Behind a Column Five Hack Day

by Katy French

Agency life is crazy at times. Between deadlines, project launches and a million other things, there’s usually little time left in the day to do anything but tackle your ASAP email and call it a night. That’s why the problems we face internally often take a back seat to our creative work. Some of these problems are small (a cluttered workspace), and some are systemic (too many unnecessary emails); combined, they negatively affect the way we work.

We are always searching for ways to work better, smarter and more efficiently, but it can be tough to find solutions when we’re focused on other things. So, every few months, we take a day to work on ourselves, closing shop early and putting our collective energy toward solving a problem. We call it Hack Day.

It may seem brazen to ignore our “real” work for a day, but Hack Day is an integral part of keeping our own sanity. You know when you’re on a plane, and they remind you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else put theirs on? Hack Day is like that, a chance to help ourselves so that we can continue to help our partners.

How It Works

Each Hack Day, we choose a different task to accomplish. These range from brainstorming for a cool company project (such as our TEDxOC interactive installation) to coming up with ways to better align our business with our values. We break into groups, which include a healthy mix of individuals from all departments, so that we can make the most of the brain power at hand. (It’s also a great opportunity to hang with people we don’t usually work with.) At the end of the day, each team presents what they’ve come up with.

For our last Hack Day, we mixed things up a little. Instead of all working toward one solution, we decided to divide and conquer, tackling as many problems as possible in a single day. Before Hack Day, we invited everyone to submit their ideas for C5 problems they’d like to see fixed, specifically things that aggravate, annoy or hinder our day-to-day work. As ideas were submitted, everyone in the company was could vote and comment on each idea so that we could identify the highest priority issues to address. In total, we had 26 suggestions, which we narrowed down to 10 tasks. Here’s a look how each team tackled their task.

1) Beautify the Offices

Mission: Both of our offices were in need of sprucing up. We wanted to showcase more of our own work in the CA office, and our brand-new NY office was in need of pretty much everything. Both teams set out to upgrade the spaces.

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The NY team got to work, painting and organizing to upgrade their space with some C5 style.


The CA team set to work printing hi-res portfolio pieces to decorate our walls.

Results: Portfolio pieces framed for CA (with a few extra frames on standby for future projects) and a completely revamped NY office.

2) Build an Interactive Game

Mission: We love the work we create, but our developers (aka gamers) are always eager to have a little fun with their skills. We decided to develop a simple interactive game to show off our capabilities, add a portfolio piece and share something fun with our social followers.

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The game team, including designers and developers, took their task incredibly seriously, working through the entire weekend to create their quirky game.


A sneak peek at the video game artwork.

Results: Groove Glider, a side-scrolling space-shooter video game that incorporates music in a pretty sweet way (tagline: “In space, everybody can hear you groove”). The game is still under construction, but we’ll be unveiling it in a future post.

3) Create a C5 Guide to Email Dominance

Mission: Exhausted by inbox clutter, we decided we needed to set more formal rules about our email communication. The task was to create a guide to designate best practices for email communication, as well as share some hacks for making email easier.

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The email team headed to a restaurant to discuss the most common email problems/complaints and come up with company-wide solutions.

Results: A badass guide to save headaches—and save seconds. Now we all know when to send an email, when to chat somebody and when to skip the obligatory “Thanks!” email (answer: always). We also discovered the kickass app Boomerang and the Smart Mute Gmail Labs feature.

4) Consolidate Project Communication

Mission: Project communication can easily become segmented between emails, chats and our company project management system. We needed to identify a way to consolidate communication so that the most important and relevant information was available at any time, to anyone on the team.

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A slide from the team’s presentation deck, breaking down what platform to use to communicate different information.

Results: A guide detailing where specific communication should be housed, including everything from creative briefs and creative assets to team feedback and final files, as well as an action plan to customize our project management system to allow for additional communication.

5) Curate the Portfolio

Mission: Our website portfolio hadn’t been updated in a while, and we had a queue of some 200 projects to review for consideration. It was time to buckle down and work through the list to select new pieces that showcased a variety of styles and work types.

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The team tackled the portfolio queue, curating projects and adding projects to portfolio categories that were sparse.

Results: 50 fresh new pieces and a plan of attack to help us avoid a backlog in the future.

6) Expand C5’s Pinterest

Mission: We love Pinterest, and when we first created our account, we went a little crazy, creating tons of boards for everything from office decor to food. It was time to clean it up and hone in on the stuff we really wanted to share.

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Our in-office Pinterest aficionados gathered off-site to review the account, curate our collections and brainstorm ways to leverage the platform going forward.

Results: A refreshed visual presence (and nearly 100 new followers in those few hours), as well as next steps for ensuring we continue to use it effectively.

7) Make Designer Profiles

Mission: Our designers have a range of talents and specialties, but we don’t always take advantage of that. We needed a way to help designers communicate their interests and talents to the team for consideration for future projects.

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Sample designer profiles, showcasing skills, talents and interests. 

Results: Individual profile cards for each designer, searchable in our in-house Tumblr, to help producers choose the right designer for each project.

8) Organize the Back Patio

Mission: Our California office is only a mile from the beach, and our early-morning surfers love to take advantage of that. But their surfboards tend to clutter our back patio, along with plenty of other junk. We needed to clean up and organize so that we can take more advantage of our sunny space.

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The team tackled the dirty work, moving patio furniture, getting rid of our wood pile and making everything more Zen.

Results: A brand-new surf rack, a more organized layout and an overall better space to kick back.

9) Redefine the Infographic

Mission: Leading our industry by exploring new communication formats is incredibly important to us. The infographic has been the mainstay of our business for years, but we wanted to demonstrate a new mastery of the infographic format by defining what the infographic can and will be.

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The team analyzed the limitations of infographics we know today and presented the company with a comprehensive deck, detailing their vision of the future.

Results: A comprehensive deck detailing our core thinking to guide the team in future engagements. (We’ll be sharing more of our thoughts about it soon.)

10) Identify How to Expand Our Existing Client Growth

Mission: We value our partners enormously, and we want to be able to nurture and cultivate relationships so that we can do more great work together. We needed new ideas for how to achieve that.


The business development team considers how to  proactively drive the growth of engagements.

Results: An action plan for everyone in production and business development to implement and start testing.

This Hack Day was our most successful yet, allowing us to solve some irksome problems, think deeply about our business and spend some much-needed time together. With each Hack Day, we learn something new about the way we work, the way we can work and the way we should work.

Here’s to the next one.

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