I am visiting Cali, Colombia on assignment with Partners of the Americas’ USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program. Partners pairs American volunteers (typically farmers) with producers, farmers cooperatives, agricultural universities, in developing regions of the Americas for a cultural and professional knowledge exchange. The company I am working with, Zen Naturals, has previously hosted technical and agricultural volunteers that have helped the start-up train Indigenous farmers from the Paez tribe to harvest ingredients that become the foundations of their products. Currently, Zen Naturals has developed a line a skin care products called Zue Beauty. This product line includes quinoa-based facial scrubs, toners and creams, but the mission of the company is much greater than the natural product they manufacture.
The Paez tribes live in a remote mountain region of the Cauca Department. As farmers, they have been harvesting coca leaves (the basis of cocaine) for centuries and make it into a mildly stimulating tea. But for the past decades, they have been forced to contend with the presence of the FARC rebel force in addition to the drug traffickers and cocaine refineries invading their region. Before long, drug traffickers took control of the coca production, seducing the impoverished communities who were surviving on subsistence agriculture.
My role as a graphic designer on assignment in Colombia is to work with Zen Naturals to help them with the design, branding and social media strategy of their Zue Beauty product line. In the coming weeks, this brand will hit the shelves of Whole Foods’ markets across Mid-Atlantic region in the United States.This is a big deal for this small, Colombian beauty and skincare start-up. If Zue products sell well in the sample market, they will sell the products nationwide. I arrive in Colombia eager to offer my design support, and to learn about Colombian history, culture, food and dance.
The Zue Crew
Zen Natural founder, Gabriel Maya, picks me up from my hotel on my first day in Cali. Since the volunteer assignment is only two weeks long, we head straight to the office to meet the team. The office is located in a seemingly residential neighborhood of Cali, relaxed with tree-lined streets. I am joined by another Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, Nicole Opie who is going to be working with the Zen Naturals team on their website search engine optimization strategy. For the first day we absorb all we can about the Zue product line and make a plan for the next few weeks of work.
For a start-up, Zue already was way ahead of the game as far as design and branding. They had a professional logo with basic logo guidelines. They had package designs for all their products, printed marketing materials and a basic website. They had an in-house team of two designers (Juan and Sebastián) with strong design and illustration skills. From this strong foundation, we were able to determine what was missing and what needed work. I identified that the website and strategy for social media were the areas which needed the most improvement. The website was successful at telling the story of Zue, and the products and farmers, but lacked a strong home page. The website was inconsistent design-wise with the print marketing materials and the “Give Back” interface needed to be re-designed.
The Zue Brand
My first step was to tackle the “Give Back” section of the website, which needed to be a place where customers who purchased a beauty product would go to enter a code from the packaging. Upon entering the code, the customer would then be able to choose between an animal, environmental or societal cause to have a portion of proceeds benefit. The causes functioned like campaigns, each with tiered goals based on a point system. Within a given period of time, points accumulated as customers entered the codes and when a project reached its goal, the team at Zen Naturals would give back accordingly. This was a rather complicated interface that needed to communicate the success of projects as well as projects in progress. I recommended they use the term “Zue-Gooder” to describe customers who engaged with the brand at this level. And the term could be used as a call to action, “Become a Zue-Gooder!”
Using existing illustration assets, colors, fonts, and photography, I re-designed the interface for the Give Back section showing how the user progressed through the experience with each frame. The process was very collaborative. I showed design comps early on to the team and we walked through revisions and feedback. The team was mostly bilingual, but to make sure everyone was on the same page, Gabriel would pause to translate. I would work from the hotel, but take an Uber into the office every day or so to check in and review work. By Friday of the first week, I had completed the Give Back section and was able to turn over the design files to the internal team so they could begin development.
The Home Page
After completing the “Give Back” section of the website, I focused my attention on the home page. The current home page featured an outdated marquee and minimal information about the product. We decided that the products needed to be front and center and that the farmer story also needed to be told on the home page. I re-designed the home page to re-order the information, provide emphasis on the product, and offered up some light copywriting to give a general sense for what the length, content and style should be. The design style of the Give Back and Home pages were drafted off of some existing elements from the original design as well as illustration and style elements from an existing brochure. My recommendation to Zen Naturals was that all their design work tie together in order to make it more consistent. To that end, as I worked I began to compile a document of brand assets and specs that would guide all future design work.
The Whole Plan
We kicked off week two with a brainstorming session about the Whole Foods campaign roll out. Zen Naturals had booked a marketing company to represent the Zue Beauty brand at a table in the store, hand out samples and sing the praises of Zue Beauty products to potential customers. We talked through what the goals were of that engagement and what actions we wanted customers to take (e.g. sign up for Zue’s email list). We discussed what visuals best represent the company. The samples were to be handed out in a small, decorative cloth bag and I was tasked with designing a brochure to be inserted. We decided that the brochure should align closely in design and content to the newly designed home page and focus on the farmer story as well as give exact details on how the Give Back program works. I was able to utilize existing fonts and textures for the design of the 4-panel promotional roll fold piece. The designer from Zen Naturals showed me paper samples of sugar cane paper, widely available in Colombia and we decided that would be a great choice for the brochure
One of the missing pieces from the existing brand story was that the designs were lacking a Colombian feel. While the company was featuring Colombian farmers, the fact that Zen Naturals was a Colombian company and that South America is where all the ingredients originated was lost. Americans crave tropical products and I suggested that they develop an additional component that gives the brand a more tropical feel. I provided several examples of tropical plant illustrations that I thought could be useful and Sebastián, the talented in house illustrator set to work on working up new assets. To support this messaging, I designed a “stamp” graphic to be used on the home page and in the brochure. Featuring a parrot, the words South America and the colors of the Colombia flag, the stamp gave the designs a proper identifier as to the product’s origin. We encouraged the staff to be proud of the Colombian roots and make sure that future design work represents the product’s tropical ingredients.
Upon completing the website re-design and brochure project for Zue Beauty, I moved on to social media templates and compiling a final brand guidelines document for future design work. Social media was an area I thought could use the most improvement and Nicole and I felt the brand needed to move away from generic lifestyle, feel-good posts that had nothing to with the brand to more targeted images/content that related directly to one of the core brand values. We created a litmus test for content. Does it celebrate women? Does it relate to the product? Does it talk about Cycle of Zue? Does it celebrate Colombia? Does it profile a customer? Does it reflect a core value? If not, it should not be a part of your social content. When developing social content, Zue should choose a theme, a content type (profile, product, lifestyle, etc) and an action. Nicole and I offered examples for how to engage with an audience including call for audience content and customer profiles. I came up with the hashtag #uniquelyzue and gave example for how that tag can be used to highlight customers and showcase lifestyle. We discussed the difference between evergreen (ongoing campaigns) vs promotional campaigns that are short term and encouraged the team to develop an editorial calendar for social and blog content. I provided many visual examples of successful social campaigns in the US from Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to REI’s “Force of Nature” and called out what was successful about each. Finally I designed a few Instagram graphic examples to be used as a template for future content.
By Friday of the last week of our Colombian trip, I presented the final brand guidelines document to the team, and packaged up all the assets to share back with the designers. I believe the team is well positioned to have a successful product launch in the United States. While they have a very talented design team, I recommend that they work with a copywriter in the States to help them with writing their social content. Advertising and engaging on social media is tricky and I believe it is too hard to do successfully without living within the culture. I look forward to seeing how Zue Beauty evolves and hope to find their products on the shelves of my Whole Foods soon.