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The following is a guest post by Shane Reiser, Startup Weekend extended family and Director of Marketing & Community @Kohort. Learn more about him at shanereiser.com/about/.

“Why would I waste my time doing free work for someone?”
~ a designer, when asked why they don’t go to hackathons

startup weekend, designer, rise of the designer, hackathons, get designers to your event

Designers have been turned off from hackathons, coding dojos and Startup Weekends. They feel used. The best hackathons have a healthy 30% showing of designers. Functional and visual design are critically important  and without these skills on your hackathon team, you don’t stand a chance. Long term, your event will fail without designers.

As event organizers, it’s our responsibility to change the way designers think about hackathons and get them to start showing up.

How to get more designers to come to your hackathon:

Design the event with designers in mind

    • Don’t let your event sell out before designers get a chance to buy tickets. Sell two types of tickets – Dev and Designer (and Biz if you’re running a Startup Weekend).
    • “Protect” the Designer tickets by creating a required pre-purchase question that asks them to provide a link to their portfolio: if the link is bogus, refund their ticket and tell them “sorry, but these tickets are reserved for designers.”
    • Position your event (on your About page, in your emails and your verbal pitch) as an event where creatives and builders collaborate to build cool things or solve real problems.” Startup Weekend has more insight on how to tweak your messaging to designers. (scroll down to “Designers” and click on problem in blue text)
    • Get a well known designer to be a mentor, speaker or judge at your event.
    • If your event has judges, make sure Design is one of the key judging criteria. Post all criteria on your event website.

Leverage discount codes

    • Find design clubs on meetup.com and send them special discount codes (examples: NYC Web Design and Graphic Design NYC)
    • Email attendees from past events that bought designers tickets and give them discount codes to pass out to their design friends. Use Eventbrite’s affiliate tool to let them earn a 10% cut for anyone they refer.

Promote in the right places

    • Write a post on your event’s blog targeted to designers. Circulate it to design communities.
    • If you get a well known designer to speak/mentor at your event, write a blog post about it and circulate the link to design communities.
    • Reach out to design schools or the design departments of nearby universities. Give out student discount codes. Offer to speak about the event during a class. Get the professor to offer extra credit for attending your event.
    • Reach out to our local AIGA chapter.
    • Cross promote with emerging design events like FronteersBrooklyn BetaNew Aventures in web design or Future of Web Design
    • Get design agencies to sponsor your event, but instead of money ask them to tweet about your event or include your event in their newsletter. Also, give them several free tickets to give away to their designer employees.
    • Find companies that are looking to hire designers and get them to be sponsors. Write a post on your event blog announcing that they are hiring designers.
Do you run hackathons or Startup Weekends? If you’ve got some methods to add to this list, please share them below.
Mitchell Cuevas
(@mcuevasm) I am the Sr. Marketing Director here at Techstars, am passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and am obsessed with finding, playing with, and implementing all the best new marketing (and other) technology I can get my hands on.