A look at Starbucks

March of 2011 will symbolically mark the next phase of evolution for the Starbucks Corporation.  Celebrating their 40th year of business, Starbucks will commemorate the event with an updated brand logo.  I read through their press release statements and watched the nifty video featuring CEO, Howard Schultz.  It all sounded very nice and I can agree with their intended vision for the companies’ future.  Having a design background I loved their use of the new logo as a concept sketch on their annual report.  However, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my days as a design student. 

Inevitably there was always one person in class that would talk for an hour, or hours, describing the meaning behind a design.  The story was often well executed and made sense while looking at the work.  The problem often was that the design needed the story to support it.  It wasn’t self evident and fell flat as a standalone element.  I can’t help but feel the same way about the new Starbuck logo.  Don’t get me wrong I think it is well crafted, but the fluffy symbolism behind it just feels empty and inaccurate. 

The Starbucks siren is now supposed to be liberated from the outer ring, which was a dominate feature of the old logo, symbolizing the transition of the company from a small coffee shop to the multifaceted global corporation it is now. 

…Really?  A prior statement on their web page given by Mike P., senior creative manager, notes that the new Starbucks’s logo “still uses the same vibrant green circle that is so well recognized by our customers around the world.”  I have to agree with Mike.  The eye naturally completes the circle around the siren, still incasing her.  So is she really liberated, and from what? 

The most recognizable Starbucks element in my mind has always been that “encompassing” outer ring of green with the iconic bold STARBUCKS lettering.  I never really got the siren graphic.  I didn’t even know what it was supposed to be for a very long time, and so I ignored it.  Starbucks for me was that outer green ring with the bold lettering. 

I agree completely with their decision to drop the word coffee however.  They moved beyond just coffee a long time ago.  But dropping their name leaves me with the question: what benefit does it serve?  Now that it no longer identifies the name of the company it can’t spread brand awareness to those who are unfamiliar with Starbucks.  We are still heavily reliant on text based search methods, thus how does one who doesn’t know the name of a company search?  “Coffee cup with green lady on it”? 

Not to say that a graphic only logo is bad, but not everyone has the benefit of being called apple.  Apple Inc has a self reinforcing graphic for their logo.  Almost anyone can recognize Apple’s logo to be that of an apple, and hay, their name is Apple.  Brilliant. 

What is Starbucks’ image name?   Not so evident by the logo.  No name connection, no product connection, and I personally don’t get the emotional connection the CEO claims there to be, not that it would be searchable on a browser. 

Someone at Starbucks must have felt the same because the name does appear on the opposite side of their new coffee cup.  The new cup design is very nice I must admit.  It is obvious that Starbucks’ has a significant talent pool at their command, but if you want to start analyzing the symbolism behind having the logo on one side and the name on the other you could write a book.  Something to the tune of “Starbucks: A company divided” perhaps?

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