Environmental Design from Shikatani Lacroix helps Tim Hortons reach urban audience

Case Study by Jean Pierre Lacroix RGD, President of Shikatani Lacroix

Shikatani Lacroix was retained by Tim Hortons to develop a new retail concept design for urban locations in a changing Canadian coffee shop and restaurant landscape. The goal was to improve the experience within Tim Hortons urban locations and create design that would fit well within the urban landscape, while appealing to the urban customers.



The goal of the project was to develop options for an urban facility concept that would provide the chain with better location options and increase visibility of the brand in urban markets. The program was designed to ensure that the Tim Hortons brand remains relevant in markets where the consumer segments may be coming from office and professional environments, to appeal to younger demographics and in locations where the competitive set consists of specialty coffee shops and major café chains.


The client sought a modern concept that would fit with more upscale urban locations and appeal to an urban population. The new concept had to meet a set of criteria, including:

  • no need for parking / walk-ups
  • strong local integration (community / urban landscape fit)
  • restaurant atmosphere that would change during the day
  • differentiated product offering
  • differentiation to the front / back of house
  • built from the base versus reinvented


Shikatani Lacroix worked with the client to determine the key upgrades the client sought to address and which opportunities for winning customers should be the focus of the new design.



Time of day represented one of the design considerations. Our objective was to provide design solutions for reaching customers during mid-afternoon breaks, weekend afternoon meet-ups and study times during the day and at night. Another goal was to expand the target demographics and create a design that would attract urban couples, urban Gen Y customers and those not yet loyal to the Tim Hortons brand.


The new design needed to go beyond the traditional grab-and-go concept, and establish a place that would deliver more than a quick break from daily duties. It needed to be a place to hang out, socialize, relax, work, read, spend a weekend afternoon or bring a date. We needed to create a space that the urban consumer would perceive as an authentic, relevant destination.


Design Concept 

Using Tim Hortons’ design direction, Shikatani Lacroix developed full design intent drawings, which detailed items such as the floor plan layouts, décor posters and graphics, lighting, wall coverings, flooring, millwork finishes, paint finishes and vinyl upholstery. The new design featured customized light fixtures, unique tabletop graphics, eye-catching graphic posters, improved seating and handy power outlets.



Beyond aesthetic design, service considerations were also part of the concept with the idea of attracting the more savvy urban customer. Tim Hortons traditionally offers customers speedy and utilitarian service, providing more substance than style in the delivery of the product. To cater to the urban dweller, the new concept had to connect with a customer who favours the coffee shop experience over the coffee itself, who looks for quality of service over speed of delivery, and who expects both substance and style.


Through an intensive audit process and a brand ideation session, Shikatani Lacroix worked closely with the client to develop three concepts that would position and direct the design exploration phase.


The ideation session invited franchisees and the client's leadership team to take part in some pre-meeting homework, asking each participant to provide three images and words that would capture the desired future state of the brand experience. Our team presented the key personas of urban consumers and information obtained through a benchmark study of best-in-class retailers with experience initiating similar urban strategies (i.e. Target, McDonalds, Starbucks). The images and information discussed helped determine how the design would meet the needs of the urban consumer while also meeting the needs of Tim Hortons. The result of the session was the creation of three image boards representing the three key directions the design could take: “Home Away from Home”, “My Neighbourhood, My Way” and “The Fresh Start”.


Shikatani Lacroix developed individual brand stories describing the customer experience for each concept and created design renderings and mosaic boards to help the client visualize the building exterior, interior, signing and wall graphics. An overall personality was created for each of the three positions. These sets were then validated and measured in the research phase to ensure stakeholder approval and further refine design direction.




The client selected the “Home Away from Home” concept and identified  some elements from the other two concepts to be integrated into the final design.


This concept concept offered a variety of lighting options, allowing guests to choose their seat according to the purpose of their visit, such as well-lit spaces for work, or dimmer areas for more intimate gatherings. Guests are also offered a variety of seating options; hard seating at the front of the restaurant to serve guests who stop for a quick meal, and more comfortable seating at the back of the restaurant for guests planning to stay to work or socialize. This concept also focused on increasing the level of service, with heightened attention of staff to the guests present in the restaurant, offering the option of table service so that guests would not need to return to the line.



The client executed the developed concept, and the new Tim Hortons urban design has been implemented in several locations in Toronto, the first at First Canadian Place lower concourse and at the corner of River and King Streets. 



“The Shikatani Lacroix process allowed us to collaborate with our franchise partners and key functional areas within the organization to explore a wide range of options from evolution to revolution.” Nick Javor, Senior Vice President of Development, Tim Hortons.



Designer Takeaways

  1. Whether a design is targeted to new or existing customers, it needs to maintain key elements of the brand's personality and deliverables. In the case of Tim Hortons Coffee House program, we leveraged the coffee glass urns and the “Double Double” language as part of the wallpaper and décor elements.
  2. Consider the context of any new design elements you introduce. A good idea on paper might have certain challenges in actual application - always look at a design as a kit of parts to ensure it is scalable. 
  3. When managing change for a well-established organization, ensure that internal client alignment is part of the design process. Allowing each of the various stakeholders the opportunity to contribute in the development of the concept goes a long way to getting final buy-in.

Client Takeaways

  1. Be willing to challenge the status quo as part of the design development process to avoid “incrementalism”. The biggest challenge is going beyond your comfort zone. From a designer's perspective, the customer will often give us permission for more drastic change than the client. Prototype the ideas that go beyond your comfort zone to evaluate how the ultimate decision maker, the customer, responds.
  2. Create an inclusive process with involvement from all key stakeholders to ensure alignment and support. No one likes surprises or being given ideas that may be perceived as one-sided or lacking in sensitivity toward a given department's needs.


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