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

June 25th | News

The Coffee with a Cop program is centered around two ideas that we wholeheartedly support–building relationships that support better policing in our communities and drinking coffee.

Coffee with a Cop hosts gatherings over coffee in local restaurants, diners and coffee shops to connect community members with the police officers that serve them.

It’s no secret that police across the nation have been under scrutiny in recent years and the Coffee with a Cop program was started by members of the Hawthorne California Police Department in 2011 as one way to improve relations between police and community members. It has been growing quickly, nationally and internationally. We were asked to update their logo and create a new website and were pleased to contribute to something that was a proactive, positive step towards better policing across the country.

Logo Update

The original Coffee with a Cop logo was difficult to read at a small size. The program needed a logo that could work in a variety of applications–flyers, hats, t-shirts, vehicle signage–so our challenge was to retain elements of the original logo but update it by simplifying and modernizing the mark. Because the program was being exported to international police departments it also needed to be able to handle translations of “Coffee with a Cop” in multiple languages and still fit within the logo’s parameters.




We began by stripping the logo down to a one-color mark and eliminating several visual elements in order to boost readability. We focused on creating a badge–a symbol of honor and pride–as the primary visual motif along with a steaming cup of coffee. The color palette, font and iconography style were chosen to represent the friendly, straightforward qualities behind the Coffee with a Cop program.

New Responsive Website

Coffee with a Cop is run by working police officers who are busy solving homicides, running police departments and more. They needed a site that was easy to maintain and could handle high volume traffic from the press, police departments, and communities around the country.




We built a responsive, fast site in WordPress which makes it possible for the officers to maintain their content independently. Our goal was to keep the site lightweight and lean from the development side so it could handle high volumes of traffic.

One of the core tasks of the website was to display the events they host across the country. We built a custom events mapping feature to display all upcoming and past events. Best of all, we created an automated publishing feature so officers across the country can submit upcoming events that auto-publish upon approval. This frees the Coffee with a Cop officers from the drudgery of data entry and keeps them focused on the important stuff. Doughnuts. No. Police work.




Strategic Animation, Illustration and Copy

The animated conversation on the site’s home page appears simple but required significant thought in terms of copy, design and development. Illustrations throughout the site help define categories, provide quick signposts for key ideas and add some visual fun. We also strove to achieve a balance in the content to reflect the attitude of the program, itself–professional, helpful and responsive.

We are proud of the work Coffee with a Cop is doing and glad that we could help them contribute to the ongoing dialogue to improve community and police relations. We encourage everyone to attend an event in their area.



| June 25th | News

ooh... me Likey

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