The key to great bar design is a great story

gemma warriner
Designer Gemma Warriner has been behind some of Sydney’s best looking venues — here, get an insight into how she works, and what makes great bar design.

There’s a certain level of design detail that motivates my return to particular bars and restaurants I visit. Of course, there are many factors that influence this impulse, but people tend to embrace both new and existing venues because they offer more than just good food and drink. Progressively, I feel less emphasis is being placed on what we can ‘get’ at a venue and instead more on how a place makes us feel. So what makes a rich brand experience?

While the contemporary hospitality industry flourishes both locally and globally, the need to ‘stand out from the crowd’ becomes an increasingly significant consideration for both established and start-up businesses alike. The role of the brand identity demands hierarchy and takes centre stage as the mediator between business owner and consumer, communicating a convincing visual narrative that sets them apart from the venture next door and one that keeps us coming back.

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Top tips for building a brand experience

  • Establish a clear and creative concept.
  • Build a team who understand this vision and know how to execute it.
  • Aim for uniqueness, not simply what you’ve seen work before.
  • Don’t skimp on the detail – a strong brand lasts forever.

As a practicing visual communication (graphic) designer, my role is to give shape to this idea and to communicate this vision across all channels. Each design decision, including typeface, colour, graphic style and tone of voice, all have a reason for being and are bound by this one concept – the brand story. The opportunity here is to provide layers of information that the environment alone perhaps cannot portray and to evoke curiosity, discovery, delight, nostalgia, joy and believability. This visual identity establishes the first and last impression, facilitating the journey from beginning to end.


For many of the brand identities I’ve designed, I have been fortunate to work with passionate and creatively inclined business owners. The briefs they provide for their vision are conceptually rich and upon reading
them, I can usually tell they will be the city’s ‘next big thing’.

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Sydney’s Kittyhawk bar and restaurant tells the story of a Second World War fighter aircraft, capturing an iconic time in aviation history. The brand invites guests to imagine liberation day, – the day American and French soldiers reclaimed Paris during WWII and to relive a night in Paris at the time. The Kittyhawk logo is a uniquely crafted typeface, reflecting the mechanical components of the warcraft itself whilst the supporting brand collateral present a visual exposition of airplane manuals and solider diaries that take guests to the post-war Paris of the 1940s.

On the eastern side of the city, Watsons Bay Beach Club transports patrons to a mid-century ‘Miami cool’ destination on Sydney’s harbour side. This hand generated identity design establishes an iconic and memorable brand, whilst the vibrant colour palette extends the relaxed, fresh and fun atmosphere of the space.

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Further south is Sean’s Kitchen, an Adelaide venture headed by Chef Sean Connolly that was inspired by his travels to New York and it’s vivid food history. The Sean’s Kitchen brand identity works in harmony with the 1920’s New York brasserie style architecture through the contrast of contemporary new and classic old world type styles. A focus on locally sourced produce is also at the heart of the brand story, which is communicated typographically and illustratively throughout the restaurant signage and print collateral.

Whist it is certainly challenging to enter this thriving industry, I find this to be an incredibly exciting time in hospitality where business entrepreneurs are encouraged to be creative, innovative and to take risks in order to bring something new to the table.

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• Gemma Warriner is a Sydney based visual communication designer working largely in hospitality brand design. Her portfolio reflects her interests in brand experience, food design and information visualisation, with projects extending across both print and digital platforms. Her work has been published internationally and recognised by The Australian Graphic Design Association, Graphis, and more. Find out more at

Kittyhawk: Photography: MY Media Sydney ; Cocktail Illustrations: Jordan Hughes. Watsons Bay Beach Club: Photography: Murray Fredericks / Gemma Warriner. Sean’s Kitchen: Photography: Murray Fredericks / Gemma Warriner

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