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Burger King’s New Logo Reveals Why Brands Are Obsessed With ‘Flat Design’

The fast food giant’s redesign proves you can jump on the latest design trends without losing the soul of your company

The “Home of the Whopper” just had its first major redesign in 20 years, and it somehow manages to both effortlessly play to customer nostalgia while embracing new digital-first design trends. On January 7, Burger King announced that it had made sweeping changes to its brand, from its logo and packaging to its menus, merchandise, and decor, right down to its social media, leaving not a single burger unflipped. It plans to launch this updated imagery worldwide over the next few years.

The company is seeking a more natural, old-fashioned look, with minimal noise and colors like red, brown, and green that customers already associate with food.

The rebrand was done in tandem with design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie, which has dabbled in fast food makeovers before, having worked with Dunkin’ to drop the “donuts” from its name in late 2018, and redesigning the Popeyes brand after its wildly popular 2019 chicken sandwich launch. The Burger King redesign nods back to the company’s classic 1969 logo by once again encapsulating the Burger King name between the two buns. It also wisely does away with some of the questionable additions from the last rebrand in 1999, most notably the blue swish and the accented sheen symbols on the buns. When reflecting on why the company was moving away from the colors and imagery of the 1999 rebrand, Burger King’s global chief marketing officer Fernando Machado told Business Insider, “There’s no blue food” and “buns don’t shine.” In other words, the company is seeking a more natural, old-fashioned look, with minimal noise and colors like red, brown, and green that customers already associate with food.

By referencing the old, the brand feels familiar to existing Burger King fans, yet the new fonts and color changes bring a freshness to the look that could draw in potential new customers. The rebrand also speaks to a broader change: More and more brands are starting to consider their digital presence and how well their brand translates onto the web and especially on mobile, as consumers increasingly interact with companies through mobile ads and social media profiles. Burger King’s latest look is a shining example to other brands of how to jump on design trends without losing the soul of your company.

Going flat

There are two key factors that prompted Burger King to seek a flashy new look and do a significant rebrand: changing marketing trends and changing customer tastes.

Its rebrand fully embraces a recent design trend called flat design, which prioritizes two-dimension illustrations and bright colors and limits the noise created by too many visual details and textures. The Burger King redesign serves up a visual style that replicates the shapes of the company’s menus with simple, two-dimensional imagery that has very little detailing or distraction. It’s streamlined, simple, and exciting to look at, which is crucial when fighting for every second of attention from potential customers.

Flat design is so commonplace now, especially in digital imagery, that you likely don’t notice it — and that’s entirely the point.

Burger King is the latest in a long line of companies to turn to flat design, including Foursquare, Petco, Instagram, and Netflix, an aesthetic popularized by Apple’s IOS 7 launch in 2013. Previously, tech companies preferred a skeuomorphic design approach to creating icons, which essentially mimics real-world visuals. A great example of this is the classic recycle bin icon on a computer modeled on real recycle bins. A style heavy in real-world simulation made sense at the time desktops grew in popularity; mainstream home computers were fairly new, and users needed prompts and visual cues to understand the functions of various buttons and gestures. But that is old hat now, and flat design is a polar opposite reaction. It’s two-dimensional in style and far more simplistic. It’s this lack of “realism” that makes it flat — no embellishments like bevels, shadows, or textures. It’s intrinsically linked to minimalism, with a focus on delivering the information more clearly and being less intrusive on the eye.

A huge benefit of flat design is that it translates better in a world of mobile phones. Because it’s simpler, its design is flexible, easily resized, and adaptable to all types of screens. The visual elements are often grid-based and geometric in layout, which work well within the parameters of a screen. This streamlined design also helps to make websites and apps faster and more functional. Designers can apply the flat-design principles to elements like typography to make the text easier to read by removing the shadows and other distracting effects. Flat design is so commonplace now, especially in digital imagery, that you likely don’t notice it — and that’s entirely the point.

Back in 1969, Burger King didn’t have to worry about internet eyeballs. It was focused on drawing customers from the street and catching their attention on TV and radio commercials. Even in its 1999 rebrand, the design team didn’t have to consider how the brand would translate into an ad on Instagram. But in 2021, even fast-food customers are increasingly found in the digital environment. Burger King has invested heavily in its mobile app — the new branding is already live there — and in-store technology, like self-service ordering screens. By moving toward strong colors and simultaneously launching a bold, curvy, custom typeface (appropriately named “Flame”), Burger King’s flat rebrand resulted in eye-catching marketing materials that stand out in a crowded online market.

Customers’ changing tastes

The second reason for Burger King’s facelift is to reflect its customer’s ever-evolving tastes. When customers’ habits change, companies need to move to reflect them in their product offering and overall brand. Over the past decade, there’s been a big shift in demand toward healthier foods and less artificial ingredients, and companies like Coca-Cola have pivoted to include healthier products in their lineup as a result.

Lisa Smith, an executive creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie who worked on the Burger King rebrand, told Fast Company that, “We wanted to use design to close the gap between the negative perceptions people have of fast food and the positive reality of our food story by making the brand feel less synthetic, artificial, and cheap, and more real, crave-able, and tasty.”

In addition to the font, which Smith describes as “mouth-watering,” basing the color choice on the cooking processes and food items familiar to Burger King customers helps to add to a more natural aesthetic. Raphael Abreu, global head of design for Restaurant Brands International, Burger King’s parent company, described these colors in an interview with It’s Nice That: “Fiery Red, Flaming Orange, and BBQ Brown are part of our primary palette, which holds some equity and has been in the brand for a while. Mayo Egg White, Melty Yellow, and Crunchy Green are our secondary palette.”

Along with the rebrand, the company also claims to be changing from the ground up, making a big push to move away from artificial ingredients like flavorings and colorings and making some lofty promises regarding sustainability in its food, plants, and communities. As Abreu summarizes, “Considering all these changes, we thought that the current visual identity wasn’t reflecting us as a brand anymore. And we needed a visual expression that could dial up taste and quality through design.”

Flat design is guilty of becoming a runaway trend — much like the generic copycat DTC branding aimed at millennials — with many companies jumping on the bandwagon. But there’s a reason it’s become a popular default for rebrands: It’s easier to execute, it translates better to the various screens that companies now work across, and at this moment, it’s what the market wants. Burger King has just dropped a perfect example of this design-led strategy, allowing the company to flatten its image so it can update its brand without losing the essence of its original aesthetic.

Editor-in-Chief of Post-Grad Survival Guide • Columnist in Marker • Thoughts on business, ideas, writing & more

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