Professor & Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University

Restaurant Menus, Typography, and Design for Learning

Posted on October 13th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, Ideas, learner experience. 6 comments

I took the following two pictures in two recent trips of mine. Similarities and differences abound, but one difference (other than the language) stands out for me. And that difference reminds me of an unfortunate state of affairs in the learning technologies field.

Look at the photo below. It’s from a  menu that I came across in Dublin.


And the next one: It’s from a  menu that I came across in Stockholm.


Other than the differences in the language, do you notice anything else? (Hint: Look at the typography.) Wouldn’t it be amazing if instructional/learning designers paid that much attention to the details as well? Yes, beauty and aesthetics are probably the least of our problems (so say the critics), but they count, and they count more and more in a world where beauty (constructed as it may be) surrounds us.

(High resolution images are available on my flickr page)

6 thoughts on “Restaurant Menus, Typography, and Design for Learning

  1. Robin Williams’ (not him but HER) The Design Book for Non-Designers helped me learn how to entice the reader to read. We all begin to read before we decode a single word, by reading the semiotics, the appearance. Design counts! A lot!

  2. While the examples above certainly make the case for thinking about aesthetics, I’m not sure beauty by any standard we could agree on is necessarily part of it. They’ve simply asked the question: “What does this restaurant’s handwriting look like?”

    I suppose it’s like an actor who has considered or created the back-story of their character at a level of detail that we the audience will never be privy to. That story may be beautiful or incredibly ugly, but regardless it helps make the slice of that character we experience on the screen seem all the more just right.

  3. Balance (- a reference to the question what does *this* restaurant’s handwriting look like) is an important aspect of the (aesthetic) experience, which, incidentally, is what we should be striving for. Pat Parrish has written quite a bit about this and he has some great insights on the topic…

  4. I actually worked in restaurants for quite a while and only later realized how much that experience influenced me in thinking about design. Most successful chefs have reputations for being intense and demanding, and some for being absolute tyrants, but all that makes total sense when you realize what a mind-boggling design challenge a restaurant can be. Most people come away thinking about the food and perhaps the service, but in a truly great restaurant (not necessarily an expensive one, by any means) virtually every aspect of that experience has been very carefully thought out, from calling for a reservation to the aesthetics of the bathrooms to the background music. I think of these places essentially as painstakingly designed instantiations of someone’s hospitality.

    It’s funny, once in a while I’ll be in a restaurant and something will really nag at me – typically it will be some relatively minor detail that shouldn’t be integral to enjoying a good meal. And it’s not the simple fact of something completely out of place that bugs me, it’s that no one seems to have thought about why this thing is how it is. I remember reading an article on the NY chef Mario Batali, discussing a review of his upscale flagship restaurant (he has many). The review was nonstop lavish praise, but explained there was one thing that separated this place from the very highest echelon of NY fine-dining: the music. During his visit they played nothing but Led Zeppelin, at a generous volume apparently atypical of such places. To which Mario responded: “Yes, that was my iPod. That’s how we like it.” He doesn’t want to have an amazing upscale restaurant that is a hushed temple of cuisine, he wants to have an amazing upscale restaurant where you rock out a bit to Led Zeppelin. He’s thought about this. Sounds good to me.

  5. ‘Balance’ is just the right word. I find this mode of thinking even informs a lot of the music that I do. Often the nebulous creative spark is a very small part of the process – the real work is subsequently getting everything else balanced just right, even with strange music for which there’s few or no stylistic conventions or precedents to follow from.

    Maybe a key here is that popular image of the painter dabbing at the canvas and literally taking a step back. Being able to mentally toggle between micro and macro is one of those skills that we don’t talk about much but I suspect is a integral tool for most successful designers.

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