Bad Design: Marble Slab Creamery


At first glance, Marble Slab Creamery is just another ice cream store with an average looking logo. If you do find the opportunity to be a customer, you’ll find such a frustrating lack of attention to good design principles, it may make you feel like your customized ice cream cone has melted all over your hand and down your sleeve.

I’ve been to Marble Slab a handful of times, and each time, the lines were long and the menu boards incoherent. Perhaps the Houston based franchise has a more educated following in the United States, but as an average ice cream cone eater in Calgary, I remain baffled each time I go. To appreciate the issues here it’s important to understand the basic premise of the store which is to select basic flavours of ice cream and choose “mixins” such as popular chocolate bars, gummy bears, cookie dough, or chocolate chips, etc. Once you’ve selected your customized concoction, it’s mixed together for you on some kind of small marble slab by a competent staff member.

From a design perspective, there are several flaws that serve to slow down product delivery time, create long lines, confuse customers, frustrate graphic designers and provide the opportunity for Marble Slab to lose potential revenue when people fail to understand the premise or are discouraged by the wait.

Confusing Store Presentation
Firstly, the store is presented in such fashion that leads you to believe that this is a standard ice cream store where you line up to look at the flavours and select based on what they have that day. I find myself waiting in line, frustrated that the people in front of me are preventing me from making an informed flavour decision. Instead of presenting basic, common and consistent ice cream in glass cabinets, why not use this space along the glass to help customers understand the ordering process? For example, Step one, choose a flavour, step two, choose your mixins, step three choose a cone. It might also help to have a sign outside the store, clearly stating that making your own ice cream flavour is the reason you are lining up. This concept needs to be spelled out in order to speed up the decision making process and reduce line up times. At the location I was at in Market Mall, there were signs all over the place advertising cakes, quarts, and bonus offers. This certainly doesn’t help with basic customer comprehension or streamlining the purchasing process.

Mysterious Menu Board
The menu board at Marble Slab is a modern wonder of confusion. Chock full of text, devoid of photos and blocked by ice cream cones, cameras and shelving. Every time I’ve ordered, I’ve paid without question because I had no idea what I had ordered or how much it cost. There are so many types of waffle cones to choose from, some chocolate dipped, others vanilla or cinnamon. Even now, having a photo for reference, I cannot calculate the price of a typical ice cream cone. To remedy this problem, step one: remove obstructions from the customer’s view of the menu board. Step two: simplify. Depicting choices with photography is the easiest way to convey a concept. Make sample concoctions easily available closer to the front of the store, and define the ordering process here as well. Perhaps it might be a wise idea to have a separate menu board to outline other products like cake, pie, and milkshakes. Ice cream cones, because of the complexity of the ordering process should be front and centre. Step three: list the mixins! Incredibly, there is no mention of these on the menu board.

Purposeful Advertising
I’ve received coupons for Marble Slab at various events which was the reason I went for ice cream the first time. Strangely enough, the main message in any advertising I’ve seen is “the freshest ice cream on earth”. It’s baffling to me why Marble Slab does not make it more clear their mission of providing customized ice cream solutions. Fresh ice cream seems gimmicky and absurd. We are talking about frozen food here after all. The opportunity to separate ones self from the competition by advertising what makes Marble Slab different has so many appealing benefits, it’s simply strange they haven’t chosen this marketing route in such a customizable world.

Ice cream is fun and easy to eat and perhaps mixed with some practical design sense, it won’t have to be so hard to order.

  • Meg

    Brilliant dissection of everything wrong with their store design… how could a large chain like this expect to succeed with such poor store flow? I had the exact same experience when I went to visit awhile back.
    I love your website and blog, and found it extremely motivating as an aspiring graphic designer. Please continue to post design critiques!