Brand Review: The McDonalds Refresh & Fast Food Chains

Ok, before we start I just want to say that this is a purely design and brand related article. I do not want to get into a debate about the terrible deeds that fast food chains have undertaken and how bad, in particular McDonalds is.

Great, now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about McDonalds new branding - yes the biggest fast food chain is attempting to recapture its image. Below is a photograph of my local McDonalds in Nottingham, UK. This restaurant used to be covered with the well known bright red and yellow of the McDonalds brand. In December 06 these bright colours were replaced with much more updated and trendier looking signage. Inside the walls have been redecorated with earthy greens and dark oranges, natural looking pictures have been hung around, sofas and arm-chairs have been placed to make the whole place look more like a sushi bar than a cheap and cheerful "Mackey Dees".

McDonalds Nottingham

Why has this change taken place?

So why has this change taken place? Well as you may know, McDonalds is the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants. In fact, when the chain started in the 1940’s they practically invented the idea of “fast foodâ€. The idea being that the food is delivered swiftly and cheaply. This fits in perfectly with modern life with many of us needing food "on the go". However over recent years McDonalds have come under attack because of their manufacturing strategies and because of how unhealthy their food is. This has lead to the giants re-evaluating their public persona - and what’s better than a rethink on how you present your brand if you need to change your appearance?

The golden arches of the McDonalds “M†is one of the strongest and most recognisable brands to ever hit our high streets. The simplicity of this M and the traditional Red and yellow colours used, have been easily noticed and are world famous. Normally the word “McDonalds†sits next to the “M†or the “M†is used on its own.

McDonalds Logos

The McDonalds logo, like many of the other fast food brands logos, was developed in the 1970's and although has had some refresh work done on it, still carries with it an old fashioned feel.

fast food logos

Consider KFC of Burger King for example - these are not slick and simple brands. They have many elements which have not been reduced into today’s more simplistic style of logo design. Although these logos were produced almost 30 years ago, and their customers are from a wide demographic, it seems to me that they are mostly aimed at children and young adults, who at the time were the ones most likely to purchase "new food" as it was then. So now, as this audience has grown older and as McDonalds clearly feels its image is and has been threatened by its questionable strategies, it is time to upgrade their branding and distinguish themselves amongst their competitors.

The Refresh

So what have they done then? Well they haven't completely redeveloped their logo. They are holding on to the golden arches, which I think is a good thing because it is what they are famous for. They are not revolutionising their brand but evolving it, building upon the strength of the old design features and moving it forwards.

McDonalds Sign

This has been written on wikipedia:

"In 2006, McDonald's introduced its "Forever Young" brand by redesigning all of their restaurants, the first major redesign since the 1970s
The new design will include the traditional McDonald's yellow and red colors, but the red will be muted to terra cotta, the yellow will turn golden for a more "sunny" look, and olive and sage green will be added. To warm up their look, the restaurants will have less plastic and more brick and wood, with modern hanging lights to produce a softer glow. Contemporary art or framed photographs will hang on the walls.
The exterior will have golden awnings and a "swish brow" instead of the traditional double-slanted mansard roof.
The new restaurants will feature areas:
The "linger" zone will offer armchairs, sofas, and Wi-Fi connections, a concept introduced by Starbucks.
The "grab and go" zone will feature tall counters with bar stools for customers who eat alone; Plasma TVs will offer them news and weather reports.
The "flexible" zone will be targeted toward families will have booths featuring fabric cushions with colorful patterns and flexible seating.
Different music will be targeted to each zone."

It wouldn't surprise me if they also introduce new food packaging and new products to help enforce this new image.

From a design perspective you can see from the images below that they have split the "M" from the "McDonalds" text, giving the whole look a slicker more modern look. The size of the fonts and the use of blank space also help to bring impact to the logo. The sage green and the toned down natural colours communicate a more friendly adult persona than the childish bright flashy colours previously used. This brand image of course is far different from all other fast food restaurants which has distinguished McDonalds from its counter parts.

McDonalds closeups

Is This Good Design?

Well as refreshing a brand goes, I think they have done a great job. They have kept and maintained the shape of their logo but rethought the way that it can be used. They have kept brand recognition so less discerning individuals will not get confused, they have simply reworked layout and colours. To me this is all you need sometimes and I bet it will make a positive difference for them. They have rethought the structure of their restaurants and are still offering fast food but in a more relaxed and less hectic environment. This, to me, will give McDonalds a different appeal to say a KFC and will put them in front of their competitors for an audience who likes a more relaxed environment.

These changes obviously make them look like a more sophisticated chain. This type of design however, appeals to a more sophisticated audience, a more discerning audience, an audience that for the most part, in my experience, is not in favour of McDonalds ethics. Surely for most people, it will still be the same corporation in different colours and so to me, at this present time, it will not stop the attacks on its image or the protests against these ethics. I do not think this new design will do very much to entice a new audience into McDonalds, at least not in the near future.

I guess though to the average consumer this new look will appeal to them. To the person who eats McDonalds regularly they will continue to enter the restaurant and so McDonalds will influence their market and probably steer customers away from other competitors whose eating environments are not as well thought-out as McDonalds.

Generally then from a simply consolatory perspective, this redesign is a good example of a refresh. My hats off - this is a good reflection of modern design and McDonalds competetors will need to rethink their strategies to keep up with the Monster "M".

What are your thoughts dear readers? Do you think it works? Does it appeal to you? Leave a comment below...


I heard a while back that coffee shops like Nero and Starbucks where quickly becoming more popular with people than more 'down market' fast food outlets like McDonalds. This being the case the re-brand was stimulated by the need to inject some class into their dwindling 'behind the times' logo and brand identity. Although the re-work is good i think it does little to worry the Starbucks logo and related brand for example. Starbucks almost sells a lifestyle with its logo... I doubt McDonalds is ever going to be able to generate this sort of appeal.

Personally this looks more of a reversal to how I remember quite a few McDonalds looking in the mid-to-late 80's?

The Chesterfield branch, along with ones in Mansfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield, certainly had a whole grey marble/slate look about them until the early 90's when they were re-fitted with the plastic red and yellows.

I think this is a vast improvement and gives the whole brand a more "grown-up" feel than one related with Happy-meals and poor ol' Ronald and Hamburglar.

Might have to pop down Nottingham to check it out!

Yes, it is a very good design, recognizable, modern and classy. I suppose McDonalds tries to appeal now to a new market and leave somehow behind the clownish “kindergarten†approach that made them famous. They have to compete with “feel the fire†and what better way than “I’m loving it� And it’s pretty hard to “love†a fast food, especially when, if we talk about the quality of the products, KFC and Burger King are better (McDonald’s fans, please don’t shoot me. It’s just a matter of personal taste!) The redesign makes me wonder: what else are they going to do to appeal to a more sophisticated clientele – because it is clear for me: that’s their purpose.

Nice Post.

That was well said. Always appreciate your indepth views. Keep up the great work!


I think it is a vast improvement to the dated red and yellow. No matter what colour schemes they choose the 'Golden Arches' is established enough to carry any new design McDonald's chooses. However, I don't think any re-branding is going to shake it's associations with fat unhealthy lifestyles no matter how many sugar packed salads they decide to add to their menu.

At least the new design is more sophisticated.

mmm.. nice design, I must say..

the salad menu in macdonalds is a complete mess,a salad contains more calories than a traditional beef-burger. Its complete false advertising. I like the new look of macdonalds though, very calm and relaxing although the vegatarian options are very limited but the food is good if your on the go also very cheap.

Do you think that they are still using colours that are psychological and make their customers want to eat quickly and leave like has previously been proven? (I am currently writing a design dissertation so would like some oppinions)

While I do agree that the new branding is a more sophisticated improvement, I can't help but miss the glaring red and yellow. Walking down a busy high street you can always spot a McDonalds by its stark colours, with this I feel it has lost this advantage. But this is more of a practicality issue than a design one.