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

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

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.




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.




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.




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.


coaster_mm coaster_drdr


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.



| January 14th | Work

ooh... me Likey