Student-Led Hackathon Aims to Spark Community and Professional Connections

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Interaction Design students Cailine Keirstead (left) and Neha Adinamozhi created the FLUI Design Hackathon to bring design students together and provide networking opportunities with industry professionals. (Photo by Perrin Grauer)

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By Perrin Grauer

Posted on January 18, 2024 | Updated January 18, 2024, 8:33am

Founded by a pair of fourth-year ECU Interaction Design students, the FLUI Design Hackathon gives emerging designers a chance to network and gain professional experience.

An upcoming student-led hackathon at ECU will give design students a chance to hone their skills and connect with professionals from around Vancouver and beyond.

Dubbed the FLUI (For the Love of User Interface) Design Hackathon, the two-week event will challenge up to 50 teams of students to create digital products for clients comprising small and mid-sized businesses.

“This is a great opportunity to develop your soft and hard skills through working on a dynamic team,” says Cailine Keirstead, a fourth-year Interaction Design student and one of the co-founders of the FLUI Hackathon. “You’ll also be connecting with industry professionals who will mentor you along the way.”

Cailine speaks from experience. During her third year, she and fellow FLUI cofounder Neha Adinamozhi (also an Interaction Design student at ECU) were having a hard time finding internship opportunities. By word of mouth, they heard about Eunoia UX Hackathon – also a completely student-led design competition – at Simon Fraser University and decided to enter the competition.

Rather than a three- or four-day, round-the-clock blitz, Eunoia offered a less intense timeline. Where hackathons often focus almost exclusively on evaluating an end product, Eunoia emphasized the value of connecting participants with local industry.

Because of that emphasis, Cailine and Neha found themselves with opportunities to work as designers for local companies through the summer.

“We learned so much and connected with a lot of new people,” Neha says. “It was fantastic. Right at a time when we were struggling to find real-world design work, the hackathon gave us an opportunity to do exactly that.”

Almost immediately, the pair began brainstorming ways to bring a similar experience to Emily Carr. They reached out to Eunoia founders Rishabh Johri and Jung-yeon Lee for advice.

“Now they’re mentoring us,” Cailine says. “They’ve been a huge help.”

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FLUI’s relaxed pace will provide participants better opportunity to connect with clients. (Image of FLUI website courtesy Cailine Keirstead and Neha Adinamozhi)

Cailine took charge of design assets such as branding, logo and web presence. Neha led work on logistics, event planning and recruiting client companies and student participants. So far, FLUI clients include clothing brands, a design firm and even a manufacturer of hot tubs.

Each client will be matched with several student teams tasked with fulfilling a design brief in eight days. Adjudication will take place over the following six days, with a closing ceremony offering everyone a chance to network in person.

Neha says this relaxed pace helps build connections between clients and participants. And because the hackathon is open to students from across design disciplines, she’s hoping it will build community within the university itself.

“Building up the design community in the school is the main thing,” she says. “We want to bring everyone together and give them a way to collaborate as a team. And maybe participating could lead to future prospects for emerging designers.”

Neha and Cailine say they’re hoping to pass the FLUI torch to a new group of students after graduation. Ideally, it would be an annual, student-led event that would grow with each new cohort.

In the meantime, they’re squarely focused on encouraging fellow students to sign up for FLUI before the Feb. 5 registration deadline.

“This is a great opportunity to learn, to meet new people and to refine your design skills,” Neha says. “It’s also a way to make professional connections ahead of getting a job and entering the workforce. Honestly, what’s there to lose?”

FLUI Design Hackathon runs from Feb. 18 to March 2, 2024.

Visit their website and follow them on Instagram for more info. Register via Eventbrite before Feb. 5.

Visit ECU online to learn more about studying Interaction Design at Emily Carr.

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