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

April 13th | News, Work

Our latest project challenged us to tell a story without revealing too much information.

When Tarun Thakur contacted us to help out with a logo and website for Datos IO, an enterprise software startup dedicated to disrupting recovery management, we said, “Sure!” Quickly followed by, “What is it?”

Since Datos IO was a stealth-mode software startup, we knew we weren’t the only ones that would ask, “What is it?” The answer is complex, abstract and a game-changer for any industry that has massive amounts of data to store and manage.

Given the stealth nature of Datos IO, we can’t share too many details. But, we can say they are building an enterprise software product from the ground-up that transports information across time. For real. Across. Time. It allows users to embrace emerging Big Data stores, NoSQL data stores and Cloud Native data stores in conjunction with traditional structured data stores to establish a “single state of truth” for all the enterprise’s data. Enterprises can essentially create separate data universes and toggle back and forth between them. For the non-technical folks, suffice it to say, Einstein would be proud.

Our first task was to convert this technical, complex and abstract idea into a logo.

For the logo, we created a custom typeface to represent Datos IO’s unique and first-mover position in the industry. We incorporated the concept of connected and uninterrupted pathways with the letters “T” and “O”.



Next, we created a website to explain the who, what and why.

Datos IO is a venture-backed enterprise software startup with an innovative and disruptive product. Their first priority for the website was to introduce the concept and their rock star team. They wanted to share the concept with a global audience but, all under the hood of “stealth start-up.”




We were tasked with creating a website from the bottom up. The folks at Datos IO provided us with research and articles to read. From there, it was up to our own imaginations to determine how to best deliver this information to the website visitors.

Regardless of complexity, we always focus on creating a clear and digestible message for website users. In this instance, graphics and a bit of animation helped us translate some of the more complicated ideas into manageable portions.




Datos IO challenged us to understand and represent an enterprise data management software product – without talking about “how” and “what” in detail given their stealth-stage. We love taking on projects that stretch our knowledge base and we’re excited to watch Datos IO grow from market creator to industry leader.

Check out what Datos IO is all about.

| April 13th | News, Work

ooh... me Likey

March 13th | News

It’s no secret we’re passionate about startups, entrepreneurs, and the Midwest.

We are thrilled with the opportunity to work with Big Omaha, the perfect blend of all three.

Each year, the design for Big Omaha has always been fun and unexpected, and we give huge props to Oxide Design for the work they’ve done to create a baseline of excellence for Big Omaha’s brand.

This year, we created a new design for Big Omaha that will remain consistent year after year. Our mission was to establish iconic branding that pays homage to the past, allows us to maintain consistency, and is easily modified for a unique experience each year forward.

A simple typographic mark that hints at the shape of the state of Nebraska. Everyone loves the cow, the cow stays.

We decided on a simple typographic mark that hints at the shape of the state of Nebraska. Everyone loves the cow, the cow stays.



The site was inspired by Google’s material design language.


Along with the branding, we’ve released a motion video and the new website with the 2015 speaker lineup.

We’ll be following up soon with another post detailing the website and all its features, as well as the concept and creative process behind the motion video.

That’s all for now – don’t forget to get your tickets!




| March 13th | News

ooh... me Likey

March 2nd | Advice, News

I work in a pretty cool “office” and I can’t complain. We have access to unlimited coffee, snacks (healthy ones and the kind that taste good) and plenty of space for impromptu creative debates or dance parties. Like most creative workplaces, Grain & Mortar has an open floor plan that lends itself to an open exchange of ideas, brainstorming and noise.  So, like many others, I have had to find a way to focus in the midst of all that free-flowing creativity.

Music has always helped me focus. I have a very specific musical need while I’m working. It can’t be background music from a communal speaker. I can’t rely on the sounds drifting from a coworker’s speakers. And nothing on traditional radio stations will do the trick. I need a specific type of instrumental music to calm me, get me focused, and inspire me for the work ahead of me.

Genres such as electronica, instrumental hip-hop, chillwave and downtempo are a few of the many I enjoy. No doubt, this is a pretty broad spectrum and it reflects how my taste has evolved over the years. I’ve left behind post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Unwed Sailor, The Album Leaf, and Mogwai. After years of obsessing over guitar driven post-rock bands, I discovered less orchestral, faster-paced styles like El Ten Eleven. To me, the difference between electronic and post-rock music is like the difference between contemplating space exploration versus survival after a nuclear winter.

How you listen is as important as what you’re listening to. If you’re working in an open, communal space you’re most likely wearing headphones, and if not, everyone most likely wishes you were.

My advice: skip the earbuds and get yourself a quality pair of headphones. I’m a fan of Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50’s. They’re comfortable and sound better than your fancy pair of Beats by Dre. The Audio-Technica’s are $170 but if you listen to music every single day at work, they’re worth the investment. If that’s too much, try the AKG 240’s ($75).

I’ve put together a playlist of the style of music and artists I listen to most at work. Enjoy!


| March 2nd | Advice, News

ooh... me Likey

February 3rd | Work

After reading that one of our local homeless shelters was in desperate need of basic supplies we decided to donate some items and create a video.

We wanted to use our creative abilities to help bring awareness and encourage donations to our local homeless shelters. Our plan was to share the video with our friends and family but then we decided we wanted the reach to be more expansive.




We created the video by animating custom illustrations and purposefully kept the call to action fairly generic. This allowed us to create something in-house that could be used by any homeless shelter in the country.




This was an internal side project that we decided we wanted to release before Christmas. In order to complete it in time we had to keep the design and the animation simple. We limited the movement in each scene, used simple backgrounds, and relied on storytelling over complicated technique in order to execute the video quickly.




Visually, our animation concept centered around a cardboard box that appears in various forms in almost every frame. The box morphs into key elements throughout the video – as the homeless man’s “shelter,” as the box donated items are stored in, and as the homeless shelter.

Thematically, we focused on a standard list of items homeless shelters need in order to serve their clients.

We posted the video on a variety of social media using the hashtag #SupportYourShelter and then emailed homeless shelters across the country to let them know they could use the video for their own purposes. No strings attached.

Watch the video, then find out what you can do to support your local homeless shelter.

| February 3rd | Work

ooh... me Likey

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.




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.




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.




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