Select Page

Event Branding // Grace Hopper Celebration

Grace Hopper Celebration 2017

In 2017, the rebrand I’d designed for (from Anita Borg Institute for Women in Computing, see separate project) launched at their annual 18,000 person show, the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration. As the impetus to refresh the brand was spurred in part by poor brand recognition, I made sure to design the show’s look and feel to relate strongly back to the rebrand.


Event visual themes so often have a very “cookie-cutter” look, with the same exact artwork used repeatedly on every sign and piece of collateral. For GHC17 look and feel, I created a flexible system of dozens of combinations of “facets” that both expressed celebration and pointed back to the new logo without competing with it. I used many variants of the facets throughout the show’s extensive signage, digital media and collateral. The stair risers, meaningful quotes on walls, new logo, lawn sign and other show signage showed up quite a lot on social media.


In addition to the facets, the show design included the “progress-together” forward-slash element that ties in with the new branding. The logo mark with a /17 that worked well with its shape was the shorthand for the show and app icon. Some environmental elements such as welcome arch and registration desk physically incorporated this angle. I halftoned portraits of Grace Hopper and Anita Borg with the same diagonal.


The Grace Hopper Celebration typography was used separated from only once: from proportion, on the widescreen keynote screens. The brand, rather than projected, was part of the backdrop. I also directed related event lighting and video treatments for the keynotes.

Every keynote speaker entered with a giant version of the new mark, then turned it around for a handlettered “I AM” statement. I concepted this campaign and lettered nearly all of the signs. Attendees were given opportunities to do the same on smaller signs. Find out more about this campaign on its project page.


LinkedIn used GHC17 as a perfect opportunity to launch their new geotagged video feature. I worked closely with them to develop the branded frame overlay templates. The team wanted a serious, professional look to distinguish from the goofiness of Snapchat’s similar popular feature. I talked them out of facets, preferring the show logo take prominence in a low-profile “lanyard top” design as well as identifying if the person was a speaker, scholar and so on.

It tied in very nicely to the “I AM” campaign, with many attendees featuring those statements. Linkedin Project manager Peter Roybal is quoted in the Mashable article about the feature: “It doesn’t mean that people have to be boring. I think that people really like to bring their authentic selves to work, and this lets them show off what they’re doing … It’s a way of conveying their passion, their insight, at a place like Grace Hopper.”


There were hundreds of feet of hardwalls around the show’s tradeshow portion that I wanted to make use of. I had sponsor credits on a prominent one, with enlarged maps of the confusing venue, large event branding, and inspiring quotes on others.

For a few I made an arrow composed of “I AM” seed statements in multiple languages, together making the forward-facing arrow from the center of the rebranded logo. Find out more about the “I AM” campaign on its project page.


The infinity scarf (our gift for a small donation) I designed to be very wearable whether one wanted to display the brand or not. I chose a fashionable color that wasn’t part of the saturated ones from the logo and ornamented it with the diagonal slash pattern. Unlike most swag, the brand appeared once, rather small. A few of the keynote speakers modeled it as a stylish accessory. We hoped that attendees would wear it to work or out, reminding themselves of the inspiration and confidence they felt at the show and having a sartorial reminder to talk about it with others.

GHC17 and GHC18: Restroom signs

As the show attendance is more than 90% female, many men’s rooms in the venues were converted. I wanted to give each audience a message – using the superhero cape image for women’s rooms, thanking male allies, and letting attendees know a restroom was all-gender and that there were other options.

For GHC18, a visit to the venue showed that all restrooms had circular signage, so I made the restroom signs the exact diameter to  feel integrated, not slapped on.


After the show was over and we’d collected all the data from surveys, it was time to make an impact report. It was a fun challenge to convey a lot of information while keeping it as inspiring and visually interesting as the show itself. Page through it above.


Grace Hopper Celebration 2018 

GHC17 had been necessarily very close to the brand itself. For 2018, I wanted to pivot to something surprisingly different: more technical/less simple that still had a lot of colors. We were upgrading the empowering “I AM” campaign to a mutual/together “WE ARE,” and I wanted the colorfulness to serve as a combination of colors making light in the darkness a la RGB color space (This was in the days of Times Up being heavy in the tech zeitgeist). 


First, I made a set of moodboards of inspiration and visual trends in geometric design, data visualization, and generative art, any of which I felt could be a step forward. I also felt there needed to be some carrying through the “individual” handwriting of the I AM theme (which was symbolic of the ‘humanism’ principle in the brand guidelines).


After validating and getting responses to the moodboards and some iteration, on various colored paths converging into an upward slope, gaining in brightness as they come together: a potent visual metaphor of what goes on at the show. I wanted to make sure these were generated procedurally rather than just in Illustrator, and found a coder at Freeman agency skilled in generative art using Processing. They were able to write scripts that created the lines we used and worked on a video bumper where the converging lines became the slash in’s logo.

Knowing that this element would recur in dozens of proportions, print, and digital, I assembled dozens of stackable variations. I wanted again to avoid the cookie-cutter event branding that happens so often in show signage and made dozens of multiples for horizontal, vertical and square layouts.

For the backgrounds, I used subtle gradients to accentuate the emphasis on the light, I developed a highly dynamic triangles pattern, inspired by the afrofuturist patterning Ruth E. Carter used for her costume designs for Black Panther. This texture was used very subtly on touchpoints that used the Convergence lines and could be brought forward and even animated in touchpoints that didn’t. Together these elements helped it be a dramatic leap techier and more visually rich than GHC18, and allowed the logo with its flat colors to stand out more.  


While the Convergence color lines carried the weight of the show’s visuals, we also wanted something inspirational to update the prior year’s I AM Campaign.

I successfully pitched that this could be “WE ARE” and that primarily this would manifest as “WE ARE HERE.” My rationale for this was threefold:
1) Attendees are generally elated to be there.
2) The implicit “we” of women in tech’s rallying cry to be recognized and not overlooked.
3) The recognition that the moment we’ve arrived at might be the hopeful one pointed to by the convergence: cooperation across tech to solve its diversity problems, recognition of intersectionality, and so on.

I also made a version that unpacked the second meaning (as the first basic fact was likely to be one’s first read) in Pinterest-trendy handlettering used in the keynotes and between the lines of the show shirt.

One interactive element allowed attendees to connect different parts of their identity in tech (with a lot of humor thrown in). The different paths’ accumulation formed a striking visual of “we are” and reinforced the colors, shape, and intersectional signification of the “Brilliant” mark.

As the caption of MIT Media Lab’s social post of this wall read, “Our unique passions, interwoven, create a beautiful mosaic of diversity.”

Another interactive element that I developed that ultimately wasn’t executed was a 40-foot stretch of hardwall with “Brilliant” logo-shaped spaces prefilled with WE ARE (with some in a variety of different languages) and markers to complete the phrase.

Debbie Senesky by Geneva B
Holly Liu by Maria Duong/dtnart
Chiara Amisola by Mariah Llanes
Rebecca Parsons by Maia Faddoul

The initial “WE ARE HERE” activation I pitched was a postcard book that would be available as swag to visitors to the booth. These would feature heroic portraits of that year’s truly inspiring ABIE Award winners with a brief bio on the back.

We’d hire illustrators from the Women Who Draw collective and introduce their parallel audiences. Whether the postcards were kept as a memento, or better yet, sent, they’d be a spreading of not just the fantastic story of the ABIE winners but the experience of the show itself. The cover card was to have text with a call-to-action to share.

My unedited copy for the ‘title’ card: “At Grace Hopper Celebration, it is perfectly obvious that there are many passionate and varied women working in technology. But unfortunately, that’s not so obvious to the outside world. Who would you to send a postcard of an inspiring woman in technology to, sharing the magic and proclaiming that we’re here? Your teammates, with sketchnotes doodled at the sessions? Your mother or mentor, with great pride? Your first boss, because he needs to learn? Your niece, because she needs role models? Your marketing team, because your brand should really hire Women Who Draw to liven up the brand?” The idea was well-received by the exec team, agreeing that the cobranding would likely garner press and amplification. I secured the budget and got the venue’s assurance that postcard stamps in stamp machines could be nearby on-site.

It was a great honor to meet with one of my artistic heroes, journalistic illustrator and activist, Wendy McNaughton. Women Who Draw generally don’t do cobranded anything, but she and cofounder Julia Rothman liked this idea. We worked with four illustrators — Geneva B, Mariah Llanes, Maia Faddoul, and Maria Duong — selected for the ABIE winner portraits to make portraits distinct but linked with the bright color scheme of the branding. Though shifts in upper management canceled the postcard project, which would have given them wide visibility, the commissioned portraits were completed and presented to the ABIE winners during the show.