By Celine Everson   Published Dec 05, 2019 at 10:03 AM

This article is in a series by emerging creatives at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) that explores both the apparent and hidden influences of professional art and design in the Milwaukee area.

There is a great deal of thought and creativity that goes into any successful establishment. And there is a remarkable amount of creative work in Milwaukee that goes on behind the scenes for the local businesses that everyone knows and loves. A visually appealing identity is a very important asset in order to stand out to both local customers and out-of-town visitors. The most successful businesses in Milwaukee have thoughtful identity design which displays the quality of their products and services.

Whether people recognize the influence of design on a local business or not, it certainly plays a huge role in its success and popularity. Small, local businesses often reflect the local community because they are the community. The community is eager to support local, because these businesses are one of the many things that makes this city feel so homey and unique. 

Milwaukee’s thriving art and design scene directly impacts local businesses by developing effective identity design in branding and marketing. 

Nate Panetti is a Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) alumni who works as a designer and animator at Rev Pop in Bayview. Rev Pop is a small team of creatives and visionaries who specialize in brand identity work. 

Panetti has done design work with the team for an array of local businesses including BelAir, Blue Bat, Smoke Shack, Onesto, Café Centraal, Café Benelux, Café Hollander, the War Memorial and others. 

BelAir is a well-established, modern Mexican restaurant that brings a fun and fresh attitude to all customer service and is a favorite among locals.

Logo signage for BelAir, the modern Mexican cantina.

Panetti says identity design is extremely important for the success of any business, and in BelAir’s case, it was a huge cause for the popularity.

Panetti says that they try to follow a certain order for all of their work: the same color scheme, lightly toned photography, and minimal social formats. All the design work for BelAir is meant to appear fresh and tasteful while also hinting at retro Hispanic design.

"To me, the best designs in Milwaukee are the modern takes on brands to make them look retro," says Panetti. "By using retro assets for BelAir, we are able to make design that looks appealing to the mid-20s demographic."

Hailey Madej is a senior at MIAD studying Communication Design. She also works as a muralist and art director at Dead Bird Brewing Co. in Brewer’s Hill

Madej’s mural for the Dead Bird taproom is inspired by the skyline of the city that embraces its love for local beer, while also incorporating playful attributes which appear in the unique names of the craft beers sold there, like Wine Thief, Devil Monkey and Muscleman. 

Details from the taproom mural, displaying the "wine thief" done by Hailey Madej
at Dead Bird Brewing Co.

Madej also believes that Dead Bird aims to be a more inclusive brewing company, because it appeals to the vegan community in Milwaukee by advertising the array of certified vegan beers and snacks available, as well as by promoting gluten-free options. 

Madej says identity design "absolutely" has much to do with the success and popularity of a local business. Dead Bird Brewing Company’s online presence especially affects the business and the logo for the peculiar name really draws people in. 

Glassware designed by Hailey Madej at Dead Bird Brewing Co.

Kimberly Dunn is the design manager at Stone Creek Coffee. Another favorite shop among locals, all the design work at Stone Creek is sourced entirely in-house. 

Dunn feels Stone Creek’s identity design indeed captures the voice of their brand, because one of the things they like to push is the idea of "serious play." 

"We work hard, but we also play hard and we want our design to reflect that," says Dunn.

Logo signage for Stone Creek along with graphic art that goes well with the brand.

There is a large variety of coffee shops in the city of Milwaukee, but Stone Creek stands out to locals. Their motto is "We are coffee geeks, who never stop learning, creating remarkable care." Dunn believes this sets them apart because they dive deep into everything they do, constantly finding new and better ways to serve their customers and seeing the importance in providing services that are truly remarkable – where people can’t help but comment on how well they are taken care of. 

Dunn agrees that identity design has a lot to do with the popularity and success of a local business. Stone Creek has gone through several changes with their identity, all to find the right fit that they feel matches their personal brand statement and goals. Dunn thinks Stone Creek’s current identity design resonates with customers because of its fun and playful nature.