind every aspect of their design aesthetics.
One team from Stanford used some of its four allotted hours to perform field research, trekking out to King Pin Donuts to survey consumers about what attracted them to the popular shop of doughy confections.
“What we found was that on the outside, King Pin doesn’t really advertise donuts other than in text,” said Kathy Tong, a Stanford graduate student. “People go to King Pin because they see the donuts themselves in the shop . We redesigned the logo to emphasize donuts (because) people pay attention to fresh baked goods.”
She added that her team tried to maintain a comforting feeling in their designs.
“People we interviewed said they liked the homey-ness of it, that it’s not fancy, and we wanted to stick with that,” Tong said.
Although the designathon was a competition — $1,800 in prizes were handed out over the course of the evening — the atmosphere was ultimately collaborative and social.
“(People come) in with an idea but come out with the ability to implement that idea,” Shen said.
Shen said he was inspired by the computer hackathons that have erupted in popularity over the last few years where participants “hack” entire applications or software over the course of a day.
“You go in with an idea or a vision, and don’t necessarily know how to implement it,” he said. “But chances are, out of the hundreds of people around you, someone does and will be able to teach you or guide you along the right path. The open environment at a hackathon is what encourages and allows this sort of learning for programmers, and I wanted to bring it to the world of graphic designers.”
Ultimately, a winner was crowned from among the many professional-quality submissions. Team “Java Island” won first place for its quirky reconception of Yogurt Park’s branding. Their submission included a total redesign of the shop’s logo, menu and yogurt cups that was bright and clean and perfectly addressed Yogurt Park’s design request.
Although Yogurt Park is under no obligation to use the design, club executives say they hope the businesses involved will consider adopting the winning submissions.
“I’m pretty confident that all of them will strongly consider using the designs,” Shen said. “It’s huge difference from just designing for fun to actually seeing (that design) be printed. I want to see that come true.”