Talking visual communication, branding and development with George Foster

Downtown Design

Talking visual communication, branding and development with George Foster

The Latin-American Founder of House of Design by Mr. G looks at designing for restaurants keeping the experience in mind

With a career in design spanning over 15 years George Foster is a lifestyle designer who brings to the UAE his fresh and bold take on design. Owing to his Latin roots he is a true creative at heart who is fascinated by the fashion industry drawing on cues from it for some of his interior design schemes.

In 2016 George launched House of Design by Mr. G, a design studio in the Dubai Design District that undertakes residential and commercial projects offering an all-round design service from design vision, design face-lifts through to a full turn-key service.

Downtown Design takes a deeper look into how he applies visual communications, design and branding to tailor an experience for guests within restaurant design.

What is your design process and how does your approach differ from others?

I opened my own design studio so I could offer a personalized approach, regardless of the size or scope of the project.  I meet the client at the space to understand the project and to observe the client’s interaction with others during the meeting and they way they speak about the space or project.  As a designer, you can tell a lot about the projected focus for the space by observing the interaction between a husband and wife talking about their home or business partners discussing a new business.

After 15 years in the industry, I have learned it is best to listen to truly understand all of the points a client wants, because as a boutique concept, I personally oversee every single project that comes in.George 1Why and how does interior design for restaurants set the tone of the experience for its guests?

A lot goes into restaurant design. From ensuring clear pathways for staff and customers to walk when the restaurant is busy, to acoustic levels to creating different dining experiences within one space, that all comes down to a good design, supported by aesthetically pleasing décor.

What visual communication cues do you think are most important when designing a restaurant space? How does this affect the overall ambience?

Visual communications are designed to inform, educate, persuade and even at times entertain. After all, a well-designed restaurant will encourage guests to stay longer and spread the good word. However, before any of this can be done, the restaurant’s personality needs to be defined, so the designer can begin the process of visual communication.

When designing, whether it is a restaurant or a doctor’s clinic, a retail store, or even a person’s home, there needs to be clear communication at the entrance about what the space is, as well as the start to a guided flow. From where to enter, and then where to head next after initially being welcomed into the space is very important and sometimes overlooked. Good lighting usually comes into play here. When you enter a restaurant, for example, the greeting area may be a bit dark, but a good designer will add light to inform and persuade customers to come towards the main dining area or bar area.

Equally, many restaurants use lighting to set the tone and mood as well as highlight the food. Other key visual elements include stand out elements such as artwork; a well-picked colour palette to enhance the ambiance, effective use of space and maintaining the right balance of elegant and comfortable seating.George 2How do branding and interior design for restaurants go hand in hand?

With a restaurant that is branding itself as a ‘farm to table’ concept; it is imperative to match that feeling with the décor. A wholesome, pure clean design with wood tables, and simple cutlery could work here. The same came be said for a sleek, gentlemen’s bar or pub - one would anticipate clean décor and masculine accessories. Branding is all about communication and interior design is visual communication, so the two have to be synergistic.

What changes and developments do you see taking place in the world of restaurant design and particularly in the Middle East?

I see more and more restaurant developers and operators meeting with interior designers in the early stages to ensure both the brand and visual communication (interior décor) match. In such a competitive market, this is key and I encourage restaurants to work with an interior designer that understands their brand. 

Why is marketing an integral process in interior design for restaurants?

With a competitive restaurant market in Dubai and across the globe, guests are choosing certain restaurants over others because of the experience of dining in these chosen places.  Of course, the food is a big part of it, but the overall vibe and ambiance generated from the design is ultimately what makes a place.

For example, good sound acoustics, adequate space, and stand out appeal are key USPs for a restaurant from a marketing perspective and when they match the personality of a restaurant, it’s always a win.  Of course the restaurant’s staff also comes into play here, so it is always good if the staff interacting with customers fully understand the restaurant’s personality, look and feel.George 3Do you believe that marketing and interior design for restaurants need to be developed simultaneously? How does developing them together affect the bottom line?

It certainly helps. What is key is ensuring the branding is communicated to a designer before they start coming up with a concept. From there, the interior designer and a restaurant’s marketing team can work hand in hand in picking USPs of the brand that set it apart, so it can be highlighted in the design.

For example, my team and I did this with a new chain of coffee kiosks set to open in business towers around Dubai. From speaking with the client, we understood the ethos of the brand and what they wanted to highlight - quick, efficient service without compromising quality of the products, but also giving customers a feeling of grabbing a coffee at home.  As a result, I engineered a design to ensure this concept has that fast grab-and-go appeal, but also visually communicated the brand. So, I designed the space where customers feel as if they have a quick escape from the workplace, in a friendly and welcoming home environment. 

Can you give us examples of restaurants that you know have adopted this process and have created successful brands as a result?

I have worked with the team at Surf Café and Slider Corner on Jumeirah Beach Road, who adopted this process and as a result have been doing very well.  Other restaurants that I think do a great job at connecting marketing and interior design are Catch, Bagatelle, Aji, Mythos and Cocktail Kitchen. Qbara did a great job of this as well.George 4Please give us an insight into some projects you are undertaking at the moment and how you apply your design methodology into them.     

At the moment, I am working on a couple of commercial and residential projects, where I apply that same personalized approach. I plan a couple of meetings to present design concepts and make edits as necessary to ensure the client and I are on the same page before moving ahead. This time also allows me to connect with my clients more.

Looking back to the chain of coffee kiosks, I mentioned, we are working on the first location and then will adapt the same look and feel for subsequent locations, but suited to the environment the kiosk is located in.

I am also working with a couple with a small child on a residential project – a Downtown Dubai penthouse. I made sure I had a full understanding of the clients’ needs and incorporated preferences from both the husband and wife.  They wanted their space to be a reflection of their lives together incorporating family pieces with modern furniture. As they have a child, they also wanted to make their home a place to entertain friends without feeling as though the child’s possessions have taken over, so that was taken into consideration as well.

Lastly, I am also working with a chain of plastic surgery clinics in the UAE to update the look in the waiting areas and consultation rooms in a number of the clinic locations. I have worked with the client to understand the desired look and feel for the company as a whole, so I can adapt the look at each location to give them their own voice.

Learn more about House of Design by Mr. G here

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