Burger King’s first rebrand in 20 years and London’s beloved Bao: Behind the scenes of two mega branding journeys
Bao’s creative director, Erchen Chang, and Raphael Abreu, global head of design for Restaurant Brands International (Burger King’s parent company) took to the online stage for March’s Nicer Tuesdays.
In a highly anticipated Nicer Tuesdays Online, we welcomed two speakers who are no stranger to creating a stellar brand for the food industry. Both speakers are the creative ingenues behind two huge stories which recently graced It’s Nice That: Burger King’s first redesign in over 20 years and the story behind the Lonely Man, Bao’s iconic logo. Circling from London to Miami, this is what happened at March’s Nicer Tuesdays.
We welcomed Erchen Chang, Bao’s creative director, to the stage first. Having co-founded the famously delicious restaurant with her husband Shing Tat Chung and his sister Wai Ying Chung, Erchen took us through the conceptual visual language behind the restaurant and the world in which Bao’s logo – the Lonely Man – resides. A complexly rich fantasy world that draws on performance art, architectural history, illustration and more, Erchen’s fascinating talk revealed how branding can be truly unexpected, and even melancholy.
Next up to the stage was Raphael Abreu, global head of design for Restaurant Brands International, Burger King’s parent company. In a Q&A with our editor-in-chief Matt Alagiah, Rapha detailed the visual overhaul of the global fast food company which looked to its past in order to implement Burger King’s identity firmly in the future. Taking several questions from audience members too, the Miami-based head of design discussed typography, illustrations, colour palette and more. All in all, he explained how elements of nostalgia, the contemporary and importantly, collaboration, came together to build the new Burger King brand; a highly popular one too that’s made ripples in the creative industry for its feisty iconography and tone of voice.
Bao branding (Copyright © Bao, 2020)
Burger King and JKR NY: Burger King rebrand (Copyright © Burger King, 2021)
How to take branding to the next level? Step into the Bao universe
When Erchen Chang first appeared on our online events platform, the creative director was poised with a well-situated green cocktail in a dainty martini glass. It was at London’s prestigious Slade that Erchen met her husband, and one of the Lonely Man’s first public appearances occurred during Erchen’s degree show. Originally created in 2012, the character arose from this idea of the lonely man, a hint to the Asian salary man, something she expressed through a performance piece that she shared with the audience in the intriguing opening of her talk.
Bao’s branding has its roots in fine art and Erchen took us through the evolution of the character which has been refined over the years, conceptually and stylistically. In time, the parallel universe where the Lonely Man exists gradually grew, fuelled by Erchen’s imagination. She took us through the extent of this universe, detailing the architectural inspiration behind each of Bao’s venues which emulate Taiwanese bbq joints, Japanese bars and so on. The specific details of this branding story are all part of a sprawling narrative arc. From the interior design to the posters hanging on the wall (which are all by Erchen), the menus, packaging, labels, aprons and more, each carefully considered design has a purpose and adds a further layer of detail to the Bao universe. “We always had a vision of creating a Bao world beyond a restaurant,” she said on the artwork which “exists for a far deeper meaning than to sell food.”
Erchen explained how the branding was created with “a sense of melancholy without being sad, but rather humorous.” It’s an unusual adjective to use for branding but one that works exceptionally well in the case of this wry visual language. She then went on to discuss this unconventional balance of emotions in the work.
A significant part of Erchen’s talk leant into the characterisation of the Lonely Man logo and how the character, which plays on ideas of male fragility and the scarceness of male tears, developed through the application of different outlets. The creative director even took us through a brand guideline for Lonely Man which encapsulates all aspects of his personality from his eye contact to the length of his beard (each hair must be the length of a sesame seed).
Delving into several other characters which also appear throughout the Bao universe, Erchen’s highly entertaining and insightful talk was a testament to how exciting branding can be. “Bao is more than just a place to eat,” she went on to remind us, “when you sit in our restaurant you’re sitting in a story.” And this story is not one to miss. Catch the full talk in a couple of weeks here on It’s Nice That.
Bao branding (Copyright © Bao, 2020)
Bao branding (Copyright © Bao, 2020)
Updating a global brand for a household name across 18,000 locations for the digital era
There are some design jobs that feel like a once in a lifetime experience. Some jobs that are so in-depth and all-encompassing, they require a whole new way of thinking. For Burger King’s in-house design team, headed by Raphael Abreu, the first Burger King redesign in 20 years was one of them. It saw a colossal collaborative effort, bringing on board JKR New York, illustrators Cachetejack and type foundry Colophon, just to name a few. Rapha took us through this mighty rebrand, covering it all – the variable font, colour palette, installation of the logo, brand rollout, and research phase which saw the team compile a Burger King archive by buying memorabilia from eBay.
Before he took the audience through the rebrand which left “no stone unturned”, Rapha explained why the rebrand was needed in the first place: “We asked ourselves the opposite, what would happen if we didn’t change the branding?” Looking to the past to inform Burger King’s future, he explained why nostalgia was so important to the success of the rebrand. Rapha also gave his two cents on why branding is moving away from the sterile minimalism coined by Apple and why brands are looking for a more colourful, maximalist and characterful way of expressing themselves. These lines of thought are just some of the evaluations that made their way into the rebrand’s creative process. That, and the move to the digital era, greatly informed the purpose and necessity of the rebrand, culminating in a new look for Burger King which feels familiar but fresh at the same time.
Citing how “the old and new will coexist for a period of time” and how “that’s the most challenging thing”, Rapha discussed the highs and lows of the project which, with time, resulted in an enduring identity that can see Burger King well into the future. Ultimately, he described the redesign as “something that people wished was always there”, irreverent and full of personality but adaptable in any situation at any given time. Disclosing further details on the bespoke typeface which references vintage classics such as Cooper Black, as well as the art direction for Cachetejack’s mouthwatering illustrations, all in all, Rapha’s talk was a must-watch for any branding enthusiasts out there, especially if you have a project in the food industry on the horizon.
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