campus news

Hack competition helps nonprofits with rebranding

Brand hack winning team, from left, Mia Mahar, a psychology student from Hilbert College; Jack Qu, a graphic design student from UB; and Katie Steckstor, from the Buffalo marketing agency FARM.

The winning team consisted of (from left) Mia Mahar, a psychology student from Hilbert College; Jack Qu, a graphic design student from UB; and Katie Steckstor, from the Buffalo marketing agency FARM, who served as art director.


Published November 28, 2022

“We absolutely loved the winning design. It captured the spirit of foster care and adoption by depicting a family in an abstract type of heart. ”
Mary Ann LoPiccolo, WNY Coalition of Adoptive and Foster Family Agencies

The word hack can sometimes have negative connotations associated with it; for example, having a haircut or an account hacked are both unfortunate. But a DIY or technology hack is often highly sought by consumers.

The word recently received more positive press, thanks to the AAF Buffalo Brand Hack Competition, an event presented by the Department of Art and the Western New York branch of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) in which students, faculty, staff and local professionals worked together to refresh the brand of a local non-profit organization.

During the event, which took place over three hours on a Saturday, local college students were paired with art directors and charged with transforming the overall brand of the WNY Coalition of Adoptive and Foster Family Agencies (CAFFA).

“Over the years, we have worked with AAF’s education chair to bring Brand Hack and other events to the Center for the Arts,” says Domenic J. Licata, instructional support technician and internship coordinator in the Department of Art. “This year, Ed Brodka from the UB Career Design Center helped coordinate the event, which allowed us to attract UB students beyond the arts and included communications, psychology and marketing disciplines, which are all engaged in the advertising field.”

The AAF Buffalo Brand Hack Competition, which began in 2016, has been a way for UB to give back to the community while simultaneously giving students a real-world working knowledge of the rebranding process. Students sign up for the event as individuals and are assigned to a team based on their year and major. On the day of the event, each team is briefed by the client and then goes on to research, sketch, render and develop a pitch. Teams present their concepts to the client, who is chosen by members of AAF. The client then chooses its favorite idea to develop.

This year, students were tasked with creating a new brand identity that would strengthen CAFFA’s public appearance. The five teams were each assigned an art director and had three hours to conduct research, utilize principles of visual design and color psychology, sketch design options, develop their solutions and pitch their presentations to representatives of CAFFA and members of AAF Buffalo’s board of directors. This year’s winning team included Jack Qu, a UB graphic design student.

Winning submission, the original logo is at the top and the redesigned logo at the bottom.

Top: The original logo for the WNY Coalition of Adoption and Foster Family Agencies. Bottom: The winning logo. The design team used a heart symbol and a single line to show that love and unity are essential to a happy family. 

“This was a very positive experience for me,” Qu says. “After finding out that my team won the competition, I was immensely proud and ecstatic. We worked hard to deliver the best possible design we could within the three-hour time frame, and it was exciting to apply the design knowledge that I’ve gained inside and outside the classroom,”

The winning team consisted of students Qu and Mia Mahar from Hilbert College, and art director Katie Steckstor from the FARM Buffalo marketing agency. Qu says the team used a soft color palette and incorporated a heart in the logo design because they believe love is essential to a happy family.

“We chose to use one continuous line for the logo because we wanted to emphasis the notion of unity and connection with one single line, which represents the parents and child, which are all connected,” Qu explains.

CAFFA representative Mary Ann LoPiccolo says her organization was very happy with the overall competition — and especially with the outcome.

“We absolutely loved the winning design. It captured the spirit of foster care and adoption by depicting a family in an abstract type of heart,” LoPiccolo says. “The design appealed to us because of its distinct departure from the logos other agencies tend to use.

“We also appreciated that the team showcased the design in various colors and showed how it could be applied to assets such as letterhead or merchandise.”

Noah Herman, who heads the education committee of AAF’s Buffalo branch, oversees and coordinates the annual brand hack competition. Herman notes this year’s event implemented a new approach.

“This year truly felt like a relaunch of the annual event,” he says. “In the past, students signed up as teams and worked with members of their own college. This year we tried something new where we created teams on the spot with different majors, different schools and different grade levels, and I loved to see everyone meeting new people and working on communication skills that you can’t always get in the classroom.

“I think that also speaks to how we listen to professors and students to make our programs better each year and I love when it pays off,” Herman says.

He notes that the competition provides a big first step for CAFFA.  

“Brand Hack allows clients to skip the months it can take in the ‘real world’ to redesign their brand,” he says.

After the event, the students and CAFFA share files for printing and social media purposes, and it’s up to CAFFA to fully implement the new brand.

Even though the event is over, Herman says students and volunteers often share a bond that lasts well beyond the event itself.

“As a student, I participated in the brand hack competition of 2017, and I still bump into my art director at AAF. For me, just a few hours created a connection that I still feel,” he says.

“It’s also a great way to give back to the community with the skills that we have as marketing/communications/design students. We spend so much time perfecting our craft around other creatives and marketers we forget there’s a world out there that can use our skills to do some good.”


Way to go, Jack! Great design and presentation.

Kelly Myers-Chunco