When it comes to races, it’s not always obvious to those involved how impactful the event’s designed elements can be to the overall experience. As a designer in the running event community, it’s become a welcome challenge for me to ensure each design decision I make holds true to optimizing the race day experience at every creative touchpoint from start (marketing materials, promotional items, social media) to finish (race bibs, posters and medals). 

To do this, there are three main values I strive to uphold in order to create a connected race day experience for both the event itself and for the participating runners. By anchoring my creative process in a mission to uphold trust, collaboration and celebration, I have identified a few ways to achieve this through design execution. 

It’s important for both the team and the athlete to feel trust in an event. That it will not only be organizationally sound, but also an event that’s safe and securely executed with minimal headaches and maximum fun. 

With trust comes willingness of participants to sign up, spread the word and return for another year. 

Race planning and support along the course are a core component of success, but this trust can also be achieved and upheld through branding. Creative consistency across all platforms from social media and marketing to race premiums and signage ensure a brand confidence that trickles down to the race itself. 

Success for this starts by scaling out and accounting for as many creative items holistically at the onset of planning to allow for intentional execution, clarity, and consistency. I like to say that a consistent brand is a confident brand. 

I’ve also found that taking a collaborative approach to the creative process creates a sense of connection and pride for the whole event team, which is palpable to participants come race day. Flexibility (and fun!) should be established - and prioritized - from the beginning of the creative ideation process. 

Creating the Playlist

I like to remind myself of this as I’m developing a brand or executing on designed deliverables to keep the work feeling unlabored, but rich. One way I lean into this early on in my process is by curating playlists. I often make them collaborative so other members of the team can contribute and reference to feel a special connectedness through creative planning. 

This type of collaboration can scale beyond the internal team. Taking that sort of approach, whether it’s a playlist or another unique type of creative platform to get folks excited and involved, can be presented to participants through various communication platforms. Gentle and gradual attention to maintaining a collaborative nature and creating community from planning to promoting to race day strengthens the fabric of the event and creates a shared sense of ownership. 

Celebrate the Event

Another important value that I hold true through all facets of the race is celebration. Events are a tangible representation of an athlete’s journey and hard work and are meant to be commemorated for everyone involved. 

I work hard to stay mindful of that as I’m developing the designed pieces, particularly race day premiums. 

One way I like to achieve this is by making race medals feel like collectible items. In the past I have identified classically collected items, such as record albums, postage stamps and keys, to inform the shape and direction of the medal. This way, year after year, participants will want to add to their collection, which is beneficial for everyone involved. 

Overall, branding and marketing present ample opportunities to connect both with your internal team, sponsors and your participants. Folks can sense the energy behind a project to inform how they receive the experience. 

Being mindful of and fostering that energy through aligned values can open up creative opportunities that not only speak to your brand but also connect to your audience in new ways you may not have considered. 

Rita Carroll is founder and designer of Out&Back, a studio based in Philadelphia that provides creative solutions to events and brands in the running and fitness space. Contact: [email protected]