Just as food has evolved from just cooking and eating, so too has design: gone are the days when sticking a bunch of info on the side of the building was enough. Both these industries have evolved, and borne with them new concepts of the human experience. From the color of the napkin beneath your plate to the tonal scheme of your Instagram blog, food and design have merged into a kind of experiential sandwich.Danny Miller is founder and creative director of NYC-based creative studio High Tide, which is responsible for designing the brands of now-iconic companies like glasses provider Warby Parker. He’s also helped food businesses and restaurants stay on top of their design game. We met up with Danny for burgers at Corner Bistro, one his favorite childhood spots, to hear him spills the beans on how he does it.
Design can elevate and enhance the experience of food by putting the visual senses forward, and by helping create atmosphere. Just as the interior of a restaurant is carefully considered in order to account for how light and sound travels, the design of a food brand’s website must consider the diner/user’s experience with the same level of detail. Like food, design itself can be the vehicle for a new experience, and if used thoughtfully and deliberately, it can enhance the food experience in unexpected and exciting ways.
Developing brands like Warby Parker taught me many things, including the power of inspiration and collaboration during the creative process, as well as the importance of consistency when creating and extending an identity. Regarding inspiration, I learned to step away from the computer and look around outside. Walking through the Lower East Side and photographing old store signage, then trying to imagine how we can impart the quirky details and character-developing imperfections onto a very contemporary brand was an important part of the exploratory phase. Collaboration goes hand-in-hand with inspiration, and working closely with the founders of Warby day after day meant that our visions were always aligned.
Another lesson has been about consistency. Once a strong brand voice and visual identity has been created, it’s hugely important that it’s applied thoughtfully and consistently to all subsequent assets, or the brand feels disjointed, diluted, and loses impact. Having High Tide design the packaging, lookbook, print campaign, and website (like we did for Warby) means a consumer first encountering the brand, deciding to purchase, and starting to use the product has had a seamless brand experience and understands exactly what the brand is all about. I think Warby’s success speaks to the value of that sharp attention to detail and consistency across all touchpoints. The fact that the brand still feels fresh and relevant years later underscores its timelessness, which is something we are always striving to achieve.
It’s really important to first understand the vision of a brand’s founders or key decision makers—what inspires them, what they want the brand to achieve, and why it exists. Considering this first is what makes branding authentic. Next, we consider the desired consumer and the open space in the market—who is their customer, and how can we speak to them? How can we make their life better or easier in some way? This line of thought makes branding strategic.
Before we start designing assets informed by this understanding, we look for inspiration in unexpected places—art books, museums, music—and create moodboards to inspire our team as well as the clients. These are lots of fun to put together. From there the process is creative, collaborative, and dynamic—and most importantly, a conversation between us and the client.
The most exciting difference in branding a food business is the added sensory element. Food has the power to transport you—regional cuisine can take you across the world, while eating fresh, local, and in season keeps you in sync with wherever you are. It’s important that branding supports and reflects the nature of the food itself. The key here is to avoid trends and aim for what is classic and timeless. We want to create iconic branding that is both recognizable and unique, yet purposeful.
The landscape of culinary culture has really changed over the past few years. Eating and drinking are social activities that bring people together, and the places in which people socialize are very important. Where someone chooses to eat reflects their personality. Our goal is to heighten the experience of eating by curating everything from a wordmark to the lighting of interior spaces. The dining experience should be enjoyable and memorable, whether it’s at a high-end restaurant or a food truck. Our goal as creatives is to connect the dots and create a comprehensive and distinctive vision for the brand that helps consumers recognize and enjoy the product more deeply.