How to Think About Colours Professionally

Colours define the type of customer who a restaurant will appeal to.  They define the emotions that the design has to convey and they start the conversation with the customer.  Before they've even read the name on the sign over the door people have understood what its colours say.

Colours can set the design apart from competitors (or make it fit in) and they can act as a visual shortcut to instant brand recognition.  This is why big brands select very precise colour schemes and stick to them.

Colour selection is often not given the professional attention it deserves.  I like to select colours very early on in the design of a restaurant before pretty much all the other work and as soon as I've clarified my client's instructions, researched competitors and defined the target.

Non-designers nearly always get this wrong.  To tell the truth so do many paid designers. Mostly because they choose the colours they like personally.

I always employ a trained Colour Psychologist even on the simplest projects.  It makes a huge difference to the outcome and potentially to the success of the whole venture.

By way of example here's a colour palette I just produced with my team for a small Indian restaurant. (I'd publish something for a bigger project but it wouldn't fit.)













13 Fruit Pies And Other Short Stories

Too Many Prawns

I had a delicious lunch in an Indian restaurant recently and then someone reminded me of this famous quotation . . .

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

This made me wonder if all 18 King Prawn dishes on the fish section the huge, multi-section menu were really necessary and why so many restaurant owners fall into the trap of thinking that offering their customers more options leads to greater profits.

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

18 Prawn Dishes In One Section of One Menu

The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less,  is a book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety.  Here’s why: we humans are more afraid of making the wrong choice than we are of making no choice at all so when confronted with a large array of options we’ll most likely either buy the one we already know we like or we’ll buy nothing.

You might think that this means that you have to offer every customer a dish that they already like but that’s what leads to an unmanageable menu (perhaps with too many prawn dishes) to anxiety for your customers and to an inefficient business that’s difficult to manage.

The World’s First Business Computer

Most probably you’ve never heard of Lyons but chances are that if your grandparents are British they’ll remember them with affection.

In 1894 Lyons started as a teashop in Piccadilly, London and, from 1909, developed this into a vast nationwide chain of teashops known as Lyons' Corner Houses.  Lyons also ran high class restaurants and hotels. From the 1930s Lyons began to develop a pioneering range of teas, biscuits and cakes that were sold in grocery stores across the world.

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer

Leo 1 - The World's First Business Computer


After the second world war the top management of Lyons foresaw the need of new electrical computers for organising the distribution of cakes and other highly perishable products. Therefore, they helped finance the University of Cambridge's Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), built their own programmable digital computers and, in 1951, became the first business to use a computer. The Lyons Electronic Office, LEO 1, It handled the company's accounts and logistics.

Of course by today’s standards LEO 1 was slow and crude. It was also huge, taking a whole large room to create the computing power of a modern hearing aid.  Nevertheless, it enabled Lyons to analyse sales data in unprecedented detail.

13 Fruit Pies

When I was a small kid in London Lyons Individual Fruit Pies were a treat that we always took on family picnics in the country.  First introduced by Lyons in the 1930's, long before I was available to eat them, these square-shaped pies had fruit or fruit puree fillings and were individually boxed.

Eventually, and perhaps due to the analytical power of early computing, the individual pies were made in 13 different flavours:  apple, apricot, raspberry, rhubarb, gooseberry, mince, blackberry & apple, blackcurrant, cherry, orange, peach, pineapple, and lemon curd. Sometimes these flavours changed but as one was added another was taken away so that the total range only ever numbered 13 choices.

It turns out that 13 flavours are the optimal range of choice.  Jam manufacturers’ too found that any more choice than 13 options often leads to lower sales, not more.

Worth remembering then because the chances are that if you have fewer than 13 choices on your menu, your restaurant will do better, not worse.

How to Select and Brief a Designer

Choosing the right designer for your project and giving them clear instructions is crucial, yet you’d be amazed how few people get this right


One of the favourite topics of conversation among designers is just how useless our clients are at instructing or briefing us.

In my view this is our own fault. Design bodies have never made a good fist of explaining design to business. Interior designers in particular struggle to explain their art to clients who consequently rarely appreciate them and how they can make a powerful impact on return.

Many times, when a potential new client approaches me, they haven’t prepared a brief. However, this is essential in order to create a sharp definition of what they require and to foster a design team that understands their objectives and works together happily.

Everyone's different

The first thing to understand is that no two designers are the same. Some will be young sole traders with barely any qualifications or experience but loads of enthusiasm. Others will be large, process-driven partnerships or firms that invest in ongoing professional training and skills. Some are just artists who can create beauty, but it won’t be the right type of beauty to help you meet your business objectives. Still others know just how to press the right buttons to create compelling customer appeal. Some create reams of detailed drawings, which you’re likely to need, and others just a few sketches. All charge different amounts. So, how do you get the right designer and get the best from them?

It helps if you think that there are two types of suppliers to your business: vendors and people with magical talents like designers. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. A vendor is someone who exists to sell you something

It doesn’t always matter to the vendor what’s being sold, as long as its bought and paid for. Many people try to treat designers like that. When the first question I am asked by a new client is “how much do you charge?” i know instantly that their project is on the wrong track because the quality of the work you get from talent changes based on how you work with them, not on what you pay. That’s the key economic argument for the distinction: if you treat an artist like a vendor, you’ll often get mediocre results in return. On the other hand, if you treat a vendor like an artist, you’ll waste time and money. That said, there’s no sense in buying a design on price alone, unless you are rolling out an established format, in which case you’re not buying design anyhow, just some management. Most designers in my field won’t charge you more than a few per cent of your budget – even the best come in at around 15%, and for that they’ll make a huge effort over many months to get the work right.

Brilliant Briefing

Having chosen your designer, you next need to tell them what you want. this is another area where people get things wrong more often than they get them right.

I can always tell when a client has had a bad experience because they will be very prescriptive about their needs and brief me to design something that is exactly like something else they know. Setting aside concerns about copyright and intellectual property, this is bound to fail because to successfully enter a new market you need to exceed the standards of the incumbent competitors, not copy them.

The trouble with asking a designer to come up with something unique, however, is that you’re going to be buying something intangible. You can’t see it and you can’t write a specification for it.

Designers, being human, do their best work when they’re treated fairly and with enthusiasm. When the designer is also digging deep to put something on the table that you can’t possibly write a spec for, you’re going to have to respond in kind. They are not going to design on approval for free unless somewhere down the line and possibly when you don’t realise they are going to try and sell you a specific product, which might not be right for your business later on. As a designer, what I need is for my clients to create a relationship in which my art can be used to the full. If you plan to start a new business or open a new venue, your aim needs to be to create a business in which the creativity of others is fully appreciated. Then you can go and tell your designer that they can have full creative freedom. If you don’t trust them with that freedom, it’s simple: you hired the wrong designer.

If you give your designer freedom, you’ll be amazed how hard your design team will work for you, how enjoyable the project will be, and how amazing the results will be.

Ground Rules

You’re going to need some ground rules, of course, but now that you’ve got the creative freedom bit sorted out this is much easier. Here’s what i suggest: On a large sheet of paper, make a list of all the tangible requirements your project needs in order to be successful. these are the measurable things such as how many staff you want to employ; ; what your budget is, what operational equipment you require and so on. it will be a long list, which is why you’ll need a large piece of paper. Don’t write that you want it in red or blue, or that you want a particular piece of furniture or a certain look. You already trust your designer to make those choices – remember? – and you’ve got more important things to worry about.

Next, on a small sheet of paper, write down between 10 and 20 adjectives that you think best describe how you want your pub or bar to feel: happy, creative, elegant, colourful, minimalist. These are the intangible requirements. After you’ve done this, you can sit down with your designer for a long meeting and refine these intangible requirements until you’re left with just three or four. What you’re left with are your core design values, and a designer that knows what you're looking for.