Color-changing, graphics-intensive eatery invites the wary in
HOT INDIAN | Mall of America, Bloomington, MN, US
completed May 2018 | size 1,226 sf
photos Troy Thies Photography
Contributing Shop! member: cmnd+m design
Two words: magenta grout. That material choice alone tells you a lot about this new design for restaurant chain Hot Indian, whose unique approach might best be characterized as the Chipotle of Indian cuisine.
Passersby would have to be very distracted to miss this exceedingly eye-catching space, characterized by bold hues, layered illuminated materials, and a bevy of storytelling graphics—not to mention its Bollywood dancing-for-a-discount push-button experience. In creating a new environmental design language for the chain, prominent branding elements are merged with traditional cultural motifs, resulting in a fresh, fun aesthetic that makes for a more approachable experience.
Sona, Hot Indian Foods’ “mascot,” is a core part of the brand identity. The charming persona appears in a variety of engagements and graphics that inject her spirit, both visually and through tone of voice/messaging, into the customer journey. She can be found helping customers navigate the complexities of the menu prior to ordering; at the end of the dining experience, as she prompt diners to “reincarnate” (recycle); and throughout the custom graphic wall coverings, where she assumes a variety of playful roles. Each instance of Sona is thoughtfully designed and curated to enhance the customer experience without making her personality feel overbearing.
Aiming to buffer the friction that can be associated with Indian dining and a long menu of unfamiliar items, the restaurant’s simple, step-by-step menu is easily scanned by passersby. Clear visibility to the menu and introduction of photography into the menu design allow for would-be diners to easily see that Hot Indian’s offering is neither old-fashioned nor intimidating.
Throughout the design, mascot Sona speaks to customers in the form of graphic bubble callouts, providing empowering statements of support and quick-start guidance for navigating the Hot Indian menu. The bold statement of “Don’t panic, it’s just lunch” sets the stage for customers while they are in line. Sona’s presence is particularly impactful at the entrance to the queue, where she helps buffer potential pain points: determining what to order, how to pronounce the various items available, and/or assessing what items might be vegan-friendly.
The customer experience is further enhanced by two unique graphic wall treatments intended to surprise and delight. The first more subtle treatment is a tonal graphic wall mosaic that features 11 unique images with fun sayings and hyper-local nods to the location. The second is a vibrant mural, concepted and illustrated by the design team, sprinkled with “easter eggs” telling the Hot Indian story.
The entertainment doesn’t end once an order is selected: The checkout process introduces a brand-experience-defining engagement—Bollywood dancing for a discount. Located at checkout is a bright arcade-style button integrated into the countertop that customers can pressed to trigger music and spotlight illumination, cueing them to try their best at a Bollywood dance move for a discount on their meal.
The project’s graphics-intensive approach is carried out with both traditional printed and multi-material solutions, such as cutting and assembling more common building materials into multiple- ayer composites to create a visual effect. An example of this is the die wall below the service counter which incorporates color-changing programmable LEDs, followed by a layer of glass, a layer of laser-cut aluminum in a brand-specific lattice pattern, and another layer of glass that included cut crystal ice vinyl on the second surface that corresponds with the aluminum lattice pattern. All of this creates a 3D effect that changes both in color and visual effect as guests pass by.
Vibrant color selections also aim to draw attention. The service counter shines bright in purple and turquoise hues, while wall treatments stand out with pops of red and orange. White subway tiles behind the counter are affixed with magenta grout that is PMS-matched to the brand’s signature pink hue.
This color palette is balanced with more neutral elements, including gray epoxy flooring and maple butcher-block tables. Quartz countertop features detailing on the edge that ties into Hot Indian’s branding.