Welcome to Behind the Logo, a series that unpacks the history and design decisions behind some of the world’s most recognized logos. After you learn a thing or two, use Shopify's free logo maker to create something iconic of your own.
It’s difficult to recall a time when the iconic green Starbucks* logo, with its friendly two-tailed siren, wasn’t ubiquitous. It’s a familiar image in nearly any city around the world, adorning thousands of building facades everywhere, including packed metropolitan centers, suburban mall food courts, airport terminals, and even remote beach destinations. Starbucks currently operates in
84 markets with more than 34,000 stores.
So how did Starbucks manage to become the largest coffeehouse chain in the world? Starbucks offers a perfect case study for
how to build a brand from scratch. The Starbucks logo design that you know today hasn’t strayed far from the original version, but it’s nonetheless the result of a series of evolutions. The history of the Starbucks logo
Back in 1971, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker—friends who met at the University of San Francisco—had a vision to offer higher-quality roasted coffee beans than most people were accustomed to at the time. What the partners then needed, though, was a name that would not only catch the attention of potential customers, but ingrain itself in the culture.
Once they were ready to start roasting coffee beans and open the first Starbucks store, the company’s founders commissioned designer Terry Heckler to create an emblem for the brand.
The original Starbucks logo was circular and featured the crowned two-tailed siren at the center, just like today’s—but that’s about where the similarities end. In addition to being a maximalist design, the first Starbucks siren was a much more risqué, bare-breasted character in the style of a traditional woodcut print. The logo, which had the words “Starbucks Coffee, Tea, Spices” wrapped around it, was also brown, a color chosen to evoke a sense of calm and stability, as well as the earthly, natural qualities of the products offered.
In 1982, a young New Yorker and coffee enthusiast named Howard Schultz started working at Starbucks as director of operations and marketing. A year later, on a trip to Milan, Schultz experienced Italy’s coffee culture and became enamored by the care and artistry that went into each cup. He returned to Seattle with a vision to replicate that culture, but the original founders of Starbucks didn’t share his dream. Schultz left to open his own coffee company, Il Giornale, but it wasn’t long before he acquired Starbucks,
buying it for $3.8 million in 1987. Schultz decided to merge the two companies under the Starbucks name, and he began expanding outside of Seattle.
Terry Heckler once again came onboard to modernize the Starbucks siren by incorporating design elements from both companies. The starred crown and double tail of the iconic Starbucks siren remained, but Heckler gave her a substantial makeover. Her hair now covered her breasts, and the original textured strokes were swapped for bolder, more contemporary lines. Heckler changed the logo’s color scheme to black and Il Giornale’s shade of green. The new logo dropped the words “tea” and “spices,” reading simply “Starbucks Coffee.” Only two years following the redesign, Starbucks was operating 46 stores and roasting more than two million pounds of coffee a year.
By the early 1990s, Starbucks was already beginning to dominate the coffee market. In 1992, with 140 stores operating in different cities, Schultz took the company public. At the time,
its market value was already $271 million.
As the 20th century came to an end, Starbucks seemed to understand that in a world increasingly saturated with images, simple and bold graphic design was the way to capture the attention of potential consumers. Staying true to the brand’s origins, Starbucks’ leadership decided to tweak the logo—though not too much. The 1992 redesign essentially cropped in closer on the siren to eliminate visual noise and focus on her inviting grin.
In 2011, as Starbucks celebrated its 40th anniversary, the company commissioned renowned American marketing company Lippincott to work with its in-house design team for the latest logo revamp.
The logo’s most substantial change: dropping the words “Starbucks Coffee” from the emblem. There was another change, too, this one so subtle it is nearly imperceptible. After four decades, Starbucks’ siren had become an instantly recognizable symbol of quality coffee. The logo was an unquestionable success, and yet, the designers at Lippincott could sense that something was off. “As a team we were like, ‘There’s something not working here, what is it?’” Connie Birdsall, Lippincott’s global creative director,
told . After the siren was modernized for the first time in 1987, her face had gone from being a textured, woodcut-style portrait to an almost eerily perfect, entirely symmetrical graphic—and she didn’t look quite human. Fast Company in 2018
The design team wanted to keep the minimalist aesthetic while warming up her gaze to make it friendlier and more inviting. “It was like, ‘Oh, we need to step back and put some of that humanity back in,” Birdsall said. Though still entirely contemporary, the new Starbucks logo features a siren with a slightly asymmetrical face. Look closely, and you’ll notice the line that goes down to her nose on the right side dips a little lower than the one on the left. Her features and proportions are also altered—not so much that she seems like a different character, but just enough that her mysterious allure can really shine through.
Examining the meaning behind the Starbucks logo
In 1971 the Starbucks founders wanted an unforgettable name for their new coffee company. They had heard that words beginning in “st” were alluring and memorable, and so they initially settled on “Starbo,” the name of a mining town that they came upon on a map. They then thought of “Starbuck,” the name of one of the characters from Herman Melville’s classic maritime tale,
Moby-Dick. Since they were selling coffee beans, tea, and spices from around the world, it made sense for their moniker to nod to “the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders,” as the Starbucks website states.
When designer Terry Heckler sat down to design the Starbucks logo, he focused on the brand’s nautical theme. Through his research, Heckler was inspired by a Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren from the 16th century. “It’s a metaphor for the allure of caffeine, the sirens who drew sailors into the rocks,”
he told . The logo’s inviting aura and association with seafaring tie together central ideas of the Starbucks brand: making great coffee from around the world accessible in an appealing space. The Seattle Times in 2011 Why the Starbucks logo works
The Starbucks logo is effective in large part because of its approachability and distinctiveness. This is evidenced by the 1987 change in color from black to a “more affirming green,” according to Howard Schultz’s memoir,
Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. By opting for the more invigorating shade of green, Starbucks ensured that its logo would stand out wherever it was emblazoned. This was important for a company with a presence across the world. “Our green is iconic,” the Starbucks website reads. “Visible for blocks. It’s our most identifiable asset, from the color of our aprons to our logo.”
The 2011 redesign reflected the brand’s ubiquity in mind and simplified the logo to its essence. “What’s notably absent from our current logo?”
the company writes on its website. “Our name. Starbucks global reach extends beyond the bounds of coffee, and our Siren, now so familiar, can surely stand on her own.” The current Starbucks logo is also entirely green and white without the black accents of earlier versions—an instantly recognizable signifier of good coffee. Design your own logo
When Starbucks changed its logo from soft brown to bold green, it preserved the logo’s evocation of natural elements while making it more eye-catching in busy urban spaces. When
designing your own company logo, consider the impact color will have on consumers’ perception of your company. Like Starbucks, you can start maximalist and refine your logo until you have a distinctive, unforgettable icon that captures the essence of your brand.
NOTE: Behind the logo is an independent educational publication produced by Shopify Inc., on the world’s most recognized logos. The publication is not sponsored or otherwise affiliated with the owners of the featured logos, nor were the featured logos developed in connection with Shopify.
The Starbucks name and logo featured herein are trademarks owned by the Starbucks Corporation and/or its affiliates. For more information, please visit www.starbucks.com
Starbucks logo FAQ
What is the original logo for Starbucks?
The original Starbucks logo included a more risque, bare-breasted siren and a higher level of detail. It also included the words “Starbucks Coffee, Tea, Spices” and was brown instead of green.
What is the logo Starbucks based on?
Starbucks was named after “Starbuck”, a character from the novel “Moby-Dick.” The logo is meant to reference “the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders,” according to the Starbucks website.
Who is the Starbucks Siren?
It was 1971 and the founders had landed on the name Starbucks, inspired by Moby Dick. Next up: creating a logo. While scouring some old marine books, something stood out. A mysterious, nautical figure called to them, as sirens do.
“They really loved the look of it and it kind of tied into what they felt Starbucks stood for,”
Steve said. “So we took inspiration from that and created the logo from there. And she became the siren.”