Design thinking classes partner with Founders to create new beer

illustrations of a beer bottle label, says Old Fashioned and has illustrated people around a campfire
Students in a design thinking class created a beer bottle label for a Founders beer that other students helped create.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

In March, beer aficionados can sip a new brew crafted by Grand Valley students who, because of the pandemic, barely stepped foot inside a brewery.

Design thinking students in Darien Ripple's classes have partnered with Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids to create a new beer for the company. It's the first time in Founders' history that an outside group has picked the ingredients and created marketing plans for a product.

Ripple, assistant professor of integrative, religious, and intercultural studies, proposed to Founders the idea of a two-semester project. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed it to a three-semester project but added there has been plenty of work for all students and Founders team members, many of whom are Grand Valley alumni, join students regularly via Zoom.

"I stressed to the Founders team the importance of collaborative creativity," Ripple said. "Our students have gone through the entire design thinking process, from empathy to defining ideas to ideation, and will soon put out a pilot product."

headshot of Darien Ripple
Darien Ripple, assistant professor of integrative, religious, and intercultural studies
Image Credit: University Communications

The job for the winter 2020 semester class focused on ingredients. To capitalize on the state's agriculture industry, students chose adding cherry concentrate to an old Founders recipe for a bourbon-barrel aged brew reminiscent of an old fashioned cocktail. Hence, the "Old Fashioned" beer was brewed in the summer and is now aging in barrels at Founders.

Liz Wonder, Founders sustainability coordinator, said the beer "tells the story of Michigan agriculture and how sustainability supports local agriculture."

During a team pitch meeting to Founders staff members, Christiana Stankewitz, who is majoring in integrative studies, said her group tailored their pitch to focus on nostalgia, the feeling one might get when drinking an old fashioned.

Ripple added the winter 2020 semester class somewhat foreshadowed how people might feel about community when coming out of the pandemic. "When they narrowed it down to an old fashioned, they were thinking back in March and April 2020 of a post-COVID world and what we will feel like without having to wear a mask, and how nice it will be to be back in the community," he said.

Students focused on sustainability and noted on the product's label that unused grain will go to Beer City Dog Biscuits, a Grand Rapids company that creates dog treats and has a mission of employing people with disabilities. A QR code on the bottle will also direct consumers who might wish to donate to Urban Roots, a nonprofit farm, market and education center in southwest Grand Rapids.

Joycelle Shoemaker, a studio art major, helped design the label. Shoemaker's design shows a small group of people enjoying a bonfire near a lake. "Whatever age the consumer is, we can all relate to simple times of enjoying a campfire," she said. "The image includes a lake and dune grass."

Wonder said the Old Fashioned will have a limited release, both on tap and for purchase, in March.