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The way in which a product is presented is as important as the product itself, sometimes even more so. While the entrepreneur in all of us would like to believe that a superior product or service always receives the most attention, that simply is not reality. Jim Ward understands this extremely well. This designer has worked with countless well known and lesser known brands and companies to enable them to reach their customers more accurately and effectively. In a manner similar to the way a great film director crafts and presents a story to entertain the masses, Ward crafts the proper camera angles, lighting, even costuming…or the equivalent of these in the advertising/branding world. This award-nominated Designer has been the discerning eye and guiding force for names such as Haagen Dazs, Byron Burgers, Deliveroo, and many more. His work with the pan-Asian restaurant Wagamama transformed their aesthetic into a much more sleek and considered look which derived its inspiration from the cuisine itself. Ward’s work helped transform the public’s perception of this chain, allowing Wagamama to be recognized as the establishment it always knew it was.

Wagamama has long been a player in the market, providing fans of Japanese food like ramen, Katsu curry, Gyoza, chilli squid, etc. with a great dining experience. What Wagamama was missing out on was a specific section of the public patronage. The brand’s look was somewhat focused on an inconsistent approach. Jim felt that the restaurant possessed the qualities that the public would find attractive, they just weren’t being displayed properly. He proposed a Japanese inspired design aesthetic with a very sleek, clean design. He describes, “The approach gave consideration to the use of negative space. This was a house style we really built on during the time we worked with them. Rather than the previous use of illustrations, we wanted to focus more on photography, pushing the idea of using beautifully shot food. We did however include illustration as this is not a bad thing, and fits the brands tone of voice very well. We commissioned illustrators for certain projects but applied it to the brand in a different way than it had been done previously.”

Ward led the design from start to finish, helped in the creation of initial ideas, found photographers, art directed photoshoots, and oversaw the retouching of photography with post-production houses, working up final layouts with great attention to detail across the typography and imagery created for each of the projects. The breadth of Jim’s work reached much further than Wagamama’s previous campaigns as his contributions were part of the first out of home advertising that spanned across the UK, appearing in print media spaces and digitally animated ads on social media (Facebook and Instagram.) The project saw him working with multiple creative teams and copywriters to achieve these projects and deliver them to Mark Elwood (executive creative director of 101 London).

The design was based on the traditional Japanese saying “You eat with your eyes first.” The visual presentation is a requirement in the dining experience and Jim understood that for Wagamama to establish itself as a more unique eating establishment there was a need to adopt this characteristic. A focus on photography simply meant that the attractive and appetizing qualities of the items on the menu would speak for themselves. The approach was simple yet classic and stylish. It was necessary for the photography to show the dishes from the menu looking delicious as they tasted in real life. One of the creations of the campaign were placemats in the restaurants (paper and disposable) used as a space to advertise and display certain dishes from the menu. Wagamama has a considerably large menu; the majority of customers were only choosing dishes they were familiar with rather than exploring other offerings. Using the same “You eat with your eyes first” idea, the placemats were used to draw attention to a rotating set of dishes which changed every couple of months. These placemats have become a trait that the restaurant is known for and has resulted in dramatically increased sales.

It’s the job of Jim Ward to understand the perception of any type of product and how this can be used to greater success. With regards to Wagamama he explains, “I designed the new menu with the idea of allowing it to instruct people a bit more. We added copy to sections that suggested the pairing of certain dishes. This was all to help people navigate the menu more easily and freely. The old menu was just too extensive. We also added top down shots of certain dishes to help people visually (as you see on many Asian restaurant menus) giving them more of a clue of what to expect/understand what some things were. Wagamama is a national high-street restaurant chain, so we needed to make the menu as digestible and understandable as possible. For the placemats, I would work with creative teams to establish the visual look and feel. They would write the copy and create the initial idea for the placemats and then I would go on the photoshoots and art direct the photography, working with photographer Gareth Sambidge and food stylists. During post production I oversaw retouching of the imagery and application of the typography. With the layouts and artwork finalized, we’d send it to the client for final sign off. I have to say that I had an amazing team of people to work with on the project.”

While Jim praises others, Mark Elwood (Executive Creative Director, 101 London / MullenLowe) pivots it squarely back at the campaigns Designer. He states, “Over the two years we worked with Wagamama, an integral part of these placemats being so successful was getting the design right and making sure the creative we devised for each the dishes we advertised was eye-catching and helped people to decide to choose differently to what they would normally order. Since the placemats have been used in the restaurants, customers have shared images of the placemats on Instagram, which has been such an effective communication channel for us, as it’s absolutely free. Jim was key to this. He took charge of the design of the placemats and campaigns we created, crafting beautiful layouts that allowed the typography and imagery to work together harmoniously. He was on many of the photo-shoots as the creative eye to make sure every photo and composition was created as best it could, and over-saw the retouching of the photography for each of the projects at the post-production house we used, with a meticulous level of attention to detail. Jim saw that all the artwork was flawless before being sent out to print and supplied to the restaurants.”

The account won an award for Marketing on a Shoestring by the Marketing Society of Excellence in 2015. This was due to the return and increase in sales that Wagamama received from the advertising and strategy that Ward and 101 London provided for them. Possessing a head for business with an artistic sensibility, Jim notes that he learns something during every project he works on. The skill and creativity required in food photography on this project helped him gain greater insight into what a massive effect our visual sense has on our palette. The phrase “You eat with your eyes first” will never be the same for Jim Ward…and the customers of Wagamama.

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