Featured cases

Case: Starbucks 2011


When Starbucks rebrands, seventeen thousand stores (in 50 countries) get a face lift. That’s a very big deal. It changes the way the world looks. But it’s costly. Why bother?

Steve Barrett, who heads Starbuck’s 100-strong design studio, put it in perspective. “While business in 2010 picked up nicely, we have been through a painful period, bottoming in 2009 – a combination of self-inflicted problems, the economic downturn, and better-focused competition from both independent coffee houses and chains like McDonalds. CEO Howard Schultz and the leadership team have countered with a variety of successful moves (including Frappuccino and VIA) but the biggest is to get back to our roots, to re-charge the power of connections between our partners [read employees] and our customers. We think a rebranding can be a helpful signal to partners [30% weighting] and customers alike [30%] the reality of a new, emerging Starbucks.”

Barrett and his team closely studied design-driven renewals by other "visible and trusted" brands like Apple and Nike, and made two decisions. The first was to strip away the "verbiage" that cluttered the brand's  symbol, leaving only its most distinctive visual essence, the siren. (Because the separate STARBUCKS wordmark remains, on storefronts, as the primary identifier, "Starbucks" in the symbol too is redundant. And "Coffee," while important, is increasingly limiting [its removal gets a 20% weighting].) The second decision was to significantly extend the brand's visual presence by creating "an expanded set of visual materials" to work with. For this, Barrett turned to Lippincott's design team, directed by Connie Birdsall.

Lippincott's key contributions, then, were:

  • Refinement of the siren symbol (more focus on her more mature, optimistic face, "up close and personal")
  • fine tuning of the freestanding wordmark's letterforms  
  • new 'brand cues,' especially a set of patterns, abstracted from the mermaid (scales, stars, hair) plus type, palette, photography styles and other visual system elements. 
  • stronger visual discipline, and what Barrett considers to be "a higher design esthetic," to better manage the brand's visual integrity worldwide.

Increased global visual consistency, in this case primarily through a stronger set of secondary visual elements (rather than from the simpler symbol aalone), accounts for a 20% weighting.

The visual rebranding has been guided by, and teams with, a fresh articulation of corporate cultural attributes, expressed as... "Genuine, Thoughtful, Optimistic, Expressive, Engaging," directly targeted at employee behaviour modification.

The 5  January 2011 "soft launch" was an employee-focused public preview, building toward higher-visibility advertising and in-store events in March, keyed to Starbuck's 40th anniversary. 


Internal, + Lippincott


Submitted by: Tony Spaeth, 13/01/2011
Status: Estimated by Tony Spaeth
Category: Food & Drug Retailers
Country (HQ): United States





Strategic driver: 80%   
Broaden scope/scale/visibility
  Remove limiting category association
 20%  x  Identifier tactics: Logo change: Symbol-dominant
    x  Change event : High visibility: Campaign
Change internal culture
  Enhance pride & confidence
 30%  x  Identifier tactics: Logo change: Symbol-dominant
    x  Identity system elements: Visual system: Graphic devices
    x  Change event : Medium visibility: Launch event
    x  Change event : High visibility: Campaign
    x  Situation facts: Corporate level facts: Employee behaviour
Change expressed personality
  Renew/refresh public image
 30%  x  Identifier tactics: Logo change: Symbol-dominant
    x  Identity system elements: Visual system: Graphic devices
    x  Change event : High visibility: Campaign
Functional driver: 20%   
Design weakness
  Increase visual strength/quality
 20%  x  Identifier tactics: Logo change: Symbol-dominant
    x  Identity system elements: Visual system: Graphic devices