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The Evolution Of Mcdonald's Company And Its Influence On Economics

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In an age where massive global franchises and consumerism rule the world, McDonalds is the one true king. This is verified both statistically – by being the world’s most valuable franchise network worth $85.7 billion dollars – and culturally, an example of which is the golden arches being more widely recognised than the cross. Contrary to it’s amassed size, the corporate giant had a relatively humble beginning.

Founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald, the two brothers opened the first McDonalds in San Bernardino, California; a drive-in BBQ joint. Inspired by their predecessor White Castle, McDonalds changed their menu and remodelled as a burger stand in the late 40’s. Here they implemented factory-line kitchen practices, for which they are often (wrongfully) credited for. It was after this change that Ray Kroc joined the company in 1954 as a franchise advisor. Inspired by the modern, mechanised operation the McDonalds brothers had built, Kroc seen the market potential and proceeded to purchase the company from the brothers, beginning the franchising of McDonalds. As the franchise locations began springing up across America, the brand identity began to solidify. Prior to the iconic double arches logo now seen across the world, single golden arches were used in the architecture of the locations.

In 1961 Kroc filed for US trademarks for the name ‘McDonalds’ as well as it’s logo, which continued to evolve until 1968, when the double arched, overlapped ‘Golden Ray Kroc’s first location opened in 1955, Des Plaines, Illinois, USA. Arches’ logo we now know received it’s trademark. McDonalds has become the archetype of globalisation, occupying 120 countries and territories worldwide. It’s market impact has been so monumental that economic terms have been coined in reference to the company. The Economist newspaper uses the ‘Big Mac Index’, comparing the price of a Big Mac in different currencies to gauge the purchasing power of currencies. Sociologist George Ritzer developed the term “Mcdonaldization” in reference to when a society takes on the characteristics of a fast-food restaurant. Brand identity has been vital to the success of McDonalds in its international franchising. As a company that has been present in the market for 60 years during large socioeconomic changes, the chain continually evolves to both design trends and update the brand identity. Graphic and interior design have been fundamental in the remodelling of the companies image and can be heavily credited to market success. By analysing McDonalds interiors in 3 different timeframes, I aim to comment on the design characteristics and reasons for their aesthetic (and functional) decisions whilst discussing the effectiveness.

THE 70s

Entering the 1970s, McDonalds was almost 20 years into its Kroc-driven franchising. Gearing their locations towards a sit-in family restaurant rather than a drive-in, the interiors of McDonalds locations started to become more customer orientated. Prior to the 70s, franchised locations shared the quintessentially American diner aesthetic with most other joints serving comfort foods. The end of the 60s brought the end of the Vietnam war, improved civil social rights and an increased ‘misery index’ (the sum of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate) under Nixon. This seen women entering the workplace more than ever before but also a dip in the economy. McDonalds’ low prices and convenience made it a popular dining McDonalds location in USA, 1978. destination. Attempting to solidify their image as a family restaurant, McDonalds’ interiors began to reflect the domestic design trends of the time. Every vertical surface was plastered with either an eccentrically patterned wallpaper or wood cladding from floor to ceiling.

The only exception to the dark finishes are the functional stainless steel and red and yellow branding. The finishes create a collage of reds and browns that evoke a dark, warm environment. Patterned tiles leave no surface uninteresting (which in hindsight may have been a bit too much). The yellowish glow of the incandescent lights further the cosiness of the space. The preceding ‘diner-esque’ architecture was subject to criticism for being too bright and flashy. Subsequently, McDonalds’ design team started to utilise a double-sloped Mansard roof style, which soon became synonymous with the company. The use of design characteristics seen in the average American household provided a homely atmosphere to the restaurants, as if they were an extension of the family home. An early advertising campaign saw McDonalds urge customers to “Give Mom a night off.” , encouraging families to make an occasion of dining at the chain. The interior design of McDonalds in the 70s seemed to nurture customers, wanting them to stay rather than be in and out without ever sitting down. Even the manually organised letter Old pegboard menu, 1973. peg boards complimented the atmosphere, giving a sense of customisation and human touch, personifying the restaurants. This idea of ‘nurturing’ has always been part of the company’s values; when the ‘Golden Arches’ logo was threatened with being replaced, design consultant and psychologist Louis Cheskin insisted on maintaining the rounded ‘M’ as it represents “Mummy’s mammaries”. Although being (in some way) sweet sounding and strangely endearing of a global franchise, it can easily be contested that this design decision was more to tap into the primal ‘sex-obsessed’ side of consumers that advertisers so frequently target. I feel this was a successful design period for McDonalds as there was a sense of individuality between franchises. It feels as though you had entered an independently decorated and maintained location, although this may be the nostalgic charm of the finishes. By the 70s, McDonalds had locations across Western countries, carrying a consistent aesthetic to the US locations; spreading the ‘American Dream’ across the globe.

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By the end of the 90s, McDonalds was still in a state of rapid growth, with new franchises in Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, expanding the empire to previously untouched markets. With the rise of media such as Nickelodeon and video games, the 90s saw target markets commercialise towards children. McDonalds followed this trend, McDonalds Interior in Los Angeles, California. Picture taken in 2009. increasing the presence of mascots in their graphic design and making restaurants more child oriented. By introducing arcade machines, playgrounds and sculptural installations like full-size Ronald McDonald statues, franchise locations began to appear more like theme parks than the family restaurant of before. With money being directed towards operations behind the counter, the design of the restaurants fell lower in the priorities of the company. This can be seen in the lack-lustre aesthetics of early 00’s McDonalds; gimmicky graphics plastered on walls, uninspired colour palettes of nauseating colours that make you feel as ill as consuming a Big Mac. Despite the wide use of colour, the atmosphere is bland. Purely functional lighting, ceiling tiles and tiled floors project a clinical feel. With the addition of large cartoon graphics, the interiors – rather unappetisingly – share characteristics with a paediatric ward. Bolted-down furnishings sternly distinguish seating areas. There is grey area in this era of McDonalds’ aesthetic, where brand new franchises are appearing and long-standing ones lack refurbishment and feel dated. The design of the interiors became focused towards functionality rather than customer experience. Hard, tactile surfaces provide ease of cleaning and little need for maintenance. Fixed tables with chairs sprouting from its central leg makes it easy for staff to mop without moving furniture, but takes the option away from customers, making for restrictive and uncomfortable seating better suited to a public park. This apparent lack of care could be due to McDonalds’ status at the time; continually expanding across the world and having an established reputation. Thanks to Burger stool. USA, 2007. the franchising and simple menu, consumers were familiar with the company and there were little expectations to exceed. I feel this period in McDonalds’ timeline is reflective of the commercial climate at the time; utilising novelty features to appeal to the vulnerable market of children, sacrificing tasteful design. However, this may not have been of concern to the company as its reputation had become a quick, cheap dining option for the masses. The fact that the interiors may not be inviting or comfortable inevitably worked for the companies need for a high turnaround in customers. I fail to see though, how even a success-blinded business man cannot see that a hamburger stool is a bastardisation of design.


McDonalds began to suffer criticism towards the end of the 90s that escalated into the 00s. The sourcing methods for food products, unethical business practices and a crackdown on unhealthy food saw McDonalds frequently mentioned in the media. As early as the late 80s, businessman Phil Sokolof – who had suffered a heart attack age 43 – took out large newspaper ads in the US declaring McDonalds as a threat to McDonalds Interior in Hong Kong, 2016. national health. Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary ‘Super Size Me’ also addressed the increasing issue of obesity and how McDonalds was contributing to the issue. Denunciation of McDonalds’ business practices were as big as the health concerns, with the Oxford Dictionary adding the term ‘McJob’ , defining an ‘unstimulating, low-paid jobs with few prospects, especially ones created by the expansion of the service sector”. The aftermath of Spurlock’s documentary (along with other controversies in the fast food world) had a massive impact on the reputation of McDonalds and other chain restaurants.

McDonalds had become a tarnished name, shamed for its unhealthy food and deprived locations. In an attempt to salvage their image, McDonalds began trying to refresh the brand identity and franchise locations. This has been an ongoing project worldwide at McDonalds locations until 2018, when they declared they would be spending $6 billion “on the construction and modernization of most of its restaurants by 2020”. McDonalds Interior in , 2016. Since the mid 00s, franchise locations across the world have been refurbished to show the ‘new face’ of McDonalds. Rather than have a design team creating standards for layout and furnishings, McDonalds have employed separate architecture firms to design individual locations. This has seen different approaches towards finishes and graphics, breaking from the homogenised look of before. Hard plastic booth seating has changed to faux leather and formed plywood banquette seating, with free standing tables. Chesterfield sofas and replica Eames ‘Eiffel’ chairs can now be sat in while having a Big Mac. Light wooden veneer line the till fronts and partition walls that break up the spaces into zones. These aren’t one off high-street locations either, even Perth Broxden’s ‘drive-thru’ has seen a revamp, boasting a Scandinavian feel with bright, youthful graphics. Every aspect of McDonalds has been updated; healthier menu options are available, graphics and packaging have New packaging designed by Boxer. (2018) been redesigned to boast the companies new fresh, young aesthetic and there has been a reform for staff treatment and pay. Even a pledge that the food products are ethically sourced.

McDonalds has definitely caught up with the design world, every new refurbishment being Wallpaper magazine worthy – and it’s working. With the remodelling of their interiors, McDonalds have stepped up the psychological impact that the designs have on us as consumers. Large graphics of fresh vegetables on walls make us perceive the rest of the menu as healthier, helping customers remove the association of McDonalds being bad for your health. An array of seat types – some now cushioned and wrapped in leather – provides comfortable seating for customers who wish to stay with their meal. Variances in lighting, from general LED space lighting to individual pendant lit tables creates a purposeful atmosphere helping distinguish zones in the interior. Not only employing fresh aesthetics, but new technology – you can now order on a self-service touch screen machine that resemble a scaled-up iPhone and collect your order without every having to say anything to an unenthused teenager behind the till. Use of interactive technology interests customers and makes them look over the whole menu before the buy, increasing the chance of extra sales. The reshaping of the McDonalds brand has been a large, positive change to their public image. I was surprised when first entering Sauchiehall Street’s franchise and seeing a clean, well-designed space that felt new and alive. It felt unnatural to the environment, this is the same place that you can buy 20 chicken nuggets at 3am. There is almost a classiness to the chain now; Scandinavian-style material palettes and monochromatic patterns create an aesthetically pleasing space, making you almost forget you’re there to buy a burger.


McDonalds’ rebranding is a much needed update to stay relevant in the current market – and it may not be for any other reason than that. Scrutiny towards the company over decades has pushed for this refreshment but whether enough has changed is another question. The new interior and graphic design has made for pleasant, fun branding and painted the company as a design conscious, hip brand. Although tasteful, the company has simply followed design trends, employing ‘safe’ characteristics that aren’t necessarily tied to the company. Some locations have features inspired by the region (i.e. bamboo cladding in South East Asia), but apart from these, it’s hard to identify “Angel of Cholesterol” Alexander Kosolapov (2010) where the franchise occupies. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as a large franchise this is useful for brand identity, but it is a missed opportunity. Large variances in regional aesthetics would help separate McDonalds from the ‘tyrannical’ reputation they have gained over time. In the modernisation of their locations, McDonalds have rather modestly scaled back their branding, with less offensive logo repetition. Along with the stylish, minimal design, this puts the space in a weird limbo, where it’s not entirely obvious that it is a McDonalds interior. As there is still the rapid service time and high customer footfall they are known for, McDonalds runs close to becoming a ‘non-place’.

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The Evolution Of Mcdonald’s Company And Its Influence On Economics. (2021, September 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
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