Sunday, December 17, 2017

NaNoWriMotown 2017 Case Study


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual event, hosted by a non-profit organization, where participants all around the world write for the 30 days of November. The goal of the challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month. During the month, local regions have in-person events.

The Municipal Liaison (ML) of the Detroit region (NaNoWriMotown) wanted to build a sense of community. “[The] first goal as Municipal Liaison has always been to foster and grow community. Collectibles like pin-back buttons make the community warmer and more welcoming -- everyone likes to earn something, to feel like they've accomplished something, to feel like they have something in common with those around them. They also make for an easy entry into conversations with new acquaintances."

I looked to expand the pinback button offerings as the ML mentioned on a call he wanted to have variety in the buttons provided. The idea of merit badges had not been explored before. This would allow the buttons to be different from the rest. It would also provide another way for the community to interact with each other and have a positive impact on the donations to the organization as well.

We decided on four buttons for merit badges:  I Made a New Friend, I Donated to NaNoWriMotown, I Beat My Nemesis, and a Punchcard Complete button. Each button is a way for the community to earn rewards and come together toward the larger goal of writing words, supporting NaNoWriMo, and feeling successful.


The goal was to provide something different as well as stick with the theme of the previous designs. I researched the style of typeface and the colors used from previous designs. The type style was usually san serif so the text could be seen from across the room. The colors varied from year-to-year based on the theme of NaNoWriMo. For 2017, the theme was superheroes. I wanted to expand from
the merchandise provided on the headquarters site and decided on a comic book theme.

In the planning phase, I made a list of each button and detailed the words and images associated with each. After the list of words were made, the images were sketched. Ultimately, I didn’t use any of the sketches I made. The size of the button was too small to use any of the sketches I had. I knew the focus of the button needed to be on the words. The images and colors would accent the words.

Images & Color

Images bring a new element for the eye to look at. It reinforces the tone and the goal of the button. For the donation button, money is usually depicted in comics as a bag of money and dollar bills.

For the nemesis button, I used the style of exclamatory fight bubbles in comics. The images have sharp angles to depict action.

The friendship button had a different approach. Friendship comes from love and conversation between two people. The heart and the speech bubble show the parts of friendship that draw others together. In the NaNoWriMotown setting, we come together for the love of writing and being social. We increase our friendships in talking with each other and sharing what’s going on during the challenge and what our goals are.

Color is last in the planning process as it adds accent to the work. Colors of comic books are bright. They are typically red, yellow, and other bright colors. I chose blue for the background as merchandise in the NaNoWriMo headquarters shop was blue. I used red and yellow in contrast to blue as a base color.

Challenge with the theme

The punch card button was challenging in that rewards aren’t typically given to superheroes for their work. Consistency was important with blue for the base color and red for the words. Yellow was working well for the other buttons. A yellow object that best demonstrates a reward is a trophy. The symbolism is easily recognizable and it goes along with the other merit buttons we provide at the end of the challenge.

Helpful details

“NaNoWriMotown 2017” along the edge provided a way for hardcore button collectors to know what year the buttons were from. This is important as the years go on and the collection gets bigger and bigger. The wearer can identify what accomplishments they made during a certain year.


Donations to NaNoWriMotown increased by 75% that year. We had record attendance at in-person events. We also had a record number of buttons provided to participants. Those that didn’t complete the challenge were still thrilled to be a part of the challenge in that they made new friends and joined a community to return to year after year.

Your turn

What project would you like to start to grow and foster community? Email me at and tell me about your next project!