The reinvention at McDonald's

March 7, 2023
Contributor Vilma Barr interviews Mark Landini, creative director of Sydney-based Landini Associates, on the Project Ray concept to play in the fast-growing, fast-casual and to reengage millennials to the restaurant chain.

Arguably the inventor of the fast-food category, McDonald’s is preparing to enter the fast-casual dining scene through its “Project Ray.” Named for Ray Kroc, who initiated the chain’s worldwide growth in 1955, the program is initially aimed at 8,000 restaurants in the U.S. and major international urban areas.

The McDonald’s name currently identifies more than 38,000 food service establishments in 100 countries. To cash in on the growing fast-casual appeal, McDonald’s has targeted the 19- to- 39-year-olds, collectively categorized as millennials. “Our brief was to re-attract millennials to the brand by challenging their expectations and to create a Global Flagship Model,” says Mark Landini, creative director of Sydney-based design and brand consultant Landini Associates. Landini and his team developed an environment that is less quick-in-and-out and more refined-and-quiet in a classic contemporary setting for on-site dining.

Landini’s program, as installed at 45th Street and Broadway in New York, was structured around an open plan layout, upholstered banquettes, and LED lighting. Ceiling heights were raised to accommodate parallel rows of black track lights over the kiosk ordering space. Perforated dropped ceiling elements were fitted with flush-mounted downlights and black can fixtures over grouped and community dining tables.

Three signature lighting fixtures lend style and visual appeal throughout the 11,200-square-foot, three-story restaurant. They include suspended white illuminated tubes, grouped to form a rhythmic pattern and lower the sightlines in the restaurant. Extending outward on black metal brackets from spaces between windows are decorative red shade fixtures that accent the red wire-frame dining chairs. Behind the banquets are minimalist wall-mounted fixtures reaching to the dropped ceiling and punctuating the expanse of patterned panels.

At Sydney Airport’s Terminal 1, McDonald’s glowing yellow glass box has become its own tourist attraction. Here, the objective was to counter the grab-and-go of typical airport fare. “Our brief here,” Landini says, “was to create an iconic, memorable customer experience, unlike anything in an airport terminal. The solution was to combine an electronic ordering system, the kitchen on top of the stacked preparation platform, and vertical transportation to create a unique spectacle.” Rows of LED strip lights highlight the structure’s top level, which appears to float above the concourse.

Customers enjoy the scene from surrounding seating areas. “For us,” Landini says, “this meant an innovative challenge, to demonstrate how McDonald’s continues to push boundaries in design.”

Architectural SSL contributor Vilma Barr interviewed Landini to dive into the next design phase of McDonald’s focus on re-attracting millennial clientele.

Barr: How long have you been designing McDonald’s restaurants and how many have you created?

Landini: Landini Associates has been working with McDonald’s Global since 2014. Our design format “Project Ray” has rolled out across every territory globally. Project Ray restaurants are everywhere. In Chicago, both the McDonald’s Headquarters Global Menu Restaurant and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Restaurant embody Project Ray designs, as do restaurants in New York’s Times Square, San Francisco, London’s Oxford Street, Moscow, Madrid, Milan, Germany, Vienna, Poland, Buenos Aries, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Dubai, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sydney.

Project Ray applies classic materials and design that won’t date, using minimal “embedded energy” by extending the expected lifespan of the restaurant. Concrete, glass, stainless steel, and oak form a palette of stylish simplicity with a backdrop of “recognizable neutrality” promoting the service, the product, and the people who come to enjoy it.

Mix these ingredients one way to tell an urban story, then another to localize. Project Ray is about understanding the location and customer profile so that furniture, materials, and layout can be adjusted accordingly. Either way, it’s one brand and one vision talking: a holistic toolkit of parts that can be fine-tuned to suit the sensibilities of a location.

When did Project Ray get underway? Was lighting defined in the objectives?

Project Ray first launched at Admiralty Station, Hong Kong, in 2015. The energetic environments that have been the signature for McDonald’s are now replaced with a simpler, calmer, and more classic feel. As with all our projects, lighting and, as importantly, shadow play a significant role in the design and can be adjusted by time of day and by location.

Has lighting design always been part of your firm’s services?

Yes, absolutely. “Get the lighting right” is one of our core design principles. Landini Associates’ scope of work includes concept design, brand positioning, master planning, architecture and interior design, graphic design, uniforms, and global design standards, as well as roll-out guidelines.

Please discuss lighting design trends.

The world is becoming louder and is getting louder, still. It’s time to step away from the fray and allow food and services to convey an inviting sense of peace, as expressed by the simplicity of Project Ray. Lighting is a crucial element in creating an environment of calm simplicity and allowing the focus to hero the food, the service, and the people who come to enjoy it.

In Landini Associates’ work to “reinvent normal,” norms are questioned, taken apart, and sometimes cast aside. We have created something noticeably new: a quieter ambience, kitchens wrapped in glass, eye-catching graphics, and a material palette of concrete, stainless steel, and oak.

The same is true for seemingly subtle changes, like softer lighting and sophisticated materials, which add to the newness of the experience, but are classic and will last.

You indicated that your mission for McDonald’s is to “re-attract millennials to the brand.” Please comment as related to your work with McDonald’s.

Ray is an exercise in simplicity and a study on how to attract Millennials back by challenging their expectations.

The best meals are a celebration of family and that’s an intergenerational thing by definition. I think everyone understands that “cool” really means self-assured and self-contained—not really trying too hard or self-possessed. It’s a rare and often iconic state in this noisy, attention-seeking world. We decided to interpret it that way. It’s hard to fake being composed and in control of one’s feelings. So, that’s what we try to do. Provide a quiet place for people to eat tasty food and share company in a warm inviting place of respite. We like to design places for people where they feel good about themselves and their immediate environment. 

This article appeared in the November 2022 issue of Architectural SSL magazine.


About the Author

Vilma Barr

Vilma Barr is a contributing editor to U.S. and international professional journals and trade periodicals published in the U.S. and internationally in the fields of lighting and the built environment. She has served as author, co-author, and editor of design and business books.

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