America has a long-standing love affair with fast food. Channeling the joy and nostalgia of a bygone era, Starbird is reinventing both fried chicken and the modern dining experience.
Creating a new take on fast food
The Culinary Edge, a food strategy firm in San Francisco, approached us in 2015 with a new concept for a fried chicken chain restaurant where the food is both healthier and sustainably raised. Building off their initial vision, we embarked on a series of workshops and strategy sessions to position them within the marketplace — seeking opportunities to bring this unique vision to life.
While the concept itself was targeted at the quick serve and fast food dining segments as a whole, it became obvious that in order to communicate how different the offering was, Starbird would need to look and sound different as well. Developing The Culinary Edge’s internal strategy work, we collaboratively helped define what the Starbird brand was about — the brand pillars, attributes, and essence. Several exercises examined the landscape of aesthetics and visual identity within the dining and quick-serve space, separating the good from the bad.
We determined it was necessary to cut through the typical noise of modern fast food aesthetics. Design played an important role, but the food and the experience surrounding it needed to be the star. Additionally, there was a strong desire to tap into the joy and fun of the golden age of American fast food, without being retro or unauthentic.
The sketching process in the studio is fast and furious. Idea generation, no matter how messy, nets more ideas that can be assessed and refined later. The genesis of the final mark came about in initial sketches done even before the naming process had been finalised. The simplicity, communication of freshness, (“hatching”) as well as the addition of the egg, made one of the first sketches resonate strongly. You can see at one point the name “Spring Chicken” was being tossed around, thankfully it was abandoned.
Further refinements were made, looking for extra opportunities with geometry and symbolism. Looking at the endless number of ways a chicken’s head, neck and beak could be drawn continued to inform the final outcome.
The conversion to digital, and the precision it affords, allowed for more options, while also proving some of the sketches to be dead ends. The hardest part of the design process for everyone in the studio was selecting the design we would present.
Ultimately, the direction captured in some of the very first sketches resonated the most with us and the client. After further icon refinement and typographic exploration, the final logotype was born. The aspect of the Starbird brand identity that resonated the most was its ability to cut through the visual clutter found in the world of traditional fast food. The resulting mark communicates a bold freshness, combining the simplest forms of a chicken and egg (the latter as a nod to their breakfast offerings). Accompanying typography is clean and direct, matching the optical weight of the mark, while still having enough character to be distinct on its own.
The physical presence of the building and signage plays a major roll in the initial brand experience. With the flagship location built from a former Pizza Hut, the new design used a facade of wooden pickets to reinvent the infamous “hat” roof. Complementing this high level of finish, our signage is crafted from dimensional aluminium, lit from within.
The in-restaurant experience is bright and nostalgic, utilising the Starbird signature stripe pattern on tray liners and custom straws, with simple packaging allowing the food to be the star.
A strong differentiator of the Starbird restaurant model is its technology-based ordering — featuring online, mobile, and in-store menu screens. Simplicity and ease-of-use feature prominently in our design approach. Curbside delivery is a key component of the service experience. Food ordered beforehand is delivered to your parking spot — labeled with bright yellow graphic numerals. Takeaway packaging carries the same less-is-more aesthetic while still remaining iconic.
Large digital menu boards automatically transition during the day from breakfast to dinner, and tie into the mobile and online NCR systems. Heroic, silhouetted, food photography is larger than life, presenting customers with a desirable and realistic image of what they’ll be consuming.
From interior graphics to employee uniforms, the design holds true to the philosophy that all elements should seamlessly integrate with one another. With a direct set of graphic elements, colours and typography, flexibility for expansion was considered from the beginning. With a first location now open in Sunnyvale, California, and three more on the way in the coming year, you can expect big things from this little chick.
Strategy, identity, packaging, website, app design, signage & graphics: Strohl
Architecture: Zero Ten Design
Food photography: Scott Peterson
Lifestyle photography: Cynthia Linh
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