Journey to McHacks: Meet Isabel Lee, Visual Designer

We had the chance to interview Isabel Lee, an organizer for McHacks who also doubles as their main designer. Armed with an atypical design background, she spearheaded the minimalist overhaul of their website and redesigned their sponsorship package over the summer.

1 – Where do you hail from?

I’m originally from Binghamton – a very cold, small town in upstate New York – but I’ve lived all over the world, from New York City to Palo Alto to Seoul! My parents finally decided to settle down in Toronto, so that’s where I travel back for home-cooked meals and free Netflix.

2 – What are you currently studying?

I’m currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy. Other hackers are often surprised to hear that I have a liberal arts background, but philosophy as a discipline has helped me a lot with learning and practising logic, which I think most programmers would agree is a pretty useful skill to have!

3 – When are you graduating?

I’m currently taking a break from school and I’m relocating to New York to work as a Visual Designer – so I’m not sure when I’m going to graduate, but hopefully I’ll be able to finish my Bachelor’s Degree within the next couple years!

4 – Apart from hackathons, what are you into?

Design is a big part of my life, but I’m also interested in other art mediums, like digital illustration and photography. I used to be a very avid freelance photographer, but now I’m really into illustrating comics and making little animal drawings for my friends. I love experimenting with different kinds of art mediums, and I have a feeling that I’m going to get into glitch art and motion graphics soon (I love making silly GIFs!). You can always find me doodling some squirrels in a cafe or sketching wireframes for a new app I’m working on.

5 – How did you get involved with McHacks?

I originally got involved with McHacks when I was invited to present a Hack101 in March 2014. One of the organizers reached out to me and asked me if I could teach programmers with little design experience the steps to designing a mobile app and the basics of user interface design.

So I ran this workshop and it was such a hit – so many wonderful people came up to me afterwards and told me how helpful my presentation was, and a lot of them asked me if I could actually help them with their tech start-ups. I was really excited, and that was my first interaction with HackMcGill!

6 – What’s your role for McHacks, and what’s the most challenging part of filling it?

I’m currently working as an Organizer and Visual Designer for McHacks, and I love my job and my team so much. Everyone is so hard-working and we’re all genuinely friends, so there’s a lot of fun when we have meetings (and parties)! I’m in charge of building the brand identity for McHacks, like designing logos, promotional materials, a sponsorship package, and all sorts of front-end facing aspects of a hackathon that really help market our event. I also designed the website with some of our front-end developers, and I think a lot of people were excited to see that the McHacks style had changed to something that was fresh and minimal!

The most challenging part of my job is finding the balance between creating products that are functional and beautiful. Sometimes I can get a little carried away with creating something really artistic and conceptual, and my team has to pull me back a little bit. But I see this as a positive, learning experience because I think it would be too easy if I had free reign – the challenge comes from working within restraints and I think that’s what makes my work so exciting and fun. There are always puzzles to solve and I love that every project is a new chance for innovation.

7 – Favourite thing to do in your hometown?

My hometown is a sad, small little place, so I’m going to derail this question and talk about a few of my favourite things to do in New York! I spent a lot of time there as a child because I lived with my aunt, and later my stepdad, for a couple years and I lived in all kinds of neighbourhoods, from the Upper East Side to the West Village.

So, here are a few of my favourite things to do in New York City: I love book-hunting at The Strand, which is a famous used bookstore near NYU. My stepfather used to take me and my mother every Sunday, and we would often go for a walk through Washington Square Park. This is sort of cheesy, but I also love visiting the Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). It’s one of my favourite spots to get some coffee and watch the sunset because you can see the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and the Financial District skyline. It’s really beautiful, and a lot of people take their wedding photos there (I’ve also had a lot of first dates there).

8 – Favourite thing you’ve built (hack or not)? Can you show us some of your past work?

My favourite hack that I’ve ever built is actually the first iOS app I ever designed. It’s called Give Red and it’s an app built to incentivize blood donation by informing users of blood drives in their area and storing their health information. It also provides educational resources about health and the benefits of blood donation. I loved working on this project and it’s still my favourite hack because this app really solidified my user interface design skills and it ignited my passion for hacker culture! This was also the project that made me realize that I could help people through tech and that my skills could really improve others’ lives. That was a pretty mind-blowing realization, and I haven’t looked back since. You can find some mock-ups and walkthrough designs for Give Red at!

9 – Where can people follow your work?

You can check out my design work and art at I also started illustrating a comic series called Day in the Life of Squirrel in December 2015, so you can read that at if you want to giggle!

We wish Isabel the greatest of luck as she embarks on her latest New York adventure and own journey to success!