by Thais Amaral//
ABSTRACT// This paper reflects on brand identity and the designer’s role in translating client ambitions and values into effective visual communication. Process played a key role in re-designing the identity of a small Thai restaurant in Vancouver, BC. The following aspires to reflect on the role played by research in creating a cohesive product that extends beyond decoration while still retaining cultural value. The benefit of multiple iterations and stylistic explorations is not understated here. This essay proposes that the role of the designer is to facilitate communication between business owner and clientele by portraying and translating emotions and values already inherent in the company.
KEYWORDS// Identity Design, Process, Restaurant, Visual Communication, Branding Identity
INTRODUCTION// The perception clients have about a certain business will influences its success. Because we live in a world where consumers are constantly bombarded with visuals and huge varieties of products to choose from, it has become essential for a business to make a good first impression. In this sense, identity design plays a huge role in setting a business apart its competition while also making it seem desirable and trustworthy. Identities with “character and personality forge connections with consumers through unique, evocative, and multidimensional messages” (Gobé, 2001). It is the role of the designer to understand the needs of both business owners and clients in order to translate these needs into a visual form that communicates effectively.
In this context, this paper reviews the design process, which deals with identity design for small businesses. I will review the phases of my design and learning highlights using this opportunity to reinforce the role played by research. This paper illustrates a project that aimed to affect people’s perceptions and behaviours towards a business, instead of acting as mere visual decoration.
BACKGROUND// The project analyzed here was part of a third year Communication Design course at Emily Carr University. The goal was to redesign the identity of a small restaurant, which offered good services, but suffered from poor visual identity. The design was to be informed by research and improved through the development of different iterations.
Even though this was an individual project, our class was initially divided into groups to share research and choose a restaurant to work with. My group decided to redesign the identity of a Thai restaurant, in Vancouver, BC. We wanted to work with an ethnic restaurant for the opportunity to explore not only the role of identity design as business strategy but how values from a certain culture can be integrated into an identity. While the final design was not implemented in the end, this project provided new design knowledge for all involved and contributed to transferable skills enhancing future projects.
RESEARCH QUESTION// According to Jorge Frascara, “the solution to a client’s needs is not the production of the visual communication, it is the modification of people’s attitudes or abilities in one way or another” (1998). In other words, quality and value in design should be measured by how adequately the visual communication solves the initial issue at hand. As the client did not adapt this project, there was not the true opportunity to test how the final design would impact an audience. Frascara’s point of view is one I agree with as it summarizes what I believe designers should always aim for. Since the beginning of this project I understood that only through research on identity design as well as on Thailand’s culture and cuisine would I be able to redesign not only the marketing materials but the experience of dining in the restaurant itself.
METHODOLOGY// When designers are presented with projects, they must ask questions of themselves and others in order to truly define what the problem is so that later it may be solved. It is now known that “design problems are ill-defined, [and] ill-structured” (Cross, 2001). With that in mind, the first step in our research process was to interview the owner of the restaurant to get a sense of the personality and core values of his business. According to him, the restaurant had been open for a little over a year and was his primary source of income. He showed the most pride in the friendly atmosphere, the staff, and in the authenticity of the food served. He told us the majority of customers were Caucasian, and young adults or students.
From visiting the restaurant we observed that the place offered really good food indeed, but lacked personality. The interiors were plain and the signage did not differentiate the restaurant from other restaurants nearby. There were three different versions of the logotype being used across different media. There were major issues of clarity for the brand.
The last stage of our group research was to find out more about local competition through their websites and online customer reviews. Looking at competition helps to identify possible threats and allows designers to position a client’s business so that it will stand out.
CREATING A DESIGN BRIEF// After doing some group research, it was time for the individual work to start. Separating the group was important because each person had their own perceptions of what the problem was and what approaches could be taken to solve it. By combining the findings I developed a design brief, outlining the main problems with the restaurant’s current identity, such as lack of uniqueness and cohesiveness.
I then presented my vision for the new identity as defined through keywords (youthful, personal and stimulating) that would later guide my visual explorations. Essentially, I wanted to create an identity that would appeal to young Caucasian customers while reflecting Thai culture in a fresh and modern way.
DEVELOPING MULTIPLE ITERATIONS// The first iteration I developed was based mostly on my first impressions of Thai culture and of the restaurant (Fig. 1). The visual style was inspired by Thai arts and crafts. At this point the brief had not yet been written and very little research had been done, because of this the work lacked the depth and research to validate it. From this phase I learned how important it is to move past first ideas, for the first one is never quite as informed or refined as it could be.
The concept developed for the second iteration was strongly driven by my desire to highlight the experience of eating Thai food. First of all, I decided to rename the restaurant as “Bungalow”. The name choice was intended to preserve and highlight the feeling of intimacy provided by the small size of the restaurant. The term “bungalow” evokes the idea of a retreat, a place where one stays to relax. I wanted customers to feel as though they were taking a break from a stressful world when eating at the restaurant. The visuals I created were exotic, stimulating, and reflected Thai arts and colors (Fig. 2).I was happy this iteration, so it frustrated me to leave it behind and work on yet another concept. In spite of this, I now see how developing multiple iterations is beneficial for the design process; it allows the designer to see things from a different point of view and raises the work to a higher level.
My third iteration was inspired by the flavours and characteristics of Thai food. This concept highlighted not only Thai culture but the product being offered to the clients. Through the name “Naturally Thai”, I hoped to convey both the authenticity of the restaurant and the healthiness of the food. I then attempted to convey healthiness and authenticity visually by implementing earthy tones and organic shapes (Fig. 3).
THE FINAL PRODUCT// After creating different concepts, I chose one to be developed into the final identity. I decided to work with my second concept, “Bungalow”. This was the time to make refinements of form, typography, colour and format. It was an experience that taught me how to summarize my learning and integrate the best of each iteration into one final solution.
FINDINGS// During my research process, I came across the idea of how brand identities should touch on the emotional needs of customers so as to meet their expectations. A quote that really caught my attention in that regard was one by Marc Gobé: “sensorial research leads to emotional states that help bring a new set of communications on how people experience brands. There is a loyalty to a brand when the brand connect with our senses” (2007).
This quote inspired me to create an identity using colour to evoke feelings and flavours while telling a story about Thai
culture that is memorable. Adding elements that provoke the senses and emotions is like adding a whole new layer of meaning to identity design. Identity is not just a logo or how a package looks, it is the “visual and verbal expression of a brand. Identity supports, expresses, communicates, synthesizes, and visualizes the brand. You can see it, touch it, hold it, hear it, watch it move” (Wheeler, 2006).
Aside from “touching” people, brand identities are more effective when they are sensitive to a culture and the social activities and customs it relates to. As reinforced by Marc Gobé, “food is a form of social exchange, and is imbued with special meanings in many cultures. Brands that recognize this and respond accordingly will never leave customers with a bad taste in their mouths” (Gobé, 2007). This way of thinking is really important to my design: in Thailand, food has a special meaning, so much that it is seen as an expression of their own identity. The importance of sitting down and enjoying food for Thai people is such that the Thai equivalent of the casual greeting, “How are you?” translates as “Have you eaten rice?” (Thai, 1998).
CONCLUSION// Even though I believed the outcome of this project to be quite satisfactory, I realize that further primary research would be essential to make it more valid and prove its success or failure in impacting the audience. Unfortunately, the primary research done was limited to informal surveys conducted over the Internet, information gathered from visiting the restaurant and the development of a persona, which was helpful but had no data to back it up.
On the positive side, something of importance that I learned from this project is that designers, in their creative processes, can always go further than once thought. Shifting perspectives and coming up with dramatically different concepts after developing a first is essential for the growth of both the project and the designer.
1. Cross, N. (2001). Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline versus Design Science. Design Issues, 17(3), 49-55. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.
2. Frascara, J. (1988). Graphic Design: Fine Art or Social Science?. In Bennett, A. (Ed.) Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.
3. Gobé, M. (2010). Emotional Branding. New York, NY: Allworth Press.
4. Gobé, M. (2006). Brandjam: Humanizing Brands Through Emotional Design. New York, NY: Allworth Press.
5. Thai, B. (1998). Thai Cuisine: The Spice of Life. Thai Airways International.
6. Wheeler, A. (2006). Designing Brand Identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building and Maintaining Strong Brands. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Fig 1. Amaral, T. (2009).
Fig 2. Amaral, T. (2009).
Fig 3. Amaral, T. (2009).
Fig 4. Amaral, T. (2009).