As I mentioned before the idea to name a restaurant Alinea was born nearly three years ago. During a post-service meeting the group was discussing symbolism, and how we could apply it to signify our cuisine. One of the chefs went home and did some thorough research on the subject, returning the next day with the symbol you see above. I liked it, and after he read me the definition I knew eventually I would use that symbol and name as the identity for my restaurant.
As the project came to fruition I discussed the facets with Martin and asked him what aspects he would be interested in working on. The identity of the restaurant was one of them. At this point we had been working together for one year and I felt very comfortable with Martin’s knowledge of my cuisine. He had eaten at Trio and was obviously very active in the development of dishes through the service pieces. It was my desire to produce an image that would translate the philosophy and very meaning of the restaurant we were creating. That being said I felt Martin's understanding of the goal would make him the perfect person to realize it graphically.
I have culled various conversations amongst myself, Martin and Nick during the process of developing the identity. They will appear in quotes as well as commentary from each of us now. I have also inserted images of concepts we have had along the way. These do not represent the final identity of Alinea, it in fact is still being worked on and we will add updates as the project matures. These images are however in chronological order to better show the evolution of the process.
I the initial stages I was naive about the complexity of creating an identity, especially this one. I thought it would be very easy, we already had a symbol…
but that in fact is where it got difficult. The existing symbol bore no relation to Alinea the restaurant. It had definitive meaning, which is why it was chosen to begin with, but the image did not convey the essence of the restaurant. In fact after looking at several restaurants logos I became even more at a loss as to what a logo is. Does the logo define the identity of the restaurant? Does the restaurant give meaning to the logo? Does it matter? The more I became aware of symbolism the more I realized most businesses take it for granted.
Martin: “Logo is not an identity and identity is not a logo, identity is a message, emotion, impression, reflecting the essence. It is not just a piece of information, it’s a living, breathing organism, a creature.”
As you can see from the samples above I was very fixed on the literal shape of the original symbol. Martin improved its asethetic but we decided it still didn’t project Alinea, as we knew it.
"Ok. So when is a logo a symbol... when does it become identity, and what are the limitations of that representation?
I contend two things... first, that there is a nearly infinite variety of shapes and forms that the Alinea can take and still be recognized by "family resemblance" --- for example, how does a toddler know that an 'a' is an 'a' is an 'A" is an italic a, an a of a different font etc. In fact, one could argue, no two a's are exactly alike and yet they convey the same meaning. So, I would say that we could stretch, manipulate, and otherwise change a traditional Alinea into something that would only be vaguely recognizable but still honor that and have enough family resemblance to be a brother or a distant cousin of that simple traditional Alinea."
It is sometimes difficult for chefs to analyze their work and even to understand it fully…it comes so naturally it’s hard to pinpoint…let alone describe in a philosophic visual language. However, it seemed like this is what we needed to move forward with this project.
The next round continued on a very literal representation of the message I was trying to convey to Martin. The symbol superimposed onto a plate. Although visually appealing we felt it carried unnecessary information (the plate) and lacked the complete understanding of Alinea.
It became apparent that in order to create a logo that expressed the personality of the restaurant the way we wanted it to, much more thought was required.
“I have eaten your food and that is perhaps the best way you can articulate your vision. But I would like you to try articulating your concept for Alinea verbally or graphically. Try to articulate attributes (there is room for some poetry and metaphor here). What is Alinea’s purpose, where does it stand in relationship to everything surrounding it? What sets it apart from other restaurants that will make people come and appreciate it?”
This proved to be very difficult for me personally. I felt at times the appropriate language did not exist to describe the definitions of what Alinea will meant to me… through the food, atmosphere, the overall experience that will be created. Describe the emotional state of excitement, intrigue, and happiness with out getting out the thesaurus and using more words…words are inefficient..they don’t work. The cuisine I can describe. Several adjectives were thrown around, from the literal “I think the logo should be crisp…our presentations are very crisp”…to the more philosophical…creative, contemporary, avant garde. All of this seemed to be helping. Not only was Martin gaining a better perspective on how I think but also I was learning a great deal by studying myself.
"I know we did brush upon this but I don’t think we really got beyond vague, non-descriptive terms. Is the fact that the cuisine is cutting edge sufficient as a restaurant concept? What I see as my contribution, is aiding in finding the visual means (and executing them) for articulating that vision, but the vision has
to be communicated by non-visual means first."
Here are some samples of concepts from round three. As we moved forward the concepts became more complex. Not the symbols per se but their relation to the fonts, their positioning to express lightness, and some of the superimposing. It is clear that this round was the result of me repeating the need to project modernity. Although we all viewed this as a giant step forward the conclusion was drawn that the symbols captured forward thinking, but left the viewer feeling slightly cold. It was the essence of several of the objectives but was still missing something as a whole.
In an email conversation I had with Nick he said the following that really made me understand what we were trying to accomplish..
“To me, identity occurs when there exists a unique set of facts. Facts in the sense of points of note that are real, concrete, and unique. When a particular arrangement happens of these facts -- a unique pattern of them -- you have an identity. You don't create that at all... it happens all the time, every time. If it is recognizable, it is an identity. We will create an identity for Alinea by default and it will be far more than the logo, the menu, or anything else... it will be as Martin said the grouping of all of these things.”
We knew we wanted a manipulated version of the classic symbol that was our own.
So we started ripping the experience apart in order to apply the core meaning to the symbol visually. This would not only show a state of evolution but help personalize the symbol...aligning the experience of Alinea with that of the symbol's definition.
Martin’s comments below became particularly valuable…
"To me, the contrast between a tasting menu and entree is in that sense minimal, it is not a question of choices, the difference is in the wealth of the experience. Where the tasting menu is a journey and the entree is a place. You can experience the exact same place in different ways just by reorganizing the journey. That’s what I find interesting. The restaurant is somewhere where you go to experience the journey, this restaurant at least. That is a part of what the identity should convey. Motion I think is important to convey, define wealth without using a shortcut or an attribute of wealth (which will be misleading). A wealth of experience opposed to a wealth in material. And still make it understandable to the audience, at least to some degree. I think the ripple effect is symbolic of the experience the restaurant should offer - it is not a static idea, it is intended to
change and grow, the ripples are symbolic of an action exponentially
growing on its own. All the restaurants seem to try to simplify the
message. But what I think is attractive about the experience is the
change, the motion, action. How do you define something which in
essence is an evolution?"
In reaction to this dialog Martin submitted round four. Here is a sampling below:
After seeing the concepts of motion I knew we were on the right track. It was exactly the visual cue I was looking for to explain the constant state of evolution the Alinea team pocesses. It adds great aesthetic appeal and gives the identity a high level of complexity. For the next round I wanted to incorporate the symbol in manipulated way. I liked this symbol from the previous round
and Martin and I discussed applying movement to it. It was just as Nick had said weeks earier...It is a far cry from the original symbol but it still carries the meaning of it, and communicates Alinea very well through its form.
Then next round followed:
After this round Nick and I agreed that we felt the symbol itself needed more depth....
".....to use some difference in tones on some of the Alinea's to give them depth -- in the curvature -- etc. For example, if that new age logo that Martin presented had some gray tones in it so that the roundness had depth, that would be a good thing -- and make it more sophisticated I think.
I agreed and asked Martin specifically to comment on extruding..
“As I mentioned I would like to see some more depth or dimension applied to the symbol..... You mentioned not liking the weighted look and said that you didn’t feel it applied to our cuisine...could you explain that?”
"What I see as symbolizing your work is motion, transformation, lightness, whimsy and intrigue. Not materiality. Anything extruded, suggesting volume, feels to me as heavy, immobile, lacking all of the above. It doesn't combine well for that reason. Depth and dimension don't necessarily have to translate into a volumetric illusion. A feather slowly swaying as it falls expresses lightness, grace, symbolizes the travels of the bird; but a feather on a hat is a decoration, a dead relic of a bird, a trophy. Definition and material presence defy intrigue there. And I feel in a similar way in regards to your identity. Volumetric illusion quantifies something that in my eyes is not quantifiable in your case. We are talking about a state of mind, not a material state. When I said I felt strongly about 6_2_3 and 6_2_5
it was because, besides being visually interesting, what happens there conveys what I believe we're trying to say the best of all the work we have done to this point. While there is a symbol of a material object - a plate - it doesn't pretend to be a plate, it remains a symbol."
I preferred showing vertical motion as opposed to horizontal so Martin retooled the one of the concepts to show this. I really like the results. He also included a variation of 6_2_3 that I felt strongly about as well.
At this point I felt like the process had come to point a strong confidence that we were getting close to the final concept. I asked Martin to comment on color. In a conversation with Nick he mentioned how difficult it is to view the images in black and white. I agreed and suggested it really isn’t a true representation of the existing personality that each concept is displaying.
On Aug 20, 2004, at 11:27 AM, grant achatz wrote:
What is your suggestion for colors? Do you feel the color of the cards etc..need to be the same as the colors in the restaurant? I like a cloudy clear vellum as the base with the symbol in black it’s blur various shades of gray and the font a stainless.
"Color is a very important factor and we will deal with it more in depth once we have a more definite direction as far as the symbol goes. Perhaps you could think about and write your thoughts on the significance of colors and your personal preferences. I don't think the colors need to be really reflected in or a reflection of the restaurant's interior."
this email followed shortly after..
"As a next step for the process of introducing color into the identity
process and understanding your color preference that goes beyond the
logo, I would like you to send me a selection of photos (regardless of
the subject) that you find attractive color-wise. I can analyze the
spectrum and send you back color schemes to look at. For example below
are 16 color combinations derived from the photos we took at Trio of
the tripod, squid and an antenna (obviously, they're rather monotone).
Generally, this is a good way to find a fairly harmonious color
combination. If you could find some images you like, it would help me
see your real color preferences, most people don't think about the
colors much, especially not about color juxtaposition. This is one of
the ways to expose it."
That just about catches us up to the present state of identity. The manipulations on the symbol reflected below are the latest attempt to manipulate the symbol to our satisfaction. I suspect another round from Martin very soon adressing some thoughts we had last week. The Alinea identity is not yet complete. We will add to this topic as we conceptulize more. I suspect there is enough material here to create a good conversation about identity in general and specifically Alinea's identity evolution.
Edited by chefg, 30 August 2004 - 03:22 PM.