Whether you love or hate its coffee, there is no denying that the Starbucks brand is a juggernaut. The green siren logo—with her ingeniously asymmetrical face—is a universal beacon for a caffeine fix. And there is no mistaking one of the company’s hyperbolic beverages like the Tie-Dye Frappucino, which you can spot on the street from a block away, for a drink made by any other chain.
With more than $24 billion in revenue, 31,000 locations worldwide, and countless promotions and menu items that vary regionally, keeping the brand operating at scale is a major job. But for the past year, Starbucks’s internal creative team has been updating the brand system that makes up everything from its in-store signage to its promotions on Instagram. And now, it’s published the brand’s full guidelines—complete with color codes and typographic weights—onto a public website for anyone to explore.
“As we evolve to meet beautifully diverse customers all over the world, our brand has evolved too. Here we introduce a fresh new design system that maintains the core elements of our brand while keeping our customers’ experience central to creative expression,” the dedicated Starbucks creative site states
The brand goes on to say that it is incorporating “beautiful, expressive moments with calm confidence in ways that are optimistic, joyful and recognizably Starbucks.” It will use its iconic Siren logo, along with an “expanded palette of greens rooted in our iconic green apron” as well as a “family of harmonious typefaces”, which it says will bring “purpose and cohesion” to every interaction customers have with the Starbucks brand.
When addressing the Siren logo, Starbucks explains that the brand prefers to use the logo by itself without its wordmark, which allows it to be presented with “greater prominence.”
Colors lean into the brand’s family of greens, highlighted by the PMS 3425 ‘Starbucks Green’, then accented by other greens, black and white, along with seasonal accent colors.
Voice is addressed in two silos – functional and expressive. Functional copy, the site states, “means helpful,” and is most often used for ordering. Expressive copy is its marketing copy, as on its signage and social copy, and it stresses “making every word count.”
Starbucks typography is moving away from hand-lettering and towards three fonts: Sodo Sans, Lander and Trade Gothic. The site even lets people try out the typefaces on the page.
Illustrations are used to express heritage, coffee and customization, as on gift cards and small lot coffee packaging, while photography must relate back to the brand. “The goal: every photo and video is identifiably Starbucks. Product stories are clearly about the product. We use people sparingly, thoughtfully and with intention,” states the site.
The way it all comes together feels quite poised. Starbucks’s drinks appear with a crystal clarity, their milky swirls frozen in time on top of sharp lettering. Sometimes the vibe is stoic, as three matcha drinks are lined up side by side with all of the excitement of a public transit sign. Sometimes it’s cheeky, like a meme-y Starbucks zodiac illustration. But broadly speaking, any bohemian aura that was lingering from the bygone, ’90s-era coffeeshop culture has been ironed out of the updated global brand. Of course, a few things remain the same. If you stare long enough, those Caramel Crunch Frappuccinos still start calling your name.
What your brand in Africa can learn from Starbucks process
Design reduces product cost
As a leading manufacturer and seller of coffee and beverage-related products, Starbucks funnels all its resources toward delivering its customers an innovative product at the lowest price possible. While creativity at a low price requires more challenging design thinking, achieving this formula puts Starbucks at the top of the world’s leading companies in the Coffee industry.
One of the most important functions of design is to solve the company’s problems, and for Starbucks, cost was considered a barrier to selling its creative products to such a large number of consumers around its supply chain. Applying sleek design to it’s coffee mugs and easy to carry packaging solutions were among the successful design strategies that helped Starbucks achieve its goals.
Design aids sustainability
As mentioned on their website, Starbucks is not just a passionate purveyor of coffee, but everything else that goes with a full and rewarding coffeehouse experience. They also offer a selection of premium teas, fine pastries and other delectable treats to please the taste buds. And the music you hear in store is chosen for its artistry and appeal.
It’s not unusual to see people going to Starbucks to chat, meet up or even work. It’s a neighborhood gathering place, a part of the daily routine – and they couldn’t be happier about it. How all this comes together is informed by a keen design thinking approach to ensure a smooth end to end experience for longterm sustainability.
Starbucks goes further to state that it’s coffee comes directly from the earth so they naturally take an interest in treating it well. The brand strives to reduce the impact it’s stores have on the environment and this commitment influences almost every aspect of how they approach design and construction, including landscape, building methods, materials, lighting and more.
Starbucks believes a coffeehouse should be a welcoming, inviting and familiar place for people to connect, so it designs it’s stores to reflect the unique character of the neighborhoods they serve. The brand is also interested in the way design can connect us all to sustainable building practices and provoke thoughtful questions and engagement with the built environment. In addition to reducing energy and water consumption, the brand incorporates reused and recycled materials wherever possible and often use locally inspired design details and materials in it’s stores.
Design brands businesses
Starbucks uses design to brand its business through a unique type of emotional marketing. The company’s strategy uses design as a tool to provide remarkable service for its consumers around the world at more than 12,440 stores in 37 countries, with a total turnover of U.S. $7.8 billion in 2006.
Designers at Starbucks are responsible for branding and marketing materials for all stores. The target is to maximize creativity in order to maintain the emotional value of the Starbucks brand. Designers at Starbucks are encouraged to think as business wonders and strategists. The creative team is responsible for building a consistent brand strategy for all Starbucks stores around the world. Each year, the stores employ seasonal themes that are handled by the global creative team inside the company.
The design process at Starbucks starts with a meeting – called the creative scrum – at which members of the global creative department brainstorm ideas and concepts. Then the design is assigned to a single designer and his team. There are four stages of the design process:
- Concept development, which includes developing the design concept to the point of a draft to submit for approval.
- Approval, for which a design presentation is made at the Starbucks Support Center. At this stage, the concept is previewed and feedback is provided before reaching final approval.
- Delivery, where the production phase starts in order to create the final product.
- Evaluation, for which Starbucks uses its front-line staff and customer feedback. The feedback is very important to determining the success of the product.
Design creates opportunities
Store design, or brand localization, is just one of the creative ways Starbucks connects with its customers, integrating local aesthetics into each of its stores. The company’s design studios are strategically located so that designers can better understand their communities. In Times Square, you may discover a theatrical feel inside each store; in the South, designers might pull inspiration from a weathered barn or blues music; and at a store near the beach, colors borrowed from lapping ocean waves may be the latest inspiration.
In addition to it’s aesthetically designed stores, Starbucks wanted a revolutionary drive-thru model. The company found ways to bring the interior brand experience to the outdoor lane, experimenting with digital confirmation boards at the drive thru with two-way live video communications that featured a barista making your beverage.The drive-thru results have been so dramatic (drive-thru stores do 50 percent more business) that a few years ago, Starbucks authorized the largest capital expenditure in its history to add drive thrus to the majority of locations.
Starbucks design studios are located around the globe so that it’s designers can fully understand the communities they serve. The mission of each designer is to create a spectacular Starbucks café experience that is steeped in the local culture and designed to reflect the unique characteristics of each neighborhood. Together, they are fully committed to the goal of creating sustainably designed, locally relevant stores that inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.
Brands in Africa need to understand that design thinking is a multi-step method for understanding your consumers’ needs better, creating innovative solutions for them and iterating quickly to get it just right. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO defined design thinking as “a discipline that fuses the designer’s sensibility and ideas with what is technically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
Design thinking can’t be done with a homogeneous team in a closed room. A diverse set of talents and opinions need to be involved. Teams that have worked together too long, teams made up of a single focus or skill set such as email marketing or customer experience, all have a similar point of view. Design thinking encourages these groups to diversify. Include someone from engineering, finance and sales. These people view the world differently and can bring in non-intuitive ideas and ensure that ideas can be fully realized.
Design thinking isn’t merely a process or framework — it’s a new, more agile mindset that increases your understanding of your consumers’ needs and is particularly powerful with a diverse team. With design thinking in place, the freedom to learn about your consumers, test and improve upon your ideas quickly, will ensure that your company can react in time to meet shifting consumer expectations.
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