“On a metaphorical level cooking is much like design,” say Phoebe Glasfurd and Aren Fieldwalker of the award-winning Vancouver-based branding agency Glasfurd & Walker. “It’s about taking elements or ingredients and considering new ways to bring them together.”
Founded in 2007, the studio specializes in brand creation and in playful—yet tasteful—identities. Although it works with a host of different kinds of businesses, a good portion of its output is for the food and beverage industry, and its this gastronomic work that has garnered the most attention. Glasfurd & Walker has been featured in numerous books about restaurant design and has received armloads of food packaging design awards for the kind of products you don’t want to hide in the cupboard but set proudly on the dining table.
When it comes to designs for restaurants, the studio takes a world-building approach with identities that are detailed and truly holistic—more like refined sets pieces from iconic films. That’s because the design team believes that branding a restaurant, compared to other kinds of companies, is one of the most nuanced and personal commissions. “Rather than reflecting bigger brand values and creating an aspirational tone of voice, the identity must reflect the real world experience in an authentic yet surprising way,” says Glasfurd.
That’s why Glasfurd & Walker always focuses on the “real world” surroundings of a restaurant when they set about designing its identity. For Park, a rustic restaurant and bar with campfire cooking (for real) and home-made spirits, the studio drew on the surrounding lifestyle of its location in the Banff National Park in order to create a colorful, Twin Peaks-esque brand. When working for Boa Bei, a local Chinese Brasserie, the studio took inspiration from the restaurant interior’s 1930s Shanghai vibes. The result is almost cinematic: glamorous and glistening like a scene in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.
“In both identities there’s very little repetition of elements—the graphic palettes are diverse and each item has been carefully curated and created to add to the overall experience,” says Walker.
Food and beverage packaging is its own unique kettle of design fish. “We really must appeal to people’s senses—specifically vision and taste,” says Glasfurd. “Color, texture, and finishing must represent the food in a way that makes you want to consume it. We don’t want people to just pick it up off the shelf, we want them to crave what’s inside.”
An awareness of digital media channels and platforms has had a profound effect on how Glasfurd & Walker approach these packaging commissions. As the founders discussed in their introduction to Yum Yum, a book dedicated to food branding, food packaging now lives beyond the retail shelf in photos on social media platforms, becoming one of many brand touch points.
“It’s very easy to get carried away with the design intention in digital form and not take into consideration its physical existence,” says Walker. That’s why the studio pays close attention to literal touch points as well, like how packaging feels in a consumer’s hands. Glasfurd & Walker continually creates physical mock-ups in order to review paper stock, finishing, and the shape of a container. “When we get both the design and the feel right, we have a product that looks great in a photograph (or at a distance on the retail shelf) and is a beautiful, tangible product.”
Whether a mustard jar, chocolate tin, wine bottle, or olive oil flask, objects produced by Glasfurd & Walker are destined for a second life—perhaps as a vase or a homemade jam container. Its packaging is simply too good to throw away, and its restaurant identities not draw you in and keep you coming back for seconds.