IdeaWork’s Beefy Online Brand for Charlie Palmer Steak

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IdeaWork Studios recently designed the website for Charlie Palmer Steak, a multi-location restaurant headed by the eponymous chef. Jay Schwartz, founder and chief creative officer, has carved out a niche reputation as a branding and interactive expert in the hospitality industry. But how does the digital brand development process work when an identity expert takes on a web project—with an existing logo? We asked, and Schwartz answered.

digital brand development for Charley Palmer Steak

Speak with us about the challenges—and opportunities—of digital brand development, specifically when you’re working with an existing logo. Can you tell us how you approach this from a branding perspective?

First and foremost, as a designer you need to be respectful of the creatives that started working on the brand before you got there. Sometimes we get thorough brand standards and style guides, other times we just get a logo. Working with the latter gives us more flexibility overall but it also poses additional challenges because in a way we’re being asked to do branding on-the-fly, without a deeper understanding of the brief or process the logo designer went through.

You’ve worked with the Charlie Palmer Group before—how does this prior experience inform your work currently?

Yes, we’ve worked with the Charlie Palmer Group for five years give-or-take, and our overall understanding and rapport with Charlie and his team gives us a huge leg up in understanding the foundation of all the projects we work on, whether we’re starting from scratch or picking something up mid-process. Any time you get to work with a client you have a deep understanding about makes thinks a little easier when you’re asked to push the boundaries a bit—you don’t need to do as much discovery or homework.

[Related: How to Establish & Maintain Brand Authenticity]

Is there an advantage to having a branding expert create a website?

I would like to say, “of course there is” but I’m admittedly biased. My approach when designing user interfaces is largely the same as when I’m building or defining a brand—the web interface is an extension of the brand and needs to reflect the defined brand standards across the board—from look and feel to typography, from tone of copy to UI elements like animations and transitions. I look at all of it holistically as one big branding exercise.

What unique digital experience(s) were you able to bring to the table with this project?

Knowing about Charlie, his steak restaurant brand, and the work Christa Weaving (VP of Marketing at Charlie Palmer Group) and her team started with the ad copy and tone, gave me the foundation and flexibility to have some fun and let the site express some of the whimsy they wanted to bring to the brand. Charlie’s food quality and preparations are legendary, and the site was supposed to aid in shifting the focus to a younger guest. The stuffy and traditional steakhouse experience wouldn’t fly for what they wanted to do. So we got to have some fun with motion and animation. 

What is your philosophy when it comes to design?

In general, I’m all about clean design. I like to invoke Coco Chanel before presenting my design work, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one thing.” That doesn’t mean that everything needs to be black and white and one boring typeface, it just means SIMPLIFY and get to the point.

Tell me about your typographic choices for this project. What typefaces appear on the site, and how did you go about selecting them? 

The type families are Univers and Minion. I inherited Univers, which I’ve always loved, from the client. Selecting Minion italic, i felt, was a good counter post to elevate the overall aesthetic without being too stuffy. I wanted to be friendly and accessible but also convey a more elevated overall feel because Charlie Palmer Steak, even though it wants to appeal to a more youthful guest, is a very nice dining experience and traditional steakhouse guests (older, business-centric) should still feel welcomed and supported.

IdeaWork Studios Inc. is a full-service branding and interactive agency with offices in Santa Barbara, New York and Las Vegas.

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