Trust Your Gut: Designing For Food Brands

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“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf

Capturing the magic of a multi-sensory food experience and bringing it online is one of the most nuanced journeys designers and web professionals can face. This is particularly true when the customer journey begins online. The website sets the stage for the in-store experience and bears the weight of making smells, sounds, colors, and textures as enticing onscreen as they are sizzling on a plate. 

Food in particular is highly dependent on detail and finesse. You’ve got to set the scene for products to radiate flavor and quality while exuding the artistry of the physical location and saving room for the brand to share its unique approach to the most important activity other than breathing – eating. 

And of course, food has always equaled community. Without a connection to the community, it’s a mere pile of ingredients. 

So, how does a web design pro transform a brand new high-end quick serve business born from a deep legacy in the industry into the most appetizing web experience? You’re going to find out how – we discussed this process with Wonderful’s design virtuoso Joshua Benedikt, and gathered some of his best tips for developing a delectable ecomm food brand.  

Base Ingredients: Understanding the Needs of the Customer

Like every project, it’s critical to do your research. Focus on the customer experience as a whole, especially when you have a mix of online and offline ordering. Create a throughline by mapping out every touchpoint (from the sources that will send them to the website to the entirety of the brick-and-mortar pick-up process), and explore every element you can make consistent throughout the journey.

This is especially important in the design, as visual discombobulation can create a fractured experience, and risk falling short of customer expectations. Design around the ecomm system for a streamlined process that conveys quality and attention to detail, signaling to your customers your level of investment in them and the end products.

Finding the Flavor: Bring Your Store Aesthetic to the Web

For Josh, inspiration for a client’s first brick-and-mortar burger bar and butcher shop website was abundant. First, he prioritized bringing that classic butcher shop feel – fresh cuts on display, a friendly butcher with endless knowledge and passion for his product, white-glove service, etc. – to a digital storefront. Anyone can show off pictures of food, but to feel like you’re walking through the door of your friendly neighborhood food vendor taps into sensory experiences beyond viewing to ignite pure delight and excitement.     

The brand’s brick-and-mortar store renderings were rich with textured features such as marble and classic nautical-style wood paneling, and the lighting style was clearly illustrated. Extending the ambiance of the store to the website using its foundational touches helps to eliminate the friction between online and offline for customers, and elevates your food brand using what you already have. Incorporate those tactile elements into the UI design, and make the website a reflection of the space.

A Little Sprinkle of This and a Dash of That: Where Style Meets the System

Of course, you cannot skip the design process of creating a scalable and on-brand system to be used throughout every touchpoint. Incorporate elements from the physical space into reusable patterns, experiment with shapes that can add dimension to the displayed products, and have a photography editing style that remains consistent and stands out from the rest. Working with an experienced web and brand designer from the get-go is critical to establishing a scalable system that can extend from the web to advertising, marketing, and merchandising. 

PRO TIP: A savvy designer will limit the pallet and amount of pieces used in the system to create cohesion while pushing visual boundaries suited for your business’s style.

Rise, Sizzle, Bake, Blend: The Crucial Investment in Assets

A particularly unique aspect of accessing ready-made food through a digital medium is that packaging becomes secondary. You have to jump into showing off the goods. With no “hiding” behind a beautiful box or bag, there’s an exciting nature to breaking down the wall of packaging and ingredients, and hitting customers with the end product.

This is why high-quality dish and item photography isn’t merely a luxury – it’s an absolute necessity. Stylized and professional photography is the key to maximizing what a designer can do with your website. The sensory experience of food cannot be conveyed through stock photos or renderings.

As Josh would say, “You have to show it! People follow their gut when picking food – literally. You need imagery to give the feeling of being there with the food in front of them while sitting in a house or on a train. If the image is right, you can smell it.”

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Front and Back of the House: Collaboration is non-negotiable

Operating any food establishment is a considerable investment and labor of love that we understand, from the emotional drive to the financial impacts. That said, we also know that each time investment and new project cuts into your hours in the day to keep it all going. Perhaps one of the most overlooked but essential moves in food ecomm is to have design and development synced from day one. 

Throughout the process, Josh details his connection with dev, and how critical it is that he runs every design idea by them to cut down on wasted time and possible setbacks. Design can bring on development to work out complex code and functionality heavy lifts well before it’s passed onto them. Josh also emphasized hiring designers that use platforms like Figma that allow for detailed developer notes to be kept with their designs, to make handoff a smooth transition. Bringing in outsiders is a huge investment, but keeping them on the same page almost all assures the final product is in line with your vision. 

Every food and beverage brand should have a digital footprint that reflects the passion and soul that goes into each dish and injects a sensational experience into the daily lives and decisions of its hungry patrons. Prioritizing the design is one critical piece of the puzzle, but as with any new buildout, development, communication, and collaboration between the service provider and stakeholders is key. 

Bon Appetit!

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