The Chalkboard is a collection of Grain & Mortar news, events, latest work, and helpful advice.


January 22nd | Work

We designed a big, beautiful website for people who design big, beautiful adventures for kids.

Our client, Overland Summers, provides summer adventures around the world for 4th to 12th graders. Young people can take life-changing trips to places like Peru, Tanzania or France that focus on biking, hiking and other skills. Kinda makes you wish you were 13 again, right?

With 49 trips available to exotic locations around the world, Overland has high standards for their website’s content and organization. When we began working with them we saw two distinct challenges – successfully communicating with a discerning audience and organizing sprawling amounts of information.

 

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Overland’s summer trips are for kids and teens between 11 and 18 but they aren’t the ones making the purchase – mom is.

Even though our inner 13-year-old was fantasizing about a hiking adventure in Alaska we had to approach the design of this website through the lens of our mom. Unlike our teen selves who would focus on rad mountains and no parental units for thousands of miles, our inner moms cared about very different things. Safety was at the top of the list.

The Overland website’s audience is only going to consider investing in a summer experience for their child if they feel confident in the company and its staff. And the site’s design factored into this. We created a framework for Overland’s web content using a traditional color palette, large unobstructed images of kids and group leaders, and a straightforward design that reinforces the safety and reputability of this 30-year-old company.

The site also needs to operate like the retail experience that it is. That means striking a balance between the aspirational element of each trip with the ability to find practical details such as costs and application information. We managed the aspirational side by featuring stunning photography on nearly every page and providing a variety of ways to browse the trips. The practical information on the site is never hard to find – trip duration, costs, applications, and even packing lists are readily available.

 

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Big websites require big organization.

One of Overland’s advantages is the variety of trips they offer. Their website required a trip-specific page for each of their 49 adventures and each page included specific photos, packing information and more. Additionally, we built a biography page for each of their 200 trip leaders and the company’s 20 permanent staff members. Without proper site organization the sheer volume of information could overwhelm, rather than inspire Overland’s audience. We created consistent styles throughout the pages so helpful search and filtering tools were easy to find and use.

 

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From a workflow perspective, our internal process had to be well-organized or the amount of information would overwhelm us, too. Luckily, we were able to rely on Overland’s previous website as a jumping off point for the content organization. After reviewing the previous site we prepared detailed wireframes to show structural examples. We then held a mammoth kick-off meeting with the client and used that time to review the wireframes. This meeting got major hurdles out of the way early on and allowed us to focus on designing cohesive custom frameworks that would work for all of their trips.

Working on large scale websites can be opportunities for budgets or timelines to unravel. We’ve learned that doesn’t have to be the case as long as you have a smooth process, consistent communication with your client, and a strong internal workflow.

 

| January 22nd | Work

ooh... me Likey


January 14th | Work

Designer, Matt Carlson talks about illustration, Santa’s after work habits, and the letterpress learning curve.

Q: Do you consider yourself an illustrator or a designer?
A: I’ve begun to reevaluate that lately. I tend to think I’m more of an illustrator because of my background [Matt got his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska Omaha] but I also like being a designer because it encompasses more. If I was forced to choose I’d say I’m an illustrator first – it’s more instinctual to me.

 

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Q: How did the concept evolve for the G&M holiday card?
A: We started bouncing around the idea of doing a holiday card in the fall. Eric, Mike and Kristin suggested I work on it so I started playing with some ideas. At one point, Will had this idea for a “drink responsibly, design responsively” slogan. We all loved that so I decided it could be a fun place to start conceptually. That lead to the idea of coasters and of course, drunk Santa.

I sketched up my initial design ideas and began visualizing Santa’s desktop and what he would do after a long day in his workshop…. From there, Eric art directed and helped with the logistics. I had never letterpressed anything before but wanted to take a stab at it. For as much web work as we do, we all really love print so we wanted to create something that really took advantage of that tactile experience.

Q: How do you prefer to sketch – on paper or on the computer?
A: These days I mostly go straight to the computer for illustration pieces. It’s more immediate than starting on paper. It’s easier for me to build a relationship with the various parts of a design and get a general direction going.

 

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Q: How did you decide the card should be letterpressed?
A: I had never letterpressed anything before and we all thought the textured element would be a nice tactile addition to the card. If I had to do it over again I probably would have gone with a less complicated design. I really went for it with this card design but I learned along the way that letterpress is at its best with minimal design, where you really let the letterpressing do the work, rather than the design itself. The coasters we created are a perfect design for letterpressing – clean, simple, and one-color. The printing method and the copy are the stars.

 

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Q: What was the printing process like?
A: We were lucky to work with Christopher at Porridge Papers. He advised us along the way. Even though our design was a bit complicated he never told us it couldn’t work. We really appreciated having his input.

We struggled with how to print the wood grain, it was a key element of the design. We worked closely with Christopher and decided the best approach was to print a light color (beige) on white paper and create areas of “knockout” white to achieve the grain effect.

 

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Porridge also helped us consider the potential pitfalls of ink trapping. Since the artwork was a bit complex, we had to account for how ink would bleed when colors butted up against each other or overlapped. You have to accommodate for this with letterpress since the paper is being altered throughout the printing process.

In the end we were very happy with the card and the coasters. We knew we’d all figure it out together and that kind of partnership is what makes creative work so satisfying.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: Now that the Grain & Mortar Store is up we’re creating some new products for 2015. We are working on a series of stickers and a coaster set that will be coming out soon.

 

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| January 14th | Work

ooh... me Likey


January 6th | News

We had a creative growth spurt at Grain & Mortar last year and some really fun work resulted from it.

Our team changed and grew. G&M added Matt, Nicholas, Will and Liz in 2014. That means we have mad design, illustration, animation, coding and copywriting skills in the house 24/7. Okay, more like 8/5 but still, pretty great.

BarCamp 2014 was a great opportunity for us to flex our illustration muscles. We had fun translating our illustrations for the website and the entire event experience.

 

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How many ways can we show our love for pizza? We started by crafting a new menu system for Dante Pizzeria.

 

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The Overland website was a massive project from a coding and organization standpoint. We’re proud of the quality and how smoothly it delivers on desktop and mobile.

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The University of Nebraska’s end of year campaign gave us a chance to write fun copy and illustrate our Nebraska pride.

 

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We motioned it up in 2014. Our motion designer, Bryan, was busy last year. We love all the creative disciplines that are now at play in our little studio. Here’s a sample of some of that great work.

 

 

We also launched the Grain & Mortar Store. Woo hoo! Now we have a shiny, new place to showcase our nifty products.

And of course, we had fun. There were snowboards, cats, booze, puppies, travel, new houses, pies (pizza), pies (fruit), new tattoos, more booze, music, coffee, tasty vittles, and at least one roller coaster.

2014 was a year of great clients, new faces, and creative victories. We’ve always had the same formula – honesty, hard work, and trust – and we’re looking forward to seeing what that brings us in 2015.

| January 6th | News

ooh... me Likey


December 23rd | Work

MakeSchool is creating an environment where students learn by building and shipping their own software products

We were introduced to the founders of MakeSchool through a referral from Y Combinator partner, Kevin Hale. MakeSchool offers a unique supplemental option to the traditional college experience for students interested in learning mobile and web development or computer science theory. MakeSchool is able to give students experiences beyond the standard college computer science degree through hands-on work building apps and networking opportunities with professionals in the tech industry.

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We updated the existing MakeSchool logo mark to give it an academic appeal. The website, itself, was designed and developed with a focus on two distinct audiences. It was important to appeal to a pre-college or college-age student. We also had to be mindful of the concerns parents would have about the financial investment of a Gap Year or Summer Academy experience. The website was organized and designed to provide a satisfying user experience for students and their parents.

MakeSchool trains developers with necessary technical skills and provides direction on important communication skills such as pitching, writing and email etiquette. With the unique ability to provide internships at Silicon Valley powerhouses like Facebook and Apple, MakeSchool is a dream opportunity for many young founders and software developers. Learn more about MakeSchool.

 

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| December 23rd | Work

ooh... me Likey


December 3rd | Work

The University of Nebraska asked us to help them thank our fellow Nebraskans.

The University of Nebraska traditionally sends an official “thank you” to the citizens of Nebraska around the holiday season. This year, the University president wanted to go a little further. In addition to thanking Nebraskans for their support of our state’s University, he wanted to start a conversation about how the University impacts individual lives.

Grain & Mortar was asked to write and design a full-page newspaper ad and a landing page to thank the people of the state and ask them to share the reasons they were grateful for the University via Facebook and Twitter.

 

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We developed a theme around the idea of living in a “state of gratitude.” Through copy and custom illustrations we demonstrated the many ways the University impacts the state – education, research, health care, innovation and outreach.

 

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G&M has directly benefitted from the University of Nebraska – our very own Matt Carlson is a UNO alum (go Mavs!). We are very grateful to live and work in a state that values its University. If you feel the same gratitude, share your story:

nebraska.edu/thankyou
#NUforNE
Facebook.com/unebraska
@u_nebraska

| December 3rd | Work

ooh... me Likey