[Designers on Design Part II]: For the WeChat Generation, Saigon Mama

In an ongoing series to discover the thoughts and meanings that go into the visuals of Shanghai's restaurants and bars, CreativeHunt visits Saigon Mama this week to talk about what happens when branding meets interior design.

You can check out last week's Designer on Design Part I: The Nest


Saigon Mama: A Collaboration Between Branding Agency and Interior Design Firm


Saigon Mama started off with maybe the worst location you could get: a nook in an underground parking garage with no windows. Yet they have turned it into a growing chain with location in Shanghai and Beijing. They're a case study in what happens when a branding agency, the people who do the menus and logo and all that soft stuff, works together with an interior design company from the start, and how that collaboration works.

Ben Weldon, Thread

So I spoke to Ben Weldon, the owner of branding agency Thread (Shanghai Brewery, Sproutworks, Mercedes) and Mike McGirr, a partner at Red Design, a large agency that does a lot of chains (Element Fresh, PizzaExpress) as well as one-off projects like Highline and the new T8.

On market research and building a back story:

McGirr: This client had already done the research and knew where he was going with the project. So we brought in Thread, to check that the brand research and strategy was on point: targeting white collar workers in Grade A office buildings. And then, would this Vietnamese noodle concept work, what would it have to look like, what are people willing to pay.

Weldon: We had to build up the story behind Mama. What type of "Mama" was she going to be? Like this big fat old lady? A cute Vietnamese mama? We settled on today’s mom but when she was young, so a cool girl in her early 20s riding a vintage motorcycle – this would be the early 1980s. Once we had that down, we searched for food packaging from that era and came across a couple photographs of billboards that had advertisements for rice, fish sauce, other sauce brands, and we used their fonts and type and colors as the source for all of our design.

Mike McGirr, Red Design

On colors and gender:

McGirr: Our meetings with the client were run separately in the beginning but once it gets to visual identity, then we would both be in the meeting. So the branding agency would be showing options for logo design, and what the key colors of the design are going to be, and we are there asking how’s that going to work in the interior? This is when we settled on the tiffany blue and the orange the core brand colors. That’s when the interior design starts kicking off.

McGirr: The client’s idea was that in order to be successful, you need to hit a white collar target, and that’s generally led by the female customers. The guys just follow. It’s kind of semi-true. So the tiffany blue is a feminine, strong color.

On collaborating through the project:

Weldon: Designing all the visual identity, menus and things like that, we had to work backwards with Mike. Red would come to us with, say, a certain color of French tile that they wanted to use, so then we’d go back and change our palette so that the branding would match the tile…

McGirr: Once you have three or four blues in the design, keeping that consistent is the most difficult challenges. There’s only so many colors a local supplier can do. Other restaurants sort of cheap out, and they either pay for the branding and try to do the interior themselves, or with a freelancer, or vice versa. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the client went through the process correctly. Saigon Mama is rammed in every location they have.


Stay tuned for next week as we pick at other talented and creative minds behind even more venues!