Starbucks is one of the biggest and most influential brands in the world. Even if you have never had a Starbucks coffee or you live in a country without Starbucks, you have probably still heard of the company and seen its logo somewhere.
For coffee lovers in many parts of the world, Starbucks has come to be synonymous with delicious, handcrafted, on-the-go coffee beverages. The company has become so popular that its logo is permanently etched into the minds of consumers all around the globe.
However, like most brands in existence, the Starbucks logo did not just come to be and it has been modified through the years to reflect the company’s values, spirit, and aspirations. Today, we are going to examine the history of the Starbucks logo and how it became one of the most iconic brand logo designs ever seen.
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The Starbucks logo has undergone a few changes over the years, but through it all, one character has remained a constant presence in each new design iteration. This mermaid-like central character in the logo for the world’s largest coffee chain is called a siren.
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For those familiar with Greek mythology, you have probably heard a thing or two about sirens. A siren is a dangerous creature—half woman, half bird or fish—who was believed to possess an enchanting singing voice and charming songs which she used to lure sailors to shipwreck, ultimately leading to their deaths.
You see, the name “Starbucks” is actually a reference to a classic novel about marine life—Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
Initially, the three founders of the coffee chain wanted their business venture to be called “Pequod” after the whaling ship steered by Captain Ahab, the protagonist in the novel.
However, they felt the name didn’t have the pizzazz needed to make the company stand out and be memorable.
As a result, they changed the company’s name to Starbucks, derived from Starbuck, the name of the coffee-loving chief mate on board the Pequod—and a multi-billion dollar franchise was born.
That all makes sense, but now you might be wondering what inspired the founders to go for a nautical theme with the company’s name and logo.
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Image source: Pixabay
Well, back when Starbucks was just starting out in 1971, its hometown—Seattle—was a thriving port city known for its seaports and sailing adventures.
Add that to the fact that coffee has historically been imported into the United States from foreign nations using ships and you start to see the links between the company, its core product, and the sea.
The founders of Starbucks wanted its branding to emphasize their love for the city of Seattle, the history of coffee, and how it all connects to the boundless sea. That idea is what led to the creation of the infamous Starbucks logo as we know it today.
Without context, a siren might seem completely out of place on the logo for a company that sells coffee. I mean, what does a mythical sea creature have to do with the dark, strong beverage that makes everything better?
Image source: Pexels
As random as the Starbucks logo may appear, it is not without meaning; there is a story behind how it came to be and what it is meant to symbolize.
The siren and its irresistible powers that capture the heart of sailors at sea are meant to represent the alluring nature and taste of Starbucks coffee.
Just like the mythological sea creature, the company’s mission is to lure people into happily spending their hard-earned money on cup after cup of delicious, albeit overpriced, coffee as well as other offerings on the menu.
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There are various constituent parts that come together to create the Starbucks emblem and ensure it remains etched into the fabric of our memories.
Let’s break down these elements and see how each of them contributes to the overall design of the present-day Starbucks logo.
The Starbucks logo features a bold mix of green and white colors. The green color makes up the background while the white is used to create the outline of the siren.
The decision to switch to the color green for the company’s logo might be due to the idea that green signifies nature, freshness, protection, growth, and healing.
These are some of the imagery that Starbucks wants to evoke in its customers every time they see the brand’s logo.
Image source: Pexels
Another reason for choosing green for the Starbucks logo is because the designers wanted to highlight the company’s commitment to treating its partners and customers positively and fairly. Starbucks is a company that takes corporate social responsibility very seriously.
It makes a conscious effort to ethically source and pay above-market rates for its coffee beans while embracing processes that promote environmental sustainability.
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Right from the very first Starbucks emblem to the modern-day interpretation, the brand’s logo has always maintained a circular form.
In the graphic design world, circles are the most commonly used shapes because they seem to go on forever, without a beginning or end point.
Image source: Pexels
The decision to opt for a circular logo shape might have been intended to signify Starbucks’ boundless growth in the coffee industry and its desire to establish a legacy that never comes to an end.
The current version of Starbucks’ logo doesn’t feature any text. However, at one time, the logo consisted of a bold, yet simple sans-serif font that spelled out the brand’s name in block letters.
Image source: Pixabay
The company made the decision to remove all lettering from the logo because it had become memorable enough to stand on its own.
You don’t need to read words announcing that a coffee or drink is from Starbucks when you see the packaging, you will simply recognize the logo right away.
That’s the power of a good logo and strong branding.
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The icon or character at the center of the Starbucks logo is a twin-tailed siren that serves as an allusion to Seattle’s close ties with the sea and the importation of coffee from overseas through large container ships.
The Starbucks logo has changed several times over the years. The timeline below breaks down when and how these changes occurred that transformed the brand’s emblem into the icon logo we know and love today.
The first Starbucks logo was designed in 1971 and it represented the brand dutifully for fifteen years before it was modified. The company’s founders hired Terry Heckler, a talented artist, to create a nautical-themed logo for the brand.
After poring over old marine books and trying to reimagine existing maritime imagery, Heckler came across a Norse woodcut of a siren dating back to the 16th century. He decided to base the Starbucks logo on this captivating image.
In the original design Heckler created, the twin-tailed siren is displayed in all her glory. The logo featured a circular design with dark coffee brown color and a white outline of a topless siren clutching both ends of her tail in the middle.
On the outer edges of the circle, the company’s name and core offerings were written in a bold, white, and simple sans-serif typeface. This provided a balance for the ornate design of the logo’s central character—the siren and added a touch of professionalism to the emblem.
The text at the top of the circle proclaimed the name “Starbucks” while the inscription at the bottom read: Coffee, Tea, and Spices—making customers aware of the type of products they could get in the store. The text at the bottom of the frame was separated by a solid white dot on each side.
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After Howard Schultz, the head of marketing at Starbucks failed to convince the company’s founders to start selling handcrafted espresso drinks in their stores, he left to start his own company.
The coffee chain he started was called II Giornale and it quickly became a huge success with multiple stores around the United States.
The original logo for II Giornale would go on to inspire the first redesign of the Starbucks logo and its eventual reshaping into the beloved emblem of today.
In 1987, a year after Schultz struck out on his own, the founders of Starbucks decided to sell the company and Schultz saw the opportunity to create the vision he always wanted for the brand. He acquired Starbucks for $3.8 million and merged it with his budding company, II Giornale.
Following the merger, Starbucks needed to update its brand identity to reflect the company’s new status and direction.
Furthermore, the company was transforming into a corporation and would need to have its logo printed on the side of trucks, which posed a problem as the existing logo was considered too revealing.
Terry Heckler, the original designer of the company’s logo was called upon again to come up with a fresher image for Starbucks.
To do this, Heckler took bits of the existing II Giornale and Starbucks logos and blended them together to create a more contemporary and pleasing design.
He borrowed the vibrant green color of the II Giornale logo to signify growth, freshness, and prosperity then placed the Starbucks siren at the center. However, the siren was made less seductive and more family-friendly.
Instead of remaining topless, the twin-tailed sea creature was given long flowing hair that covered her breasts, a still visible navel, a facelift, and a few cuts here and there to make her form more elegant and flattering.
The siren’s white outline was also positioned in front of a black background, providing a strong contrast with the green circle that borders it.
The name of the brand was also prominently displayed in white in the wordmark in the logo’s outer circle. Starbucks was written at the top and the bottom inscription was edited to only say “Coffee” rather than the original Coffee, Tea, and Spice.
The text in the new logo’s wordmark—Starbucks and Coffee—was separated by a white star on each side. The typeface was also modified to be bolder and larger.
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The third version of the Starbucks logo was introduced in 1992. Although the changes made to the logo this time around weren’t as drastic as the previous update, they helped to strengthen the brand’s image even further.
For the new logo, the designers zoomed into the image of the siren so that her face took up most of the space in the center circle. Her visible navel and lower body were cropped out of the logo, leaving only a small side profile of her fishtails.
The rest of the siren’s features and appearance from her crown to her wavy hair to her face and background color remained the same. Another area of the logo that the designers made changes to was the typeface that spelled out Starbucks Coffee.
Image source: Unsplash
In the reimagined Starbucks logo, the typeface was modernized a little bit to make the letters bigger and wider, but the white lettering remained. All of these changes helped create a logo with a crisper, cleaner, and more refined feel.
This logo would go on to become the most popular of all the Starbucks emblems until the current integration was introduced. In fact, this version is still sometimes used as a secondary logo for Starbucks even today.
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In 2008, Starbucks embarked on another mission to rebrand the company’s identity, but in its attempt to move the company’s design identity forward, it ended up journeying into the past.
For reasons best known to the designers, they opted to abandon the company’s now-famous green color palette in favor of a bold black color palette.
The inspiration for the new logo was taken from the original 1971 Starbucks logo design with a few modern twists added to set it apart.
Like in the classic version, the designers brought back the siren’s full body, complete with exposed breasts and nipples. The name Starbucks was written in a white and simple font at the top of the outer circle ring.
However, the text at the bottom was changed to “Coffee and Tea” to differentiate it from the inscription on the original logo which read “Coffee, Tea, Spices.
Unfortunately, the rebranding attempt did not go over well with the general public. Starbucks’ customers heavily criticized the new logo because it seemed unfamiliar and out of place with the brand image they had come to recognize and cherish.
By that point, the company’s green logo and simplified design had become so memorable to the public that the attempt to make significant changes to it sent a huge jolt to the collective consciousness of its audience.
People were simply unwilling to say goodbye to the beloved green logo, so Starbucks was forced to shelf the redesigned logo prematurely and return to the 1992 version.
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To celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2011, Starbucks, once again, decided to give its branding and logo a facelift. The company wanted the new brand logo and visuals to pay homage to its past while embracing the possibilities of its future.
Starbucks was thinking about expanding its offerings to include other beverages and items such as teas, beers, wine, ice cream, packaged goods, breakfast food, consumer products, merchandise, and more.
Consequently, it needed a new brand identity to make room for the company to explore all these new directions and opportunities without losing touch with its existing and future customers.
To bring this vision to life, Starbucks enlisted the help of its in-house design team and Lippincott, a New York-based global creative consultancy.
The joint team got to work and began designing concepts for the new logo, testing one concept against another to find the qualities that made each one unique.
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This brought them to the realization that intentionality and minimalism were amongst the core qualities that needed to be reflected in the new Starbucks logo. Armed with this insight, the design team set about revamping the existing logo.
They removed all of the text, symbols, and outer circle from the logo, making the siren front and center of the design. The reasoning behind this was that customers might grow tired of having to read “Starbucks Coffee” over and over on the logo.
Additionally, since coffee was no longer the focus of the brand, removing it from the logo would make it easier for consumers to accept that the brand sells other products.
After removing the wordmark, the design team went about ensuring the features and positioning of the siren were as perfect as possible.
The designers gave the siren a bigger, smoother face and used wider lines to outline her frame. The black background was also swapped out for a lush green one, but the siren’s crown, long wavy hair, and slightly visible tails remained.
Eleven years later, Starbucks’ textless/nameless logo has not undergone any further changes.
The company has been able to expand and achieve brand recognition with just the siren on its cups, packaging, and branding materials announcing the brand’s identity and reminding everyone of how influential it has become.
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Here are some things you may not know about the Starbucks logo.
- At first, the siren in the current Starbucks logo was designed to be picture-perfect, but the designers designed to add some imperfections to her appearance so they made her nose slightly asymmetrical and introduced a bit more shadow to the right side of her face.
- Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Starbucks is affiliated with the Illuminati because if you turn the Starbucks logo—especially the 1971 version—upside down, it resembles a goat’s head which is a satanic symbol that the Illuminati uses.
- Other conspiracy theorists claim that the stars on the 2011 Starbucks logo are supposedly positioned at the spot where the Illuminati typically places their all-seeing eye symbol.
- According to some anti-semitic groups, the siren on Starbucks’ emblem symbolizes Queen Esther, indicating that the brand partakes in Zionist plots.
- The shade of green used in the Starbucks logo is listed as 3425C with the hex code #00704A in the Pantone system. The hex codes for the logo’s supplementary colors are white (#FFFFFF) and black (#000000).
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Starbucks has always managed to create a unique visual identity that sets it apart from other companies.
Although the brand’s logo has evolved over the years, it has remained fairly consistent, recognizable, and memorable.
It will be interesting to see what shape, look, and feel the Starbucks logo takes on next.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing.
Tom has been a full-time internet marketer for two decades now, earning millions of dollars while living life on his own terms. Along the way, he’s also coached thousands of other people to success.