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Pixel Punch in Review

Len Spoden

How would you save Earth from a deadly asteroid? On October 23rd, we posed that very question to five brave designers in a series of four timed challenges during Vox Media's first ever Pixel Punch. Over 100 attendees came to watch Victor Ware, Joseph Le, Josh Mahan, Danielle Theroux and Peter Verastegui save our planet from destruction by way of their best design skills while being judged by leading local and industry talent — Jason Santa Maria, Carolyn Sewell, Nicki Dlugash, and Terry Biddle.

Based around the unifying concept of stopping an asteroid from hitting Earth, each challenge was crafted to test our designers on everything from illustration to typography. Tasks ranged from designing a battle persona to creating the navigation dashboard of an asteroid-hungry spaceship.

pixel punch contesetants
Victor Ware, Danielle Theroux, Josh Mahan, Peter Verastegui, Joseph Le

In Pixel Punch, anything and everything goes. Speed, creativity, and ambition were paramount; with a fifteen minute time limit for each challenge, there was no time for caution or second thoughts. In the resulting flurry of Photoshop layer effects and Google Image searches, we got everything from illustrated laser beams to a trinity collage of Beyonce, Iggy, and Nicki Minaj.

Or in other words, exactly the stuff that we'd use to save our planet.

Four rounds and sixty minutes later, Danielle Theroux was crowned as the very first Pixel Punch champion.

Along with a handmade pixel trophy, our champion walked away with a shiny pair of Sennheiser Momentum headphones. With the help of our awesome sponsors, we were also able to award extra goodies such as Shophouse gift cards to audience members, and books by A Book Apart to our top designers. Each contestant also received a Pencil generously gifted by FiftyThree.

pixel punch

What is a design battle & where did it come from?

A design battle is where a group of designers stand in front of an audience, and design based on prompts given to them within a set amount of time. The easiest way might be to explain it as high level Pictionary. The George Mason AIGA was one of the first to host a design battle in the area back in 2012. Since then, they have hosted one annually, followed more recently by nclud, a DC design agency, who hosted battles in 2013 and 2014.

Some of our designers had the honor of judging these previous battles. Many of us also attended the battles, and even helped plan the first couple at GMU. We loved the idea, and thought that it would be a great way to open our doors, say hello, and introduce DC professionals to Vox Media.

pixel punch

Crafting an event we'd want to attend

One thing we prioritized right away was creating a welcoming and inclusive environment. Given the popularity that design battles have attained, many different people come to watch, and we wanted to make sure we took that into account. We wanted it to be open to everyone — students as well as professionals — regardless of background.

Accomplishing that meant more than just making the effort of getting judges and contestants that represented our society, it also meant thinking about differing lifestyle choices. People who choose not to drink, vegetarians, people that may prefer to chat and check in on the battle versus crowding around the monitors. How do we make sure the music isn't too loud, that there are side activities to keep the audience engaged? These were all concerns that we kept revisiting and refining during planning.

pixel punch judges
Judges: Terry Biddle, Nicki Dlugash, Jason Santa Maria, Carolyn Sewell


Being one of the first events we planned, we learned a few things for next time. Perhaps most importantly we learned that creating a diverse and inclusive environment is achievable — as long as you make the effort. We set this as a goal early on, and while we didn't hit our goal perfectly, we think we got pretty close.

Attracting a diverse set of the contestants proved to be challenging. We had a particularly hard time finding women to apply, and in our search learned a lot about what it takes to really make people feel welcome. It's not enough to host an event and say "we support diversity!" That commitment has to be demonstrated by outreach and invitations beyond the organizers' own social circles, a clear explanation of what competing means and how contestants will be rewarded and supported, and a track record of meaningful diversity at previous events. We didn't start early enough or get as creative as we could have this time, but we're so excited to do even better at our next event.

And then there's just the logistical challenges of inviting over a hundred new friends to your office. While you can never start too early when looking for contestants or sponsors, you also can never have enough water and soda — more people drink those than you think! Overall, the feedback we got was positive, but we can always improve.

Here are some of our other takeaways:

  1. Diversity has to be a goal from the very beginning.
  2. Reach out to possible contestants sooner, and really encourage people to apply.
  3. Don't forget about non-alcoholic beverages, including water!
  4. Create a Code of Conduct and hold attendees to it.
  5. Listen to attendees for feedback, and make adjustments accordingly.

Of course, this is an on-going learning experience for us. If you have any feedback from the event, please email us

Don't forget to check out the photos!