Fostering Charity and Community
by Lior Vexler, SoDA / August 28, 2013
Note: This blog entry is available in English only.
A routine employee goal‐setting custom at Vancouver‐based Pound & Grain turned into a day‐long interactive design competition for charity. Interactive Designer Julie Tremblay and Managing Partner Sandy Fleischer share how the Gastown Design Showdown came to life and successfully contributed to a great cause.
Lior (SoDA): Where did you get the idea for the Gastown Design Showdown?
Julie: Every six months or so, employees meet with the partners to set goals, both professional and personal, and the company helps us figure out ways to achieve them. My goal was to organize an event for the design community. At about the same time, I began volunteering at imagine1day, a local charity that supports education for children in Ethiopia, so I also took on the challenge of raising money for something I’m passionate about.
My idea for the Showdown came after I went to a software hackathon last fall. I was amazed with the vibe of the event—this small, intensive programming competition. I thought it would be great to have an event like that just for designers. From there, I came up with the idea of holding a competition and donating the proceeds to imagine1day.
Lior: How did Pound & Grain react to the idea?
Sandy: We thought it was a great idea. After working on the imagine1day rebrand, we knew an event like the Showdown would totally fit with the organization’s philosophy. imagine1day wants people to do things that add value to their lives while they give to charity. What better way to accomplish that than to let Julie jump in feet first. It was something that was personally important to Julie, would meet the needs of designers, and supported the charity.
Julie: I’d like to add that Pound & Grain was very supportive of me. A lot of people gave their time to the event. Plus, I always wanted to go to Africa, so the company gave me a two‐week trip to reward me for my fundraising efforts.
Lior: Wow! That’s fantastic.
Sandy: Well, we’ve made a personal commitment to our employees. Yes, we have high expectations, but we’ll also create a platform for their careers that can also advance personal goals.
Lior: What was your process for organizing the event?
Julie: First, I had to figure out the formula and concept—should it be a weekend event, an evening event, or a full‐day event? What happens in what order? What is the actual challenge?
I also had to figure out how to market a brand new event. I designed a simple and informative website using Photoshop and WordPress and hit social media to spread the word. I invited most of the agencies in Vancouver, so that was more than 100 direct invites. We had 42 people register, which is really good.
Lior: What was your competition challenge?
Julie: The theme was six degrees of separation. I wanted something abstract and experimental. Designers had to create an iPad app concept that met three requirements: It had to test the validity of the theory of six degrees of separation, the design and user experience had to convince people to use the app, and the app had to make users want to come back.
Lior: Were there any guidelines or restrictions?
Julie: Competitors only had six hours to complete the challenge. The deliverable was a maximum of four JPEGs. The designers brought their own laptops, so they used whatever they brought with them. Most used Photoshop and Illustrator to brainstorm designs, and some even sketched ideas out on paper.
Lior: How did you judge the entries?
Julie: This was part of the fun. We invited members of the public, so about 100 people joined the design teams in reviewing the apps. Each design team had two minutes to present their concepts and everyone judged them on how well they met the three requirements. The winners were Jason Esteban who works at HootSuite, and Andy Liang who works at Stage 3 Systems. They both won a Pound & Grain cowbell trophy and a one‐year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Adobe was one of our sponsors.
Lior: How would you evaluate the success of the Gastown Design Showdown?
Julie: We raised just under $7,000, which was fantastic. But the best part was watching the teams create. Our special guest, Dougal Muir, the creative director at Muir & Associates, came in to direct the teams for the Showdown. One of our keynote speakers, Joni Rustulka from Adobe, came back later in the day to share ideas with the teams. It was really good to see that. Everyone was enthusiastic about participating and putting Vancouver on the map from a digital design and app creation perspective.
Sandy: From a Pound & Grain perspective, it was really impressive to see such a professionally produced event happening in our office. The caliber of talent competing was first rate. So were our speakers. Besides Joni Rustulka, we had Jeremy Mendes, an interactive producer from the National Film board of Canada. Although it was in our office, Pound & Grain purposefully stayed out of the spotlight. Digital has always been highly collaborative and it’s important to us to build a broader community of disparate agencies.
Lior: Will there be a second annual Gastown Design Showdown?
Sandy: We’re still looking at the feedback that Julie compiled, and the survey results are overwhelmingly positive. Before we do another Showdown, we need to look at whether the level of effort can be streamlined, whether our goals can be more ambitious, and how well the event meets the needs of designers and imagine1day.
Julie: I would love to do it again. Designers came to me to tell me they were thankful that we hosted such a unique event. But I haven’t figured out what it will look like if we do it again next year. For now, though, I think we’ll enjoy the success of the first annual Gastown Design Showdown.