Good Menu, OK Design

I took the above picture last Sunday. I keep having software dreams. Last week I had a dream about text wrap. Today we learned how to make multiples in InDesign using the arrows and  polygon tool (command if you want to give them more room—yay for gutters), and it made me think I’ll have a dream where I want more boats on the other side, so I do a reflection option click (in my dreams they never duplicate properly).


It’s funny how much I like Hoppe’s class. I remember the first day, I thought each class would be like a dental appointment—I should go, but it hurts too much and they always scold me. But, Hoppe’s funny. I think some of the students think he’s too sarcastic and it’s true. Someone will ask if he should align right (or something innocent like that) and he says, sure… and then you can use periods instead of leading, stretch the type and then add a stroke and a drop shadow. (Whenever he adds the “drop shadow” part, you know he’s joking, until then, I’m always thinking, “yeah! That would look so cool!”) But, at the end of the day, he’s a type geek like the rest of us ought to be, laughing at the hideous awful created by people that think they know what they’re doing, but they’re using Microsoft Word, so they really don’t.

Today the class brought in menus that were examples of good menus and bad ones. (Yes, just like show and tell. We did self-portraits last quarter. This teacher’s classes have been the most flash-backy experience of my life.) And we applauded and guffawed at the alignments, the way that someone thought that they should have one column span the whole width of the page! Man, that’s rich.

Part of menu design is thinking about your audience. Are they at your restaurant because of the value? Maybe you should align all your prices then, make ‘em bold—customer’s love that, zero in on the cheapest one. If you’re a classy establishment, tuck in those prices, make them almost disappear. Yeah, getting rid of the dollar signs helps.

He talked about how menus are part design, part psychology. You are selling something to hungry people; they act differently than normal design-loving people. Hungry people like fast information (pretty pictures with accurate captions). They scan a page haphazardly, hoping delicious catches their eye. And it’s up to us designers to make them feel good about what they order. A special? Slap a box around it. Ooh nice. A recommended item or some exotic flavors. It’s a collaboration with the restaurant, to say “hey, we need something really expensive,” so the rest of the menu seems rather affordable. Little tricks like that make a good menu great. Some menus that are over designed alienate the customer. What they want is something that conveys information elegantly, simply and quickly. Something that was designed in a way that even someone a little tipsy from looking at the wine list can pick from the main dishes.

It’s a designing tenet that when you design for the most challenged (elderly, kids, people with poor vision or bad attention) then you have something very accessible, very commercial and very easy to use. Which is what creativity is all about: making something new and useful.


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