(Re)Discovering Ninth Street

Our Detail & Design office is just a few blocks from the bustling Ninth Street area, so we were thrilled when the Ninth Street Merchants Association reached out to us about helping them with their branding and marketing effort. If you are familiar with Durham, you are familiar with Ninth Street as an area where you can go for shopping, dining, and services, all within a few blocks. The area is walkable and the majority of the businesses are locally owned and operated. It was a great fit for our studio and we were excited to get started!

The new Ninth Street logo, which combines hand-drawn elements with traditional fonts. 

The new Ninth Street logo, which combines hand-drawn elements with traditional fonts. 

The first step was conceptualizing a logo that encompassed the fun and flavor of the district. Ninth Street has been at the heart of Durham for decades, and it’s personality embraces its age and its diversity. This is no generic, strip-mall-type shopping location. It’s a truly unique area, and for this reason we wanted to incorporate a hand-drawn element. Our talented illustrator Mary Johnson-Rockers drew the shops of Ninth Street, taking inspiration from its actual buildings while also taking a bit of creative license. The drawing was digitized and hand colored in Illustrator, producing a truly one of a kind image that captures the flavor of the street. Next, we added a simple script with the invitation to “Discover 9th Street.” The finished product is a logo that incorporates the district under a single branded image. The logo is displayed on the website, but soon Durhamites will see it on shirts and storefronts as well.

After we had the brand identity established in the form of a logo, we went to work on the website. The Merchants Association wanted a relatively simple website that was also informative and eye catching. The main goal was to establish an online home for people to read more about all of the businesses in the area, while also providing some interesting background (in the form of history) and some practical information (in the form of directions, parking information, and bike and bus information). The Association members provided us with photos to use, and we contacted the Durham Library as well as the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association for the historical photos. The content was developed in-house by our copywriter, Kate Van Dis.

Because the history of Ninth Street is so rich and so well-documented, it was a pleasure to dig through the old photographs and texts detailing the changes in West Durham. Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection is a true treasure in our community, as are the incredibly helpful librarians who staff it. Kate sifted through oral narratives from former Erwin Mill workers, West End Neighborhood Association papers dating back to the 1980’s, and archived editions of The Herald-Sun newspaper. The result is a succinct overview of Ninth Street’s history, starting with the Rigsbee farm and ending in today’s modern and upbeat West Durham.

In total, four of us at Detail & Design collaborated on the Ninth Street project, a process made even more interesting by the fact that our client, in this case, was not an individual or a single business, but rather a group of businesses - a merchant association. Working as a collaborative on behalf of entire group of businesses to create a unified marketing front was energizing for our team. As you can probably guess, it also presented its challenges. If you are part of a group that represents diverse interests, people, or businesses, here are a few tips that can help you work together to achieve a marketing goal.

  1. Designate a small committee to serve as the point people. This will streamline the process and get the project done in a timely manner. The Ninth Street Merchants  Association agreed upon three members to serve as main points of contact throughout the process. These three worked directly with the Detail & Design team, and communicated back to the larger group when needed.

  2. Incentivize buy-in from the group. All other members of the group need to feel invested in the process and final product as well - after all, the work will benefit everyone, not just those on the smaller committee. To do this, convey the value of the project (in this case, a logo and website) to the larger group and highlight what benefits they will receive by being included in this larger branding effort.

  3. Outsource what you can. In this case, every single business in the Association is busy running their own individual businesses. It is unlikely that any one person from within has the time, capacity, or know-how to step outside of running their own business to complete a project as large as this one on behalf of the group. This is the type of thing that can get talked about in group meetings forever - without anything actually ever being done. Don’t let that happen to you! Studios like ours make it easy and affordable to outsource this type of communications project so that you can keep on doing whatever it is that you do best.

We are proud that Ninth Street chose local for their marketing needs. It’s a great reminder for all of us to shop local whenever we can - your local Durham community is thriving! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to Ninth Street to grab some dinner for my family.

Visit the new Ninth Street website here: http://www.discover9thstreet.com