Accessible Cannabis Before It was Cool
Before legal recreational use of marijuana in Nevada, Blackbird wanted to become the all-in-one e-commerce platform for dispensaries. We said hello to the challenge—and goodbye to a normal sleep schedule.
So, what’s the deal?
One thing we know about people: Fads die. Distribution won’t. This is where Blackbird could really make an impact (well, more than they already were).
Blackbird was the first operator to receive recreational wholesale distribution license from the State of Nevada, and they serviced 90% of the market during this time period. They wanted to become a bigger player in the cannabis market by offering their customers a comprehensive platform where everything from sales and delivery to account management could be taken care of.
But there was a ticking deadline. To compete in this quick growing market, we needed to have their point-of-sale (POS) software ready to go. (Good thing we’re always looking to push ourselves… and another reason to up our caffeine consumption.)
In the weeds
There were three stages in our partnership with Blackbird: research, product development, and brand creation. Here’s how we did it.
We made sure Blackbird’s platform takes both of their audiences—consumers and businesses—into consideration. For the former audience, we created a workflow that encouraged consumers to search products, use the delivery options, and discover new content. For the latter, we offered a deeper look in the product suite while explaining how Blackbird can solve businesses’ pain points.
In terms of the product development portion of our partnership with Blackbird, a majority of our research revolved around POS systems, then wireframing and adapting as the project continued.
We quickly established a working relationship to move at an accelerated pace and pivot as needed. (We’re only human, and we knew we weren’t going to get everything right from the start. Keeping those expectations in mind led to a flexible process.) Since both Blackbird’s internal team and our team would build portions of the project, we collaborated closely with them to iron out project requirements and decide who would do what. It was important for us to understand both the technical and legal implications as this was an emerging industry in the world of business tax.
Blackbird is a customer service company first because they are people-focused. To enhance the experience of cannabis retailers and wholesalers, they wanted a platform that offered everything this industry would need, including logistics dispatching, facility transportation, online menu creation, and maintenance as well as home delivery. Over the course of a month, we created a POS system that could do just that.
We also built in functionalities that accounted for taxes, medical card verification, and ensured the proper labels would be printed (as this was for medical use only at the time).
The MVP of the application was created using a mix of Angular & PHP. The Blackbird team worked heavily on the infrastructure component in tandem with our Angular frontend to accomplish the project in record time. We used a variety of frameworks to speed up development while adding our own modifications to improve the experience throughout.
Alongside the software was a hardware component: interfacing with the printers for receipts and formatting. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to design and implement typography on a receipt printer (/end sarcasm here). Spoiler alert: It can be done, and while it might give you several headaches along the way, the sweet sigh of success at the end is worth it.
From there all we had to do was work with the Blackbird team to port it to their infrastructure and help knowledge-transfer, so their team could finish it off. Their team took over all development going forward and built it into one of the best platforms in the nation.
Now that Blackbird was a one-stop-shop for cannabis distribution, they wanted to modernize their brand to match their newly made, robust product and their wider array of offerings. We collaborated on elements that could beautify the brand—such as illustrations, photography, animations, and digital standardizations—as well as fine-tuned messaging to help them stand out in the market. Luckily, we had a 3-month deadline to turn dreams into reality.
Their identity—previously created by the talented folks at L&M—already had a strong foundation to build on. We made some minor adjustments to the typography and scale of the mark to work across their multiple digital platforms, but spent the majority of our time defining the visual language at scale and expanding beyond the identity.
The communities Blackbird operates within are super important to them, and they wanted their brand to feel unique. With that in mind, we hired local artists to create custom illustrations that could be used across the entire brand. Part of the excitement in using a variety of illustrators is that their art style will always vary (and this is key to Blackbird’s brand: They encourage innovation, exploration, and new forms of design).
Another brand element we wanted to get right was the right photography style. As a people-driven company that is designed to enhance the overall customer experience, we selected authentic, unstaged images. Additionally, transportation is a large part of Blackbird’s business. So we included movement within the photographs, like ones with a motion blur or even a birds-eye view. This helped differentiate this brand from competitors.
Since we’re on the topic of motion, let’s talk about the animations we created for Blackbird. They weren’t in-your-face or dramatized, but subtle and understated. Our shared vision (and implementation) stemmed from the idea of fluidity—that our animations should behave as real elements would.
Successful relationships with consumers and business partners stems from a strong technological foundation. It was very important for the digital platform to match how people behave and have a logical flow that matched the customer journey. Intuitive navigation was a key part of modernizing the site.
Long story short
We’ve had many clients who have allowed us to challenge ourselves. Blackbird showed us once again that the sky’s the limit. We were happy to be Blackbird’s partner on this venture because it helped us both level-up. They became such a hit that HERBL—California's largest cannabis supply chain solutions company—acquired them a couple years after developing their e-commerce platform and rebranding.
Most of the photography shot and provided by Commence studio (formerly L&M).
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The cannabis market’s newest player
Blackbird’s platform could make the marijuana industry easier. It went beyond what other services offered by allowing users to manage and track accounting, customer and lobby wait times, and more—in one place.
Innovation and implementation on a dime
Rome might not have been built in a month, but Blackbird’s POS system sure was. KPS3 spent many hours (and downed many cans of Red Bull) to get this system up and running within thirty days.
Rebuilding the birdhouse
There are two pieces at the forefront of Blackbird’s brand: people and design. We created a brand that embodied this (and had some pretty rad use of UX elements and animations).