Arguably one of the best-known logos in the world, the McDonald’s Golden Arches were untouchable – from Turner Duckworth’s perspective – when it came to rebranding the restaurant chain. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to change, though. With the iconic mark being “completely under-utilised” and the rest of the branding having become cluttered and disparate over the years, the design consultancy set out to overhaul the visual identity so it made the most of its best features. It also needed to be coherent and easily translated across 120 countries and 35,000 restaurants, no less.

Colour use has moved from a “wide spectrum, basically any colour, to a much more disciplined palette,” explains the design team at Turner Duckworth’s San Francisco studio, this being the McDonald’s gold and red. Within the brand guidelines, the agency has specified what proportion the two colours should be used in, with gold as a far more prominent primary choice. “We’ve really aimed to embrace the “Golden” part of the Golden Arches. We also slightly tweaked the colour targets for McDonald’s gold and red for legibility and optimum ‘foodiness’.”

Photography has had a “facelift” they proclaim. “No more muddling up the photos with unrealistic props like marble surfaces, cutting boards, glass bowls, and linen tablecloths. We wanted to be more authentic and celebratory of the way the food is actually enjoyed – whether that’s in the restaurant, at home, or on-the-go.”

The logo, as previously mentioned, hasn’t changed, but the way it’s now used is a lot freer. “The Golden Arches are an extremely well-crafted, recognised asset, that symbolises a sense of welcome, familiarity, connection, etc, but they were hidden away or shown small and preciously,” the team explains. To fix this, Turner Duckworth developed a system it’s coined “Archery” which sees the arches used in new ways – oversized, cropped, angled, bold, even implied (exemplifying their recognisability).

Meanwhile, any other logo use is being reeled in. “There was a tendency for McDonald’s to create a new logo for something at every opportunity, both internally and externally. We’re really working to communicate more straightforwardly, let the content do the talking without being so heavy-handed and logo-tastic.”

Continuing the mission to pare down the identity and celebrate what the restaurant is known for, the team created a set of flat illustrated icons featuring a plethora of staple items from the McDonald’s menu. Importantly, though, they aren’t cleaned up too much. “Anyone can draw a burger or fries, so we needed to set the graphics apart in a distinctly McDonald’s way. ‘Flawesome’ is one of our creative principles for the brand. It’s about celebrating imperfection rather than hiding it.” Hence these illustrations show features such as the cheese melting, the tapered ends of the fries and the sprinkled arrangement of sesame seeds. This follows in patterns the team has created for digital applications and branded apparel.

The typeface also aims to simplify the branding, with a variety of fonts being ditched – including the most consistently used Lovin’ Sans – in favour of Speedee, a new typeface developed with Dalton Maag – which has previously worked with Netflix, Airbnb and BT named after McDonald’s Speedee Service System. “We sketched up initial letterforms taking inspiration from the form of the Golden Arches and the McDonald’s wordmark, and the typeface used in the iconic McDonald’s ‘You deserve a break today’ ads from 1971. Speedee is friendly and characterful, but also highly legible and functional.” It comes in three weights and a single custom font.

Even the brand guidelines were streamlined, with Turner Duckworth wary of “the standard 200-page PDF” likely to confuse a global roll-out. Therefore they introduced the McDonald’s Design Hub, an online bank of inspiration and brand assets, as well as so-called Cheatsheets, a small set of pages spelling out the new identity in a way that’s easy to absorb and keep up-to-date.

As with a project of this scale, the work doesn’t stop here, and the design consultancy is continuing to refine elements of the branding, including the Happy Meal identity. The smile has been “subtly evolved” using Archery as inspiration, and will be rolling out soon globally.