Branding & Visual Storytelling
About SpaceLab Detroit
SpaceLab Detroit is a co-working community space. Business owner Karen came to us with a logo that was not easily readable or transferable, and needed an updated, modern look. She also did not have an established visual identity. Because the market for coworking spaces is so competitive and has been hurt by COVID-19, we knew we needed to give her brand more personality. Despite offering clean coworking spaces in a collaborative environment, SpaceLab's website only had one photo of the physical space and did not show any photos of people working together.
Through competitor profiling and conversations with Karen, we developed a plan to differentiate SpaceLab’s visual and verbal identity.
We updated the logo by minimizing and modernizing the concept that was already there, rather than abandoning the client’s original design by creating a new visual identity.
The logo, before and after:
We visited SpaceLab to create photographic content for her website, and this visit informed the color palette for the branding guide.
We created a branding guide that outlines how to use the logo, colors, typography, photos, and circular brand elements. After visiting SpaceLab to take photos, we created a color palette to match the colors of the office, creating an identity that fits in with what already existed while bringing something new to the table.
Farmacy Food Owner, Kwaku Osei, worked with a previous student team to develop the brand identity for Farmacy Food. Although the suggestions were visually compelling, they felt a little too similar to a couple other notable players in the Southeast Michigan food scene. Kwaku and his team were hungry for a visual identity that was unique to Farmacy Food.
After several iterations, Farmacy Food and the ISLB found written and visual elements that felt authentic to its mission. A narrative video was selected to convey Farmacy Food’s brand identity to various community members, stakeholders, business professionals, and potential clients. After conducting an interview with Kwaku and collecting additional photos, video clips, and graphics from Farmacy Food’s branding guide, a 4-minute video was curated to tell the story of why someone should invest their time and energy into Farmacy Food.Remote video URL
"What has been created is incredible. It really blew past my expectations when I look at the full assembly of work that's been created: the narrative video, the packaging design, etc. Everything that you guys have done all the way down to the language that was created. This type of thing that companies hire an agency to do and spend $50,000 and yet still doesn't get the level of quality that was delivered by you all. It just goes to show the power of a team of really smart individuals coming together to do something great."
- Kwaku Osei, Owner of Farmacy Foods
Jerome and his brother Sam at Detroit Soul were looking to solidify and improve their brand identity and implement it into their new location in order to convey their story to customers. They wanted to showcase the historical foundations of soul food and what inspired them to open Detroit Soul.
Jerome and Sam expressed interest in converting the historical timeline featured in their original location to professional-looking historical posters about the history of soul food for their new location. After discussing with the business owners, we did a deep dive on the history of soul food and its progression through American history. We took this research, condensed it into prose, and divided it into three historical posters: The Soul in Soul Food, The Roots of Soul Food, Soul Food Then & Now. We then worked to posterize historical photos and photos from the business itself within the new color palette we had developed for Detroit Soul to coordinate with the written content.
Read the stories on each poster:
“These historical posters chronicle the history and evolution of soul food. This is a hallmark for Detroit Soul. In our current location we have an entire wall displaying African American contributors. [These] posters allow us to showcase the history of soul food in a professional way in our new location.”
- Jerome Brown, Owner of Detroit Soul
Website Design and Implementation
Due to the pandemic, Hot Sam’s, a men’s clothing retailer in downtown Detroit, was forced to pivot to online sales for the first time. Lauren Stovall, the company’s business lead, became solely responsible for launching and managing the new e-commerce site. While the new e-commerce site was fully functional, Lauren was interested in conducting user testing to figure out where online customers were having trouble while shopping. She also was not sure if customers were able to easily access all of Hot Sam’s products.
While fully functional, the e-commerce team found multiple points throughout the shopping to checkout process with potential to improve usability and efficiency for shoppers. The principal area of improvement was reorganizing the content on the site to be more intuitive for users, and to match the standard for online clothing retailers.
After conducting user testing, we prototyped a reorganized e-commerce website, tested it, and then implemented it. Lauren and Hot Sam’s website team were also given a summary of insights from user testing, and changes that could be made based on different Square plans.
See the before and after from the re-organization of Hot Sam’s website:
“Working with the interns of DNEP has been an amazing experience and I was blown away by the professionalism of the interns and the quality of work that they performed. I look forward to the results of their work being fruitful to our business of Hot Sam’s Detroit.”
- Lauren Stovall, Legacy Preserver and Business Lead at Hot Sam's Detroit
User experience testing revealed that Luxe Skin Therapy needed an overall clarification in branding elements and a more modern design. The old website had not been optimized for mobile users, making it appear overcrowded, and confusing navigation meant that customers could not always find products. The result was lower than hoped online sales.
The team began by conducting a heuristic analysis and meeting with business owner Shar to develop a comprehensive list of website rewrite and redesign needs in order to best tell her story and achieve her desired brand identity. Based on that inventory of needs, we proposed a full website redesign for both mobile and desktop. Shar provided access to rework her website (without publishing) so that both she and the team could see the design progress all the way through.
To help customers find products more easily, we developed a comprehensive product spreadsheet Shar could use to organize her products consistently and re-organized them throughout the site. We also developed promotional banner ideas for the home page, rewrote outdated content for several pages, and researched and wrote new content. For the new site, we used a leafy green color palette and updated visuals Shar liked from the old website to clean up the website without clearing it of Shar’s personality.
See the before and after of the website's Home page:
“The DNEP team did an amazing job helping me take Luxe Skin to the next level! The work they did to solidify my brand identity allowed me to scale my business for the type of e-commerce growth that’s necessary and relevant for my industry.”
- Shar Huff, Owner of Luxe Skin Therapy
A previous student team of designers had proposed a new layout for Farmacy Food’s website, but it had not been implemented. Their website, like the other branding elements, did not connect to the audience nor communicate the team’s stories in a descriptive and inviting way.
After hearing the business’ feedback, the team made updates to the previous designs in order to incorporate the new visual and verbal identity which better conveys their welcoming approach to food. This included redesigning their health badges and ingredient illustrations in a style that resonated with Farmacy Food’s team, writing website copy with more engaging language, and integrating the narrative video on the homepage. By incorporating these new elements whilst following the update brand guide, the team was able to make the website more inviting and personal to the business' story.
See the Before and After of Farmacy Food's About page:
“Our website now looks better than the majority of our much richer competitors - I'd say we have a top 3 website in our space period. I'm simply blown away and very very thankful - thank you for taking a chance on us AND sticking with us, a year from now looking back I'm sure I'll be able to say it made all the difference, it's already making a difference now!”
- Kwaku Osei, Owner & CEO of Farmacy Foods
AKOMA is a cooperative for women artists, especially women of color who are artists and makers. Mandisa Smith, AKOMA’s owner, handled the company’s website and online orders by herself. Mandisa reported that website users often had to contact her with additional questions about AKOMA, and it was time-consuming to take these inquiries. She wondered if there was a way to help users find this information more easily.
Our initial assessment was that AKOMA’s website design contained most of the necessary information, but it could deliver a more consistent message with the brand. After conducting user testing, however, it became apparent to all that the site map and home page were not working for customers. We prototyped and tested a reorganized website, and created content for several new pages customers wanted, including information about AKOMA’s events, membership, and overall brand.
Once complete, we implemented the new website, showed Mandisa how to update it, and provided her with a summary of insights from user testing, and a guide on how to implement new features and plugins onto the website that might ease her workload as a business owner.
See the before and after from the redesign of AKOMA’s website:
“Working with the DNEP students was a truly positive experience for AKOMA. They accomplished so much in such a short period of time, including conducting effective research, and making several important design changes to our website, based on the research results. Their professionalism and thoroughness was exceptional, and I am really pleased to have had the opportunity to work with this team. The major issue addressed by the team was the need for enhanced functionality on the AKOMA website. Several changes were implemented, all of which make the website more user friendly and easier to navigate."
- Mandisa Smith, Owner of AKOMA Detroit
Chef Nezaa is the owner of Paradise Natural Foods, a Carribean catering company specializing in plant-based, vegan, vegetarian cuisine and clean seafood and poultry. Chef Nezaa’s website was hosted on the Wix platform. The site allows for online orders, which means her website must be updated each time the menu changes. Nezaa found the website tutorials online to be incomplete, which caused her to constantly need to hire a web designer to update her website for her. This was time consuming and expensive, and risked displeasing customers.
Chef Nezaa wanted to be able to make changes to her website on her own. She indicated that short, targeted video tutorials would be more helpful than screenshots with images. Therefore, while making updates on the site, we recorded six customized video tutorials that showed the back-end of her specific website.
With an extremely busy schedule, restaurant owner Nya Marshall focused most of her attention on what was happening inside her farm-to-table business, Ivy’s Kitchen & Cocktails. This left less time for social media marketing than she would have liked. She knew that improving her social media pages with new content would allow her to increase her digital presence, and likely draw in new customers, but she did not have the time or expertise to create new content.
Nya expressed an interest in revamping her social media pages with new content to build her platforms. After analyzing her existing social media posts and learning more about her other digital assets and future plans, we developed a list of images that we anticipated she would need—starting with professional photos of her signature dishes.
The photo shoot required a significant investment from Nya because she had to pay her cooks to come prepare all of the dishes so they could be photographed. Ivy’s Kitchen & Cocktails emerged from the two day photo shoot with a 100+ image library of professional photos showcasing the restaurant and its food—and the marketing team was happy to verify that the food was just as delicious as it looked.
ForHer Cosmetics is a Detroit-based beauty brand that creates vegan, cruelty-free lipsticks, eye shadows, glosses and highlighters, while also teaching young people about the chemistry of makeup. The company had a strong brand identity on social media, and demonstrated strong sales among its core customer base. CEO Alyssa Space believed it had the potential to resonate with a much broader customer base, especially with the recent release of their new foundation. ForHer had run a few paid advertisements on social media before, but wanted to explore more. To run a successful online paid marketing campaign, ForHer, the company would need two things: research and data.
Paid marketing campaigns are most successful when they are targeted and tested. After better understanding the ForHer Cosmetics brand, the marketing team developed content for ads to run on Facebook and Instagram. We ran a series of tests in A/B format, slightly modifying the language, images, or target demographics each time. Each test provided insights that we analyzed to provide suggestions about the most cost-effective approach for ForHer to reach a new customer base.
"Working with DNEP this summer has been an amazing experience. From improving my Shopify inventory, to building new connections by marketing to my target audience more effectively, I am very pleased with the work and partnership we have created over the past few months."
- Alyssa Space, Owner of ForHer Cosmetics
Rock Your Month curates and sells monthly subscription boxes of period care products with a message of empowerment for young girls and women. The company had content that could be posted to their social media accounts, but owner JaBett Glenn was not sure which of the new campaign materials would best resonate with her customers, or how to set up an effective campaign.
To maximize the impact of Rock Your Month’s posts, the company needed rigorous analysis about the efficacy of these existing campaign materials. Over the course of three weeks, our marketing team ran several slightly-modified versions of the different post types using different hashtags and captions, and gathered data about the performance of each. This disciplined approach, while time-consuming, provided JaBett with the data she needed to understand which types of posts had the strongest average performance and which hashtags maximized non-follower impressions.
Slow’s Bar-B-Q owners Brian and Terry Perrone had been planning to launch their new “Slows @ Home” program, where they would ship delicious barbeque food from their kitchen to homes all across the country, for a year and a half. There were many obstacles keeping them from selling their cuisine online, including navigating food and safety regulations associated with shipping frozen food, and they were down to one last primary challenge: the need for lot coding.
A lot code is a unique code assigned to each batch (lot) of food product made. The lot code is what allows a business to trace the source of the problem when someone gets sick or an ingredient is found to be contaminated. Brian and Terry stressed the importance of getting a handle on lot coding in order to get approval from the Health Department to set the Slows @ Home program in motion.
Through two on-site visits, online research, and a consultation with lot coding experts, the operations team developed materials to help the Slows team compare different lot coding methods and their associated costs. Once Slow’s owners had made a decision, we sent them the materials they needed to get started, including a lot coding tracking template, a recall plan, and a more in-depth guide on how to lot code
Get a brief overview of lot coding and its implementation:
Slows Bar-B-Q owners Terry and Brian Perrone knew they wanted to launch an online barbeque line through Goldbelly that would ship frozen products. But between launching a new food truck and handling other parts of their business, they simply did not have time to follow up on their early research. Slows was looking for help in determining the best packaging to ship their frozen products, specifically in relation to package dimensions.
Before Slows’ owners could make decisions about package sizes or shapes, they first needed to identify which products from their menu would be available for shipping, and in what quantities. To get a better understanding of Slows’ products and how the competition was handling this issue, we visited Slows multiple times to observe their products and operations, and ordered competitor products to investigate how those products were packaged. Once Slows’ product line had been narrowed, Terry and Brian ordered sample packaging from Slows’ preferred vendors. We evaluated the options together, produced cost estimates for various options, and then developed a prototype.
Slows now has clear packaging dimensions and plans to start shipping its products in late 2021.
Take a look at our assembled high-fidelity prototype of a Slows @ Home shipment:
Bre’Anna Johnston founded Blck Cocoa Bakes as a vegan cake company and was now ready to expand her offerings to include vegan cheesecakes. She was also ready to start selling in grocery stores. The issue? Selecting appropriate packaging. Bre’Anna had done some initial research, but had limited bandwidth to dive deeply into finding and testing the best containers and labels, never mind performing a cost analysis of each container. The founder had prioritized creating the label and making sure the vegan cheesecake would stay fresh in the freezer: she was looking for help with her other workstreams.
To help Bre’Anna identify the best packaging to ship her delicious cheesecake, we considered costs, quality, and environmental factors. We ordered samples of various size jars and boxes, and then met Bre’Anna on site to conduct a series of scientific experiments. We wanted to know how the cheesecake looked, but we also wanted to know how it tasted, how long it took to thaw, etc. The results led to a clear winner, which Bre’Anna ordered.
Blck Cocoa Bakes’ vegan cheesecake is expected to appear in Detroit retail locations later this Fall.
Take a look at our recommended jar already in use with Bre'Anna's labeling:
"DNEP interns were really helpful as a sounding board to cut through the fluff and create concise short and long term business plans. They also helped me with finding packaging options, although what I found most beneficial was learning the process of how to go about business problems so that I can continue the work we did together and solve similar problems myself in the future."
- Bre'Anna Johnston, CEO and Founder of Blck Cocoa Bakes
Point of Sale & Inventory
Betsy Murdoch, owner of The Congregation Detroit, was convinced there had to be a more efficient way to manage her inventory than an excel spreadsheet. Her manual inventory process was a daily reminder that her time would be better spent serving her employees and customers. She also suspected that there were insights and cost savings that could be captured with a digital inventory system.
After analyzing the sales data, the point of sale team recommended that the Congregation Detroit move its inventory management to the Clover system, and subscribe to a built-in Stock app to fully digitize its inventory management system. This $19.99/month investment will save the business owners 5 hours a week managing inventory, and hundreds of dollars annually though streamlined, standardized, and accurate vendor orders. Clover’s Inventory features also gives The Congregation Detroit access to detailed inventory analytics to inform purchase orders quantity, and tracking on every item they order from vendors.
See how The Congregation paired their Clover Inventory system with Stock to track the analytics of an individual item:
“I am so grateful to have been a part of the DNEP program. As a business owner, I am juggling many things at all times. Inventory has always been the hardest piece to manage, but with the interns' help, I have found a new way to efficiently manage our inventory. We are so excited to have this new system in place and it will ensure that we are always stocked with everything we need to operate on a daily basis. I would work with them a million times over!"
- Betsy Murdoch, Owner of The Congregation Detroit
Jerome and his brother Samuel were preparing to open Detroit Soul’s second location on Jefferson Ave in Detroit. Their original location on 8 Mile Rd had been a huge success, but had primarily been staffed by the brothers and their spouses. As they looked to hire new employees who could take care of restaurant tasks without their constant assistance, Jerome and Samuel needed standardization of basic operations within the front of house and the kitchen. This standardization will ensure their restaurant maintains consistent quality, safety, and efficiency, and can be easily translated to the second location upon its opening.
The brothers expressed interest in a low-tech solution for documenting their opening and closing procedures to help new employees address daily tasks. After observing Detroit Soul operations over two visits (and sampling the delicious food!), the operations team developed a set of laminated opening/closing checklists and fridge/freezer inventory trackers and asked employees to use them and provide feedback. After three iterations, Detroit Soul’s staff reported that the documents were effective in meeting their needs. The laminated checklists and trackers have been placed around the restaurant, where they are in daily use.
View the checklists we created, utilizing the colors selected by the Branding & Identity team:
"Working with the students from DNEP was a pleasure. The team not only worked on the scoped items of the project, they also suggested industry best practice options. On-site visits to the restaurant helped them connect to our needs. This project has increased employees' accountability of duties and reduced time and redundancy in our opening and closing procedures. Every business should consider this program."
- Jerome Brown, Owner of Detroit Soul
Jevona Watson had a hunch that the subscription fees and comprehensive features of her Point of Sale system were overkill for Detroit Sip’s business model. But as a busy entrepreneur and attorney, she did not have the time to do research, make phone calls, and then go through a new system set-up on her own.
Detroit Sip’s post-pandemic reopening created an opportunity for a cost analysis of its point of sale system. Our comparison guide quickly identified that Detroit Sip’s POS subscription, while a front runner for many full service restaurants and clothing stores, was not the best fit for the counter service of a community centered coffee shop.
While the decision to take a leap and try something new is difficult, Jevona made the decision to switch to a POS system whose fee structure is more in line with her business’ monthly transactions and average revenue per transaction. With IOS hardware in place, the point of sale team was able to help Detroit Sip make the switch to Square, which should save the business $1000 per year. They also moved over her menu, inventory, and customer data to ease the process.
“Without the help of DNEP I do not know where Detroit Sip would be. My business has grown leaps and bounds but perhaps more importantly, I've grown leaps and bounds as an entrepreneur. With the help of the POS team, I was able to confidently make a decision to transition from one company to another. Thank you DNEP. Lessons learned and lessons shared never die!”
- Jevona Watson, Owner of Detroit Sip
After closing her business due to the pandemic, owner Jevona Watson was preparing to reopen Detroit Sip, a community coffee shop in the McNichols/Livernois neighborhood of Detroit. Jevona expressed interest in a reopening plan to help her and her employees navigate local, state and federal health guidelines. Establishing safety procedures would help her comply with government health guidelines and regulations, as well as protect employees and customers and relieve some of the stress of reopening.
After researching CDC recommendations and local mandates, we developed a reopening guide for Detroit Sip that included a checklist for reopening, a daily COVID checklist for employees, signage to place around the store, and other resources. Sanitization and cleaning procedures were also included in opening and closing checklists.
We illustrated Jevona's thoughts on encouraging mask wearing from customers into this poster:
View our comprehensive COVID-19 reopening guidelines:
"Because of the hard work from your team, I am reopening feeling empowered, organized and prepared to lead my new employees. The confidence that you exhibited in tackling my problems was infectious. Whatever you weren't familiar with, the next session you had answers."
- Jevona Watson, Detroit Sip