Designing an Icon

We love to love icons that inspire us, mean something to us or set a style standard by which we can judge ourselves and everything around us. Think about what turns you on visually, do you connect with minimalist typography and clean lines, or do you gravitate to retro chic with contemporary twists on well-worn themes? Whatever you are into, there are also timeless originals out there that cut across everyone’s experiences. They have become fixed markers, unchanging reference points in our visual landscape to help us test, challenge and make sense of our world.
Take Ferrari’s prancing horse, its cars’ purposeful contours. Or the Apple Mac, designed to inspire a generation of workers into an army of creators. But how about a humble burger?
If Ferrari had Sergio Pininfarina and Apple had Steve Jobs, then the Big Mac is thanks to the plucky Jim Delligatti.
In 1967 the McDonald’s franchisee faced a dilemma. His audience, the steel workers of Pittsburgh, had appetites bigger than his menu’s staple cheeseburger. His subsequent experimentation, the Big Mac – with its two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a middle bun, topped with a sesame seed roll – was designed to meet their needs and was nothing short of pure, delicious genius. Launched in 1968, it turned out to meet most of America’s needs too, at one point accounting for 19% of McDonald’s revenue. And when the UK’s first McDonald’s opened its doors on Woolwich High Street in 1974, the Big Mac was available front-and-centre as part of a 6-sandwich line-up.
The burger was nothing short of a game-changer, setting the benchmark for casual eating out experiences ever since, and giving the British diner a unique taste of America.
Icons always have a relevancy to the time and environment that bore them, but great icons like the Big Mac are showing they have the ability to transcend their time and be just as relevant to consumers of today. 2018 marks the Big Mac’s 50th anniversary. It still sits as the centrepiece for the McDonald’s brand and remains an ever-present in the national consciousness and popular culture. The red tops still speculate about the source of its secret sauce. And if you want a sign of its all-powerful ubiquity, how about the Economist using the ‘The Big Mac Index’ to compare currencies?
But icons need care and attention. We need to remind Big Mac Lovers, whether or not they’re still eating them, why they love the Big Mac. And we need to spark interest amongst the unconverted, showing why it deserves its iconic status.
It may have taken them 50 years but it is no surprise that, for a limited time only, McDonald’s is doing the extraordinary by introducing two new Big Mac variants; the Grand Mac, for those who need a bigger beefier hit and the Mac Jr, for those who crave a lighter touch but still want to max out on the tantalising special sauce. The ‘design’ success of these two variants will not only be achieved by staying true to original Big Mac ingredients and taste expectations, but also by the visual language consumers experience in and out of restaurant.
50 years on, while the Big Mac has stayed constant, the customer journey has evolved beyond prediction. The Big Mac purchase path doesn’t begin when guests cross the restaurant threshold, it starts where and when you fancy one – at home via McDelivery, when you leave the tube station via order and pay, or in-store with kiosk ordering. Note, a significant proportion of customers prefer ordering via a kiosk versus talking to a crew member, because they’re in full control of their experience.
Using our expert understanding of the customer journey, we used a simple ‘be confident, less is more design and comms’ strategy to make the icon stand out in-store. But also to build a customer journey that begins with Big Mac iconic inspiration at the entry points – mobile, front-of-store and drive thru, ending with a great experience that encourages customers to share across their social channels. This creates a brand experience that people remember and, hopefully, keep returning for another 50 years.
Design-wise, icons don’t need frills or fluff, they have an inner confidence that allows them to speak for themselves. To stay true to this insight, we decided to be respectful and protective of the Big Mac’s iconic status and set our creative in a minimal environment to let the food do the talking. With only seconds to tease, tempt and invite customers in and order, in-store film and animation tell a story that celebrates the Big Mac’s unique features and aims to evoke a deep-seated emotional response to the icon. The ingredients, the succulent beef, special sauce, pickle, sesame seeds and lettuce, are all shot so closely that they feel they are tantalising and tempting you personally. Feeling hungry yet?!
So, as much as Ferrari has a perfect balance of form and function with its beautiful curves and power, and Apple is rightly lauded as the world’s greatest design organisation, the Big Mac firmly takes its place in my top 5 icons. Its ubiquity, its own ‘hand held’ curves, unique layered design and iconic taste make it a timeless classic which still hasn’t been bettered by its competitors.