Established in 1973 by a recently immigrated father-son pair from the Yangzhou region of China with a single restaurant (then named Panda Inn) in Pasadena, CA, Panda Express is a quick service restaurant specializing in Chinese food. It now operates over 1,700 locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico and is a staple of airport and shopping mall food courts. As Grits and Grids reports, Panda Express is a highly successful operation and has been on a steady incline over the years yet it still figures the need to keep improving and evolving. To coincide with the launch of a fast-casual concept restaurant in its home town, the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen, the company introduced an updated logo and materials that have spread to other locations.
No design credit is given, no press release issued, and no single source of images exists.
Update: The logo (not the materials) was designed by Minneapolis, MN-based Studio MPLS. A few extra images at their site.
Update #2: The newer exteriors of the restaurants were, like the one shown bottom-left in the collage below, were designed by Dayton, OH-based Interbrand Design Forum. They did NOT design the Innovation Kitchen.
Although this is not a huge redesign, the restaurant has a significant presence and I thought it deserved some attention. Given how successful the fast food joint is, there is probably little urge to expend any energy on simply improving its logo and materials without it being a major redesign. Yet the changes seen in the logo and the images below show a commitment to better design.
The logo remains the same in structure but everything about it has been improved. The default-ish typography has been replaced with something much nicer, although I have no idea what it is (and has probably been modified). Spaced more generously and with a lower height, the Panda Express name sits much more comfortably in the circle. I don’t usually endorse gratuitous serifs but, here, the two that stick out of the “P” and “D” add a bit of flair. Not sure why the “P” in “Express” doesn’t have it. “Gourmet Chinese Food” has been replaced simply with “Chinese Kitchen” and, again, helps decrease the crowded look of the old logo. The panda has also been smoothed out with more rounded shapes that make it look more adorable.
From this brief sampling of materials, you can see a Starbucks-ization with only the logo on blank canvases, used in full- or single-color. Compared to the previous cups and boxes over-adorned with bamboo sticks and leaves this is down-right luxurious design.
Even the livery looks so good.
Not sure what’s going on with the promos but they are fairly consistent across their social media accounts. Nothing exciting but at least there is a certain consistency and graphic approach with a specific intention.
I have never been into a stand-alone Panda Express restaurant and have only seen the fast food locations, which are your standard airport-looking fare where they all look the same. Judging from Google Images, the stand-alone restaurants are not bad at all, with decent exteriors and interiors, but the Innovation Kitchen clearly ups its game with a much more sophisticated approach meant to compete with the Chipotles and Paneras of the U.S.. Although it might be years — and not all elements of the Innovation Kitchen will make it to the fast food venues — before this new look is visible and adopted across the hundreds of locations, the images in this post show plenty of potential and demonstrate that just because it’s a quick service restaurant the design doesn’t have to be disposable.
Thanks to Brian Pennington for the tip.