Opposite are some images of Minerva’s redesign for Vietnamese restaurant House of Ho. As you can see, it has a touch of ‘modern Asia’ in the zesty green branding. Its as bright as night time neon, a fresh banana leaf, a bolt of emerald silk. But it is the name that is going to serve up the character of this particular venture – no need for red lanterns, gold statues or suchlike to do any heavy lifting. After all we live in a world of global brands who are citizens of the world, who choose to know where they are coming from without having to don national dress.
Visual codes drawn from local culture are great. They make the general more specific. But one has to use them with a light touch – to evoke the spirit of a place rather than to present an obvious cliché. In this case we were going for something as sassy as Hanoi at midnight, in a non-literal sense.
The truth is that as Asia grows as a market for western brands our industry has been trying to frame the aesthetic codes and conventions that can deliver success. For a while, about a decade ago, one heard of adding more bling. Happily, the insights tend to be a little more nuanced now. Demonstrating depth and substance, harmony and intelligence are effective strategies. Especially as conspicuous consumption of luxury goods is coming to be seen as non patriotic.
But even reading the ‘codes’ on this level is quite simplistic. The risk in trying to talk in a foreign accent is that the design will become a pastiche.
The best bet, we think, is to reach beyond the visual codes or authentic design motifs and try to tap into how a brands geographical origins inform its spirit. Because this opens the door to a brand that knows where it is at, as well as where its coming from.