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  • Writer's pictureanmeilittle

Marketplace New Haven Website

A project with Design for America (DFA)

Published online mid-July 2021


During the academic year 2020-21, I lead a small group of students through the human-centered design process. With help from my co-lead, Christopher Nathan (YC ‘23+1), we forged a project in collaboration with the New Haven Small Business Development Center and with the Town Green District Executive Director, Win Davis. By the end of the year we were able to design, produce, and launch the New Haven Marketplace website (linked here). The site features small business filtered by type, videos and blog posts on featured business owners, and a business guide for business owners.

Read below to learn about the design process.

Research / Empathize

In order to better understand our audience (both business owners and business customers), we interviewed several individuals around the Yale community. We asked questions ranging from shopping habits to opinions about small businesses. Some examples of questions asked are as follows:

To customers:

How often do you shop at small businesses? Where do you shop?

How do you hear about small business?

What do you value about the places you shop at?

To businesses:

What are some ways that you promote your product/business?

Describe a typical interaction with a customer?

How has the pandemic affected the way you run your business?

The responses to these questions gave us insight into the motivations behind running and supporting small businesses. Many business owners showed interest in sharing their stories and forming personal connections with customers. Similarly, we found that customers often shop at small businesses when they are intentionally interested in supporting the owner. We also discovered that many customers value small businesses for unique items and gifts.

Finally, we learned that a lot of students and individuals in the Yale community are eager to support small businesses; however, many of them couldn’t name more than a couple of small businesses. There was obviously a lack of information to direct individuals to small businesses.


Based on our research, we developed a How Can We statement in order to guide our project and future design steps: How can we equip New Haven small businesses with the tools to improve their community engagement, increase awareness, and promote their business?


We came up with many ideas of how to promote small businesses. We considered creating a city brochure for small businesses, a Yale hosted event to feature local businesses, a virtual business scavenger hunt, and even developing rewards systems for shopping at small businesses. Eventually, we choose to develop a website to feature small businesses, share their stories, and to provide the owners with additional resources. Especially during a pandemic, we believed that a digital platform was the best way to reach users.

After learning about the free business consulting that Town Green offers to small businesses, we also wanted to create a business guide that covers similar topics as the consults. We split the guide into three sections: social media practices, website guide, and exterior and interior design.

Prototype / Test / Redesign

The majority of our project focused on designing the marketplace website. We took data from an existing marketplace website and completely redesigned the site to make it more user friendly and modern. Some of the design components we focused on are as follows:

  • nine pages (home, shop retail, shop services, shop experiences, videos, blog, about, contact, resources)

  • consistency in color, font and layout (navy blue with light green accents)

  • animations and interactive features (buttons, scroll features, drop down menus)

  • including business links to respective business websites

  • custom coded interactions, structuring, and filters

  • identifying more personable photographs to use (rather than overused stock photos)

The second part of our project involved the creation of a blog to feature business owners and their backgrounds. We developed a questionnaire to capture the story behind the business with questions such as How did you start your business? and What’s a long term goal you have?

We created a master list of 200+ small businesses in New Haven and their contact emails. We then sent out the question form and compiled responses into blog posts. These blog posts are to be posted periodically on the marketplace website.

The third and final part of our project was the creation of a business guide that provided information about managing social media and a website and designing interior and exterior commercial spaces. This guide was created using Canva and Adobe InDesign. The final guide can be viewed on the marketplace website under the resource tab.

With lots of iterative feedback from Town Green and Wow Creative Design Group, we were able to launch the site in mid-July 2021. We hope that increased traffic to the site will increase engagement with the businesses featured.

Plans are in the works to continue expanding the site’s blog posts, social media presence, and press release.


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