411 West Italian Café serves high-quality and tasty food, which keeps the restaurant busy. It’s always packed on weekend nights, and I always find myself satiated (albeit with a food baby) after eating there. Despite the success, 411’s fragmented and seemingly aimless visual branding prevent a consistent image.
411’s disorder begins with its logo. Below are two variations, the first from the website, and the second from Twitter. Both include similar features: “four eleven west” spelled out in a lowercase script font, “Italian Cafe” spelled out in all caps with loose letter spacing, and “411” written in italic serif numerals.
Inconsistencies, even if subtle, detract from consistent branding. In this case, “411” is in front of “four eleven west” in one logo but behind it in another. One logo uses drop shadows, and the other doesn’t.
The treatment of “Italian Cafe” is notably very different – in the second version, the letter spacing (also called tracking) is much tighter, and the letters appear to be somewhat condensed or squished vertically. The size is also much smaller in comparison to the remaining portion of the logo.
The second logo is more consistent with the exterior building signage, meaning the web design logo is what should change to reflect a cohesive brand. That being said, these two more similar logos aren’t identical. The colors are an obvious difference, but a close glance reveals a discrepancy in the sizing and placement of “four eleven west” over “411.”
Outside 411 is a flag that displays not only the logo but also a high-contrast sepia image of two people riding bicycles with dogs. I have no inkling of what this graphic could possibly mean. Is biking with dogs an Italian tradition? Designs that have meaning behind them are more impactful, so if there is reason behind 411’s sign, it should make that meaning more clear and use similar visuals on its website.
Despite the unclear meaning, the sign is visually interesting and unique. The sepia image seamlessly fades into white, allowing space for the logo.
411’s mission is to provide a high-quality dining experience at an affordable price, but its outdated web design reflects something less than elegant. The green header, navigation buttons and sidebar overwhelm each page and command too much attention.
The style of the reservation widget and social media links are inconsistent with the rest of the site and also stick out too much.
Though similar, 411 uses Chalkboard (pictured left), which is the Macintosh alternative to Comic Sans (pictured right for comparison).
The two fonts are very similar, though Chalkboard is less widely criticized. Whether you think Comic Sans and Chalkboard deserve the notoriety, these fonts are fitting for playful, casual settings – everything 411 isn’t.
As for Papyrus, the font’s infamy disqualifies it from being taken seriously.
With its high-quality food and service, 411 should use elegant scripts, sophisticated serifs, or just about anything except Papyrus and Chalkboard. 411’s logo already uses two fitting fonts, one script and one serif, that would work well on the website.
On social media, 411 posts stunning photos of its food like meatball pizza or fresh strawberries, often with humorous captions like the one below.
411 posts about once a week on Facebook and Instagram but hasn’t tweeted since last July. With larger followings on Facebook and Instagram, it may have been a smart move to focus on two social media platforms, especially considering the visually oriented nature of Facebook and Instagram. 411’s content is engaging and of high quality; it should consider posting more often to boost its social media presence.
THE BOTTOM LINE
411’s disconnected, unexplained and sometimes downright tacky graphics left me confused and without a clear picture of what the restaurant’s visual identity is. Its food is delicious, and sharp photos on social media reflect that. 411 should bring its visual branding up to standard.