Beer Citizen: The Definition of a Passion Project
Look, there are three things that make life worth living: someone to love, a pocket full of cash, and the perfect beer. While you’ll have to figure out how to get the love and cash on your own (good luck with those), design and development firm Definition has you covered on the beer front.
- free apps for
- coasters, stickers and bottle totes
- Social media
Rob DiCiuccio, Evan Rusackas and Ryan Wilcoxson – the trio who founded the San Francisco company – were downing a few cold ones after work one night when they had their “ah hah” moment.
“The three of us are avid beer drinkers,” says Wilcoxson. “We’d all used other review sites and all had gripes about different features that they had or didn’t have.” They brainstormed about what the perfect beer review website would be like. Six months later, in the summer of 2012, Beer Citizen was born. The site lets beer lovers create detailed reviews and build profiles that identify their preferences.
“We wanted a data-centric review process,” says Wilcoxson. That way data could be parsed in a myriad of ways to help users quickly determine whether a particular beer is worth their time. Over the next several months, Definition developed smartphone apps that would allow users to review and research beers while on the go. (Feel free to insert your own obligatory “drink responsibly” language here.)
Cross-media Hops to it
No matter how innovative the website and apps were, they would be worthless if beer lovers didn’t know about them. That’s where Definition’s expertise in cross-media campaigns came in.
When coming up with the logo, they decided to focus on the hops – the flower used as a flavoring agent in beer. Since they knew the logo would be featured on various media, they made sure that it reproduced well in print and onscreen.
“Part of the design and selection process was asking ‘does it work crunched down to 16 pixels,’ ‘does it work on a shirt,’ ‘does it work on a billboard,’ ” Wilcoxson says. “It’s short-sighted not to consider everything.”
Next they developed printed materials to help promote the effort, such as coasters with the Beer Citizen logo, the Web URL and instructions on where to download the app. Those were distributed to a select number of bars in San Francisco and Southern Oregon. “Every time someone sees our logo out in the wild, it attracts new users,” he says.
As Inviting as Your Neighborhood Bar
Other materials followed: stickers, T-shirts and silkscreened bottle totes. When coming up with each element, they wanted to capture the lightheartedness that beer represents. “Wine can be snobby, but beer isn’t stuffy. It’s spilled on the floor, spilled on your shirt and everybody laughs when it happens,” says Wilcoxson.
To create that mood, Definition used a wood background on the website and the apps. The idea was to make Beer Citizen feel cozy and familiar. In fact, the background looks a lot like a bar that you might set your beer on.
They also purposely made the visual elements simple because they wanted users to not only be drawn to the site, but to find it easy to navigate and to contribute their reviews. “Usability and user experience are always our first consideration. Creating a simple, accessible look is a good first step in that,” Wilcoxson says.
Take the logo – “a line drawing with very basic shading” – which lends “a subliminal welcoming flavor to the website.”
Where Everyone Knows Your (Beer’s) Name
To teach users how the platform worked, they created video tutorials. “For better or worse, we’re a TV generation,” says Wilcoxson, and Web users are fond of getting their information in two minutes or less.
For one video, “we used a German waltz that is kind of evocative of [the German beer festival] Oktoberfest and drunken merriment, so we wanted to make something that again played on that fun factor that beer has and, at the same time, educate.”
In addition to the graphic branding, there’s the engagement branding that takes place via social media. Again, they attempted to keep the same fun theme, regardless of medium. “We keep it light-hearted always, we don’t get political; we keep it fun because beer is fun. So our social media engagement reflects that lifestyle.”
Finding time to juggle the project has sometimes been difficult because they still have their paying clients to support. But the effort is worth it, Wilcoxson says. “It’s pretty much our project to satisfy our creative needs that don’t always get met working with clients.”
While in the site’s earliest days, “we had to do a lot of beer drinking ourselves to seed the database,” for the last year there has been constant data coming in. “We get new users from all over the world, and it’s only getting better.”
It’s no wonder. As he so aptly puts it, “this is a community that is creating data for the greater beer-drinking good.”