Mandala Cafe

branding project




graphic design


visual designer, brand strategy, research, creative director, photographer


The project was part of a junior level graphic design course in Japan. The objectives of the semester-long project were to come up with a solid concept for an imaginative Restaurant and then develop the branding. The design of the logo, menu, paper bag and additional products have to tie in strongly with the concept for the restaurant and relate to each other.

The Story

For this restaurant project, I decided to go for a vegetarian restaurant, as I myself am vegetarian and living in a suburban city in Japan made me miss having an abundance of vegetarian restaurants. I have been raised to be very conscious and respect all living beings and I wanted the restaurant to reflect this, as well as my love for cozy places that you can relax in. Combining my idea of the mandala, a beautiful homogenous pattern that you can color in, with the Japanese understanding of the mandala, a Buddhist representation of the universe, wholeness, and the structure of life, led me to create a concept of a vegetarian consciousness café. The café would serve the food of Japanese Buddhist monks –shojin ryori– which is a way of eating that is both good for the environment as well as for the physical and spiritual health and incorporates seasonal and local vegetables. The end result has been highly influenced by my personal background as well as by my many intercultural experiences.

Shojin ryori is based on simplicity and harmony and so the preparation methods follow these principles. For example, dishes are prepared with balance in colors and flavors taking into consideration, so that each meal must have a balance of 5 different colors and flavors.

– Tripple Lights on Shojin ryori

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The biggest challenge of this project was the cultural circumstances. As a German/Australian I initially pitched my idea with only the understanding of my own cultures. I proposed a mandala café where people could come to relax, have a pie and some tea and color in some mandalas. For me the mandala had no relationship to Buddhism, coloring in mandalas has something calming about it, is meditative and can take your mind off the everyday stress. In this sense I wanted the café to be an oasis to take a break from the world. The Japanese, however, have a completely different understanding of the mandala and see it solely in relation to Buddhism. So the challenge for this project was to do research on the Japanese understanding of it and incorporate that into my design.


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To bridge this cultural differences and come up with a design that relates to the Japanese understandings, and origins, of the mandala I did research on the matter and also adapted the concept of the restaurant to a vegetarian conscious café instead of a pie café. In weekly critiques, I refined the design in regards to feedback from the Japanese perspective, while still also bringing in my own cultural background and understanding. This project showed me the importance of doing research of the target market and audience.



Process mandala
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  • Scannable Document on 6 Apr 2018 at 1_44_11 pm-3
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In order to understand the Japanese, and Buddhist, understanding I did some general research on Mandalas.

Mandala origins

A Mandala is the representation of the universe in Tantric Buddhism (Vojrahana Buddhism) The sanskrit work loosely translated means circle. With its homogenous and symmetrical shape and its focus on the center its also a visual representation of meditation

It represents wholeness, is a model of the organizational structure of life, it’s a cosmic diagram reminding us of our relationship to infinity. We are all part of its intricate design, thus it lets us recall the importance of life and the connection of all living beings.


Caring, environmentally friendly, open-minded people

The imaginative Restaurant was developed in Japan with an understanding of the Japanese culture and its understanding of Mandalas in the context of Japanese Zen Buddhism. It is however targeted to an international market bringing a piece of Japanese culture into other countries. As the Restaurant concept is one of a vegetarian “consciousness” café serving Japanese monk food, the main target audience is young, open-minded individuals that care for the environment and are conscious about their ecologic footprint and their health and wellbeing. They value good locally sourced food.

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The audience is a very caring and conscious one, so transparence and clearness of the concept is important. To ensure this the overall concept has been included in the design of the menu. Further, this target audience expects authenticity, this has been considered in research of the meaning of mandala in the Japanese and Buddhist context, as well as research on the shojin ryori food that is served in the restaurant. This research has been underdone in Japan and the designs were all critiqued by Japanese students and professors. As the mandala has been taken out of its original context in a lot of western cultures and is known as beautiful patterns often seen in tattoos or adult coloring in books, this expectation has also been considered and the design is a combination of a color and pattern study of the older, traditional, Buddhist mandalas and the overall layout and design of the modern, western, take on the mandala. Thus, the design ensures that both audiences, with the Japanese or Western understanding, can relate to it.

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according to the research on the origin of the mandala, and the new concept for the Shojin Ryori food, first logo sketches were developed.

Logo development

After considering feedback, the logomark was taken into illustrator and was refined according to further feedback.



Final logo

The final logo was refined to be simplistic, well legible and memorable. The colors were chosen to be a modern light blue combined with warm tones of orange and brown.

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Menu development

The best elements of the initial menu ideas were combined, and the design was developed in illustrator.

The color choice for the first draft of the logo was determined by the logo colors as well as adding colors such as green tones to represent the plant-based nature of the food served in the restaurant.

Refining the color choice

As the colors of the first draft were perceived too cute and playful a traditional mandala was sampled to develop a more sophisticated and elegant color pallet.

A paper structure was added as an extra element to give the design more depth and make it overall more interesting.

Mandala colors

Menu development

In this first finish, the new color palette was integrated into the design. Further inspired by the original Buddhist’ mandalas small graphic elements in a gold-tone were added to elevate the design.



Final Menu

To add some more structures, the final menu included not only the gold graphic elements but also some patterns in the orange as well as in the background of the food illustrations on the inside of the menu.



bag development

templates for the different bags were developed in illustrator.


As the main focus should be on the design and the overall concept of it worked best, the goodie bag of the gift bag was chosen to be refined and finalized.


Merchandise development

To go with the overall theme and atmosphere of the restaurant, coloring in coasters, pens and a candle would come inside the bag. This way the patrons could have another moment of relaxation at home coloring the coasters with the candle lit. 

Further a box for the coaster and the crayons was developped



conscious – local– tranquil – balanced – wholesome – elegant

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As a dual citizen of Germany and Australia and with a lot of experience of living in and adapting to different cultures, I am highly sensitive to the cultural aspect and was thus able to develop a final product that ties in to multiple cultures and could function in an international context as well as in a local one (Japan). While I am a good observer and sensible to local cultures I also bring in a different perspective as I have an outsider viewpoint, this allows me to bring in new and innovative ideas.