Case Study: Mohawk Bend Brand & Identity Development

mohawk bend brand & identity

As the saying goes, I love it when a plan comes together. When I first talked to Tony Yanow about his newest venture, Mohawk Bend, it was nearly a year ago, midway through the Ramona Theater’s renovation process. While we’d be working from scratch design-wise, Tony had a very clear idea of who he was serving and what the attitude and voice of Mohawk Bend would be, which made the preliminary research and brand brief development really easy. He also had an interior design team working with the raw materials of the space and adding beautiful custom furniture in light wood and warm, orange tones. From the outset, we knew the setting of where the identity would live and how we could make it stand out appropriately within that environment.

mohawk bend logo

logo development

Mohawk Bend has a few different areas of focus, but it’s first and foremost a celebration of craft beer from all over California. The most exciting and innovative of these is the hops-forward west coast IPA, and in that vein, the hop flower became a main feature of the logo.

mohawk bend icon system

mohawk bend business cards

building an identity

Beyond beer, though, their plans included California-sourced spirits, a bottle-free selection of California wine, local / organic food that spans the vegan-omnivore spectrum, and a low-waste operation in the kitchen. Tony really wanted an icon system that could represent each of these aspects and work interchangeably with the main identity, play out on the web site, and associate with core staff’s areas of expertise. We developed a color palette and selection of icons that swap out with the hop flower in the logo for specialized uses, and become indicators for each area of the web site. For future signage and events, they’ll have the versatility of growing this icon system with new developments.

mohawk bend web site home page

keeping it simple & highly useful online

Creating the web site was a fun exercise in brainstorming all the things we hate about restaurant web sites and putting them at the top of the list of what not to do. No flash, No pdf menus, No hard-to-find location information. Tony was always very clear about the voice of Mohawk Bend, that it’s craft first in a simple and honest way. We were still excited to talk about all the great things Mohawk Bend does, however, so we built all of it into the about section, so the information is there without being an obstacle on the home page. Instead, a styled twitter widget announces daily specials and events, with clear postings of hours, location, directions and a list of menus: get the info you need and come on over!

mohawk bend web site interactive beer list

the interactive beer list

One particularly fun feature is the interactive beer list. During our preliminary talks on functionality of the site, Tony said “What I’d really like to have is a beer list you can sort by any category—brewery, style, alcohol volume…” And so we thought about it, and worked out a solution that integrates directly with WordPress, allowing all the searching & sorting a curious beerophile would want. Click any column header to sort by that column, or use the search field to isolate beers containing your search terms. We also translated everything to a nice mobile site, so anyone can find just what they’re looking for [even search the beer list] on the go.

mohawk bend menus

beyond design: a workflow that works

Behind the scenes was the real challenge: developing a workflow system that would allow daily menu updates in print and online to be done easily and quickly by employees. A system that still uses nice typefaces and formatting in print, but doesn’t require any coding online—and all simple enough to execute well without a design education. Once we settled on a menu format, we built in-house layout templates using paragraph styles that would transfer heading tags and basic bold and italic formatting to WordPress. The WordPress interface is extremely user-friendly, with a visual editor, so everyone has taken to it quickly. To keep the carbon footprint low, the menus are printed on Neenah Environment 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper.

mohawk bend extended identity

and they’re off…!

As I’ve watched this roll out in action and seen the Mohawk Bend staff make it their own, I’m proud of the system we created together. They’ve been able to switch around the menu formats easily using feedback from customers, and we’ve been able to build more of the identity into ads, stickers, signage and support collateral. Best of all, they are all super-nice people to work with, so we’re always happy to walk down, have a beer, find out how everything is going, and help them work out their next adventure. Bottoms-up to Mohawk Bend!

+ Read more case studies here.
+ See more of our work for Mohawk Bend here.

happy monday

happy monday
happy monday


this week i’m getting ahead at working on some fun surprises for holiday stuff. if it seems early to you, take a look at this oldie-but-goodie, how to plan your holiday mailing so you have time for everything.

tell your clients what to expect

design project timeline
while job specifics vary, the process follows the same path.

we get so familiar with our own businesses and practices, that even though we may explain what it is we do, sometimes that’s really different from empathizing with the outsider’s unfamiliarity with our services. let’s not leave these things to their imagination. when we’re in the position of buying, often what we’re conscious of is the artifact, or the end result we’re shopping for, but our senses are busy researching the experience we’re buying as well. is this a good person to work with? will this business really take care of me? think about how you feel when you read testimonials that express excellent customer service—it’s a wave of relief, trust, and a subconscious vote of confidence.

recently i was preparing a brand brief for my father’s new hypnotherapy practice, and in researching other hypnotherapists in the immediate area, we only found one practitioner who took the time to walk through what a patient could expect when they sign on with her therapy practice. everyone else had a lot to say about what hypnotherapy does, took time to dispel myths about what it’s not, and made sure to list their credentials, but only one practitioner dedicated a page to what happens in her office after you walk through the door. it wasn’t information i was expecting to get, but when i did it allowed me to picture myself doing it, which was a powerful surprise. most of them let the reputation of hypnotherapy sell for them, she sold her personal touch on the experience.

finally, this past week, the AIGA held one day for design as an open forum for discussing the future of design. the discussion was varied, but there were a good deal of voices calling for the industry leaders to educate the public on the value of design, with an undercurrent about clients just not getting the true value of what we do. i gotta say, it doesn’t work that way. educating people on what any of us do in our businesses, and how it can be valued and leveraged is entirely up to us. the less tangible your service, the more important it is to show case studies, offer examples, and answer questions about how it works. our industry organizations are there to back us up and support us, not sell our services for us so we don’t have to. take charge of the conversation and have it wherever you can!

spend some time with your own marketing materials and ask yourself how much you’re speaking directly to potential clients to help demystify exactly what service you offer. try not to rely so heavily on the deliverables—unless you’re selling an entirely unique product or service, they generally know what artifactual item they’re shopping for. appeal to the instincts that are comparing experiences. if you have a web site, and look at analytics, let some of the more popular and unexpected searches be a guide as to what potential clients are yearning to learn from you. tell them about what you bring, and how you bring it.

some tips:

• don’t assume people know even the basics of how your industry works. write up a draft from start to finish of your ideal process, writing to the kind of project you’d like to be doing.

• use past experience as an example: take cues from every time you’ve had a disconnect with a client, or realized they assumed things would go differently. this is what people don’t know about how you work—tell them about it!

• ask clients for feedback on how you helped them understand the process. ask them if there are standout factors that help them decide between two similar services. what are their deal-makers & deal-breakers?

how to profile your target markets

parlato design studio news how to profile your target markets

part of the process of an identity development involves profiling the target markets of the client, so we can get a good idea of exactly who we’re talking to. it’s one thing to know what you want your business to say to everyone, but the reality is, you’re in a dialog with your very best clients and potential initiates to your tribe. don’t address them to whom it may concern, create a sketch of who they are and talk to them like you know them—because you do!

i can usually help with a little knowledge, research and brainstorming, but nobody knows their client base better than you. whether or not you’re in a phase of identity development, taking time aside to visualize your clients and empathize with their concerns will always help you better align your communications with their needs.

start by looking at your very best clients.
these are often people you don’t have to sell to anymore, those who understand the value of your services and are happy to keep coming back. it’s never just one type of person though, so take a look at the various types of people that comprise this group. what do they have in common, what led them to you? what are their differences? do they come from different earning brackets, different areas, different cultures? how many different groups do you have?

select three main groups by common attributes.
take what you learned by listing out client traits and behavior, and create three general client profiles. then for each, outline their individual characteristics that make them unique. where do they work, do they have kids, what would a typical day for this customer be like? what do they care about, what are their values, do they tend toward one political party? how does your business fit in? chances are, each group interfaces with your business differently, how do you usually help each group?

start using the profiles as clues for your next step.
once you have your main customer profiles and a clear statement of how you help each one, consider each one individually and try to think of other ways you might serve them. you’re talking about groups that have already bought into what you do, so they’d be your most likely audience for anything new you offer that’s relevant and useful to their daily grind. additionally, focusing on the types of people you profiled is the best way to create products and services that similar types might use, so you’re not only serving your targets, you might also discover new branches you hadn’t thought about before.

save these customer profiles, and make sure to refer to them in any brainstorming meetings on upcoming product and service developments or preparations for ad campaigns. if you break into a new sector, profile the new market and add them to the bunch. having these target profiles on hand will help keep everyone on track with who your messaging is going to, so you can make sure it’s always relevant, and revise as necessary.

3 ways to kick-start 2011

3 ways to kick-start 2011 parlato design studio

so here we are, a new year is just beginning and everyone is energized to start fresh. it’s a great feeling, but before it fades and settles behind a daily grind, harness and focus your energy so you can let it help you make progress on your most important goals and stay motivated throughout they year.

take stock of where you’re at
if you did any year-end planning or creative retreating, you probably already have a road map for the year ahead. if not, it’s a great time to take a day and look back at the biggest progress you made last year, the most effective efforts, the best projects, and find ways to build on them or continue rolling them out. how did your marketing plans play out for you? were you surprised by the results of any actions you took? better yet, did you learn what worked well and what isn’t worth the effort? do you have lingering projects that stayed on the back burner, that now need attention? does your brand, messaging or site content need a little refresh to match some new directions you’re taking? it’s time to strip down to a mix of what works best for you, toss the rest in a box [you can revisit it later if you want] and refine what you’re keeping so it keeps working for you in the new year.

assess the landscape ahead
knowing yourself, your internal strengths and where to put your energy is one thing, but what’s the terrain you’re going to travel? are you continuing to work with familiar industries and clients, or are you going to develop a new niche? are you in a plateau phase of familiar territory, or in a growth phase where you’ll be learning and trying all kinds of new things? take stock of the things you can depend on, and the areas you’re less familiar with. make sure to keep investing good energy in the familiar places, grow with it and don’t take it for granted. but, what are the biggest things you want to learn about the new places you’re going? can you read up on them, can you research some good starter events to get your feet wet, can you get some initial meetings with friendly informers who are happy to help you get to where you want to be?

pick a strategic blend and plan your moves
once you have a more clear sense of what you do best, how you do it, and the lay of the land ahead, take what you know and apply it—to the calendar! start with what you know: your best and most long-standing clients. plan a mix that works for you, attend the events where you know you’ll see them, think about your own brand touchpoints and which communicate the best with your home-base. you know these people really well at this point, maybe even research how you might better serve them, or find some aspect of their businesses that is largely overlooked. if you’ve attended mixers to see them in the past, consider hosting your own and inviting them for a regular check-in outside the office. in short, make your best relationships even better.

if you’re breaking ground in a new industry or niche, start a regular schedule of research, read the industry blogs, look for events to attend, make contacts and ask questions so you can learn from the personal experience of others. research the archetypes in the industry and get to know how they communicate, what’s important to them, go where they go. eventually, with regular research and exposure, you’ll have a great idea of who might be a good fit for you as a client or what might be a best first project to get your foot in the door.

and, of course, the best way to communicate with them when you’re not actually in the same room is to make information readily available about your own services and show that you’re aligned with this new industry. if you’ve been meaning to refresh your print collateral or web site content in this way, chart it out and put it on the calendar. if you can’t afford the dream overhaul, do the realistic refresh now. as seth godin often says, plan what you can, don’t let fear of failure hold you back from shipping, and put yourself out there!

5 things you can do to build your business this summer

5 things you can do to build your business this summer

if you’re in an industry that experiences a slower summer season, it’s a great time to invest in your business so it’s extra-fresh for the next time you get busy. if you’re not sure where to start, here are 5 ideas to build on.

rethink your services
we all concentrate on our areas of specialty, but have you thought about related activities and services you could be offering that wouldn’t shift your focus too far? maybe you’ve been offering a couple services that would make sense to package and target a different sector of the market. perhaps you’re getting a lot of questions on similar subjects and an introductory consulting service makes sense. better yet, give your clients and prospects a little taste of your expertise and personality in a white paper or e-book. if you’re spending some of your extra time on education or professional development, maybe you’re able to branch out and offer a new product or service you hadn’t considered developing yet.

brainstorm: write out a list of all the services you currently offer. think about each one, and try to write one related service you’d like to add, or that could be included by someone who has the same expertise. google some of your favorites—what appears with these products and services that you hadn’t considered before? if you’re up to the task, consider adding the most viable to your repertoire. if you can’t incorporate it now, take a few days to see if one of your ideas appeals to you as a future goal to shoot for.

refresh your site content
building your web site is often the biggest project we work on in self-promotion, and once it’s done, it’s really easy to set it aside and let it do its work undisturbed. we may not be looking at it every day, but possible clients and customers are, and when they have new & interesting things to look at, they stay longer and engage more. additionally, search engines are regularly indexing sites on the web, but if it finds yours and you haven’t updated in awhile, they’ll pass you over for sites with more frequent content changes. you may want to consider an online editorial calendar, so you have a framework for adding new content regularly in different areas of your site [this can work in conjunction with social media, where you tell people about your new content and ask them to take a look].

brainstorm: chart out all the pages on your site and list what content is on each page. read through the content you have currently and see if it’s still 100% relevant or could use some improvement. decide on areas that just need a refresh once for the year, and other pages that could possibly have revolving content, such as announcements, new offers, or archived newsletters you’re sending monthly. if you can’t find current pages for revolving content, think of what you might add that is updated elsewhere, like a twitter stream or facebook business page. then chart out a rough calendar by month and see if you can commit to a schedule of regular updates, whether they’re quarterly or daily.

reconnect with your network
remember the last time someone caught you with a surprise phone call or a nice card just to say hi or catch up? it’s always a good feeling when friends and colleagues reach out, so why not be that person this time around? figure out your preferred method of contact and then do it up proper! if you like calling people, start with your favorite clients and vendors and call to say hello! if you’re more of an email person, write some thoughtful words personalized to the people in your network. as an alternative, you can use your newsletter service to send a graphic email to a larger list. if you prefer cards that arrive by post, pick up a set that appeals to the message you want to convey [or consider having some designed—just sayin!], get out your favorite pen, and author some nice notes. work your way out from your inner circle to those you speak to less frequently. get social media involved for the people you connect with online.

brainstorm: sometimes reaching out takes several forms of delivery. in fact, maybe it’s time to update your contact database with some of those cards you’ve picked up in your travels that are piled on your desk. you can use contact management software to note which mode of contact different friends prefer, and split them up by how you might contact them. then, get creative and make it happen!

revisit your brand touchpoints
you can get some great help identifying and brainstorming on all the possibilities for brand touchpoints here. once you have a solid list, take some time with each one, ask yourself if they’re reaching your clients and prospects in the way you want them to. maybe you’ve been working with some new niches or personalities that interact with different items or information sources. evaluate which efforts you want to stick with and which are ready for hiatus. take notes when you’re out and about, what catches your eye, how have other businesses decided to interact with you in ways you thought was clever or well-placed? are you missing some cool twist in the lifestyles of the people you work with?

brainstorm: list out the brand touchpoints you’re currently using, then write as many possibilities for interaction you can think of next to each one. do these modes of interaction give you any ideas on similar items or resources you could use in the future? have you asked clients how they’ve found you or do they report on anything you’ve been doing that got their attention? is it time to start asking those questions to settle any doubts about your efforts?

reward yourself for a job well done
every time you spend time improving your business services and communications, you’re investing in yourself, so set some of this summer fun time aside to celebrate with a reward. we all work better and smarter when there is balance in our lives. give yourself that afternoon hike, take a night of overtime off, get yourself or your business a gift, or take yourself out for ice cream or soda.

brainstorm: aside from the pure rewards for a job well done, find ways to infuse fun into your business. can you go analog for the day and review paperwork or resource material at the park or the beach? do it! are there wifi hotspots or cafes with free wireless where you can go mobile for a change of scenery? try it out!

me? i take breaks for walks, bike rides, or a run on different days, but my new goal is to find a public pool i like and jump in a few times per week. and i’m a big believer in homemade fruit pops on hot days. nothing like an icy blended fruit pop!

article of the week: packaging design

biz ladies: how to design the perfect packaging by yael miller, from

packaging design is an entire area of design that has its own set of challenges and criteria. it’s not simply some extrapolation of graphic design to a 3-d object. it’s the buyer’s first interaction with your product, and its specific purpose is to introduce and entice. miller’s article is a great primer on how packaging should function, what you should consider when creating packaging for different products, and a breakdown of your cost options. an excellent read for designers and clients alike!

build your brand touchpoints

brand touchpoints

in brand design language, your brand touchpoints are a complete list of every opportunity the public at large has to interact with, or “touch,” your brand, from your identity, to your marketing & advertising, to the experience of working with you. it’s a much longer list than you could probably write off the top of your head, and for that reason, it’s a good idea to compile all the possible brand touchpoints your business might have so you can give attention to each one and plan how they will work together in the grand scheme of your brand strategy. this article gives a good overview of what a brand is and defines the major common touchpoints most businesses can use to communicate their brand message.

identity touchpoints
first off, all the pieces that make up your identity are also brand touchpoints [your identity is the nucleus of your brand]. building from the print matter area, add in every printed item your business produces: ads, newsletters & publications, business forms, proposals, signage & packaging, direct mail and special event collateral [if, say, you exhibit at trade shows]. these materials should all look like they’re saying what the business says it’s going to do in its mission statement to keep the message consistent each time a customer looks at your materials. what if clients look at your invoices and smile at the familiarity of someone they like working with? that’s the idea!

communications touchpoints
on the less-tangible side, starting with communication devices: emails, voice mails, public speaking, networking, public relations, presentations, phone etiquette and corporate voice. how you decide to use language to reinforce the type of company you are speaks volumes in very subtle ways, and when it’s consistent from your emails to the copy on your web site to the way you and your employees interact in person, that gives your target market reliable evidence that you are who you say you are and you deliver on what you say you will.

experiential touchpoints
all these printed words aside, experience plays a huge role in brand communications. every time a client or customer has a chance to experience working with you is also a touchpoint. sometimes we think of this as a closed sale and forget that the experience itself is what makes them keep coming back as well as give referrals and rave reviews. aside from the communication devices listed above, a company’s approach to process and service comes in to play here. what special approach can you take that sets your brand apart from others in your field? are your employees given an internal brand launch so they have brand confidence such that they are brand merchants in the field? if you have an office or store, how does the environment work toward your brand message [and more importantly, is there anything that detracts from it that can be improved]? what are your company’s affiliations? do you use green products, associate with a favorite non-profit, work with a preferred political party or initiative? your business associations say a lot about what you’re doing behind the scenes. what is your approach to customer service? how do you create confidence and trust between your business and your clients while you’re working with them? business philosophy can inform as many tangible touchpoints as experiential—think of as many opportunities you have to do things the best way possible and implement the ones you think will make the biggest difference with your target markets. the way we get clients to smile at our invoices is by giving them a great experience.

industry & lifestyle touchpoints
now that you have the main touchpoints in mind, the wild card category is anything that is specific to your business, your industry, or your target market. if you can create something helpful or useful as a gift to your clients, that is a great promotional touchpoint. think of your own experience in your industry: what is that one thing you’ve been doing yourself that would be so convenient if it were a form or a guide or information you could compile and share? you study your target market, you know them best, so what lifestyle choices are they making that might inform an item you could use as a promotional touchpoint? whether you create it yourself or partner with a gift company that simply puts your logo on something your clients will appreciate, the key is to make sure it’s useful and endearing to your target market so they use it, keep it and appreciate it. i can’t tell you how much swag i’ve tossed because it was a useless item that was simply an excuse to distribute a logo. think hard, choose wisely, get in the minds of your clients. better yet–ask your clients!

here’s my own example: i’m a designer with a long background in print design. one way i can showcase my work while being helpful to clients is in giving them complimentary communication devices they might otherwise buy. this month, i’ve created a set of valentines for clients, friends, and anyone who will get on my contact form and request a free set. that’s right A FREE SET, request yours today so i can mail it to you in time for valentine’s day!

what it comes down to is, your brand is in everything you do. leave no stone unturned, for there may be an overlooked opportunity to make a better impression. take none of them for granted, sometimes reworking the simple things to align with your brand strategy are details people notice and appreciate. if you haven’t in awhile, sit down with your mission statement and look at each touchpoint you’re currently using individually and ask yourself “how does this piece help communicate this statement?” brainstorm on it, sleep on it, think about how all of them might work together. compile a short list of sure shots and put them in action, adding any along the way that make sense. if you need ideas, advice or have questions, contact me, i’m always happy to answer!

how to save money on your next design project

how to save on your next design project

smart spending and saving is one of my favorite topics, so i figured i’d kick off the year by pairing it with my area of expertise in design to deliver an insider’s view of where to look for savings in your design projects. in the current economic climate, i’m hearing a lot of requests to keep things as cost-effective as possible, which is something i do with every project i get, come feast or famine. the fact of the matter is there is a lot that can be done on the client’s end, and knowing those things ahead of time puts you in a lot more control of how much you’ll spend. in my 15+ years doing design, both in-house and freelance, here are the most common areas where clients can control their savings.

plan ahead
sounds like a vague no-brainer, but there’s a lot that goes into getting the most out of your next project, and that starts with putting a plan together. source your designer down to a few favorite choices before you have a project on your calendar. ask them about how long it will take to produce a project like yours so nobody is rushed and charging rush charges for it. if you have an idea of the scope of your year’s projects, talk to your designer about how they might be combined, produced and printed together to save money. if you’re not sure what your year will entail, plan that out with your marketing specialist so you can tell your designer your goals and they can advise you on the best approach [clue: many designers are also marketing specialists]. it might mean working harder to plan a campaign all at once rather than 1 piece at a time, but it saves work, time & money down the road. we’re always happy to save you money when it’s a true savings of time and effort as well.

proofread first
it happens all the time, i get “final” copy for a project, and as i’m putting it into the layout, i’m catching typos that would have been caught by a simple run of spell check. i include 2 rounds of revisions with every project, but there have been many times where clients exceed these and end up paying for 3rd and 4th rounds. other designers don’t include them and simply charge individually for every round, which rewards the organized client and charges the one who says “i just need to see it in the layout.” if that’s you and you’re looking to save money, take the extra time to proofread your copy. run the free spell check in your word processor. trade free favors with a colleague and proofread for each other. compare the cost of hiring a copyeditor with an additional round of revisions from your designer, and consider hiring the copyeditor, who can make smart editorial suggestions to improve your copy. when you’re distracted by catching spelling and grammar, you don’t catch other things you’d like to change, generating extra revisions and additional costs. and at its worst, you don’t catch it all, and end up with the wrong information in your printed piece, and that’s a sad, sad day.

ask about processes and materials
once your project is ready to go to press, there are a few options of what print process to use, and what paper to print on. printers will store a selection of standard papers, called “house stocks” on site, and using one of these always costs less than ordering something specific. many clients think the quantity of output is the main determinant factor in the cost, but it’s actually the cost of the setup fee [converting your digital layout to printing plates], press time, and cost of the paper stock, running an extra thousand pieces is often negligible next to the difference between a house stock and a high-end specialty paper. i love specialty papers, and it’s any client’s choice on where they want to save and where they prefer to spend, so my advice on paper is, ask your designer to help you choose what is appropriate to the piece, and ask if it’s a house stock or special order. as for printing, based on your quantity needed, a printer can choose between a digital press for shorter runs, or offset lithography for longer runs [and web presses for really huge runs]. as i mentioned in the plan ahead section, if you’re able to combine projects and print them together, you can turn several short runs into a single cost-effective long run, which not only saves money, but in some cases can allow you to use a process that would have been otherwise unaffordable. there is also the option of gang printing, which uses offset lithography, but rather than dedicating the sheet of paper to your job alone, the printer gangs several together and keeps the press running constantly. this process is often cheaper than the alternatives, but the quality you sacrifice is that you only get to choose from among a couple papers, and you don’t get to approve the color, so it can be slightly off. if these factors aren’t a problem for you, gang printing can be another way to save.

when not to go cheap
i think there’s always a line that should be drawn to avoid the penny wise pound foolish scenario. one thing i’d advise against is trying to find the cheapest designer possible to do your project. the lowest priced designers on the market are also the least experienced, and that often costs more down the line. this lack of experience usually also means they can’t advise you on all the factors and processes that might be best for your project or your bottom line. i also advise against using print processes that are wasteful, excessively toxic, or using a shop whose practices allow them to get around the cost of compliance with environmental standards. being sustainable does imply higher costs, but the benefits are important enough that i think other cost-cutting strategies are in order.

what it comes down to is plan, proof & ask questions about the cost factors that affect your budget. instead of thinking along the lines of “how can you make this cheaper for me” think more about “what can i do to bring the cost of this work down?” sometimes, the little things you do add up in a big way, not only for your wallet, but you’ll have a great relationship with your designer, who will appreciate a client that understands the process.