Yesterday we introduced Chicken: Low Art, High Calorie by graphic designer Siaron Hughes who takes a close look at the graphics used in the fast-food signage of independent fried chicken (and any other fast food that ends up on the menu) outlets. Despite the independence, however, is a visual association with the big guys, in order to reassure customers that they are getting a familiar product. Red, white and blue are the ubiquitous colours of such signage, in an attempt to create an association with the qualities of the mythical American offerings. Although the book is primarily about the visuals, the sociological aspect of this area of small business is also apparent. Now introduced to a world ruled by a plethora of jolly chickens, hard-working merchants and the signage of Mr. Chicken, we will never again pass a fast food shop without looking more carefully. In search of a few nuggets of wisdom, we asked Siaron Hughes some questions about her book.
What convinced you that fast food chicken would hold your interest long enough to create a book around it? Did you ever stop and say, "What on earth am I doing?"
No, 'vernacular design' in general is fascinating.
At a time when opting for healthy choices is the politically correct way to go, how were you able to rationalize your topic?
The book isn't about food or healthy eating -- it is about a very specific vernacular design used to market food. Nothing in the book talks about food, just the signage and designs used to sell the food. The issue of "political correctness" in terms of examining this book is silly.
Despite the unusual and amusing topic, there is definitely an unwritten sociological angle to the book. Did your subjects ever feel you were poking fun of them?
You don't live in the UK, do you? There is nothing unusual about the topic. If you read the interview with Mr Chicken, he knows that these designs have been re-used and bastardized but that's the point of the book. Even in generic usage, differences appear and to a designer that's what matters. I don't think the book pokes fun at any individuals, perhaps the phenomenon, a bit, but only by virtue of my utter fascination with it.
Why does no one go outside the box in terms of graphics and design? Why not step away from the red, white and blue and take a more zen approach?
Those running chicken shops want their customers and potential customers to feel comfortable. The usage of such signage is a form of brand recognition, though all the establishments are separate entities.
Are multi-national franchises really all that different from the independent mom'n'pop shops, as far as aesthetics and design go?
I think you've missed the point of the book -- the mom 'n' pop joints want customers to identify with the multinational franchises without being such a franchise.
Often it is a sad struggle for the people behind these businesses who work hard to make a living. After all you have seen, what does the future hold for the world of the fried chicken independents?
In the UK? Business as usual.