This fast food drive-in prototype for Sonic Restaurants was developed with Lippincott and Margulies, a corporate identity firm. It was important to the team that graphics, program, and architecture were developed simultaneously, with both groups of designers collaborating on the general character and vocabulary of the project. The prototype's design seeks a consistent and singular image that is clearly legible and distinct from a passing car. The goal has been to combine all of the disparate elements of a drive-in (canopies, the kitchen building, patio areas, car stalls, and columns) into an integrated design. By reducing visual clutter, the image of the Sonic Restaurant brand can stand out more clearly.
The design taps into nostalgic feelings for the golden age of drive-in restaurants, an era that was infused with optimism about the future and the promise of space travel.
Popular culture was fascinated by space-age imagery that was a combination of Sputnik-inspired "spikes" and the streamlined forms of rocket ships. This was a fertile genre for us since the vocabulary could connote speed and directionality (qualities that are legible from an automobile) and because a strong sculptural object would distinguish itself within the context of the highway strip. There is also a long tradition of American consumer objects charged with the appeal of bulbous, rounded, and streamlined forms.
The form of the restaurant was also calibrated to have a unique appeal from a car. For example, the curved shape of the canopy has constantly changing qualities when it is approached from the street. The site plan is carefully orchestrated to enhance the experience for customers eating in their cars: the curve of the canopy offsets each car stall slightly, so cars do not align in a single row. From most car stalls, views will be possible across the covered patio to other cars. As much of the kitchen will be as visible as possible, contained by a glass enclosure, increasing the interest of the site for customers. At night, colored light will be projected from the order stations, increasing the appeal of the restaurant.