I leave the country for a few days, and look what happens

This morning, when I went for a Grande Verona at the 5 Points Starbucks, I had the pleasure of flashing one of my favorite souvenirs from our trip to England: My official London Starbucks card. (Yes, it’s touristy, but I don’t care. I tend to like almost anything with a Union Jack on it.)

The effect was everything I could have hoped for. The barista was impressed, noting that he’d never before seen one like it. I basked in my elevated status… a Thorstein Veblen moment!

I bought it at a Starbucks in The City, one of two or three of the chain’s stores to which I gave my custom in London. The visits were generally satisfactory, which I took time to communicate to Mr. Darcy — that is to say, Darcy Willson-Rymer, the managing director of Starbucks in the UK and Ireland. He’s one of my followers on Twitter, you know — a fact which I could have mentioned to the baristas in England if I’d wanted to impress them, but one doesn’t want to top it the nob too much. Besides, it was unnecessary; the service was generally up to the usual high Starbucks standard. (Darcy was kind enough to write back to me, saying “Welcome to the UK. I hope we look after you. let me know how you get on.” I got on fine, as it happened.)

There were differences — for instance, they always ask you whether you want to drink your coffee on-premises or take away, which took me aback at first. (Or was that at the Caffe Nero shops I went to when Starbucks wasn’t handy? No, I think it was at both.) Also, some of the stores were huge, with far more seating capacity than I’m used to. Which was nice.

But now that I return home, I find all is not well in Starbucks land.

They’re changing the logo. I didn’t like the sound of that when I first saw the headline of the release a colleague had shared. Now that I’ve seen the new logo, I like it less.

How does it strike you? I think it looks naked. The poor siren is suspended in space, unanchored. She looks insecure. And now that it’s monochromatic, now that the “siren” is green and there’s no black to offset it, the whole lacks contrast, definition and character. Also, removing the words suggests a surrender to a post-literate world — and while I may have this wrong, I would have said that Starbucks’ constituency would tend to be more literate than the general population.

Moreover, it’s an unnecessary break with tradition, which on principle I abhor. (I’m not much on show tunes, but to the extent that I have a favorite, it’s “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” The rest of the play, in which Tevye is forced to accept successively more jarring breaks with tradition, I like less.) It’s insupportable, as the original Darcy would have said. And then, when I read the reasoning — that it’s intended “to move the Seattle, Washington-based company beyond coffee” — I was nothing short of appalled. Beyond coffee? That’s like the church moving “beyond God” (which you might say some churches have done, but let’s not get off on a theological digression).

You ask me, I say if you must change, go back to the original brown logo (except that it had “and Tea,” which also distracted from the point). But, well, they didn’t ask me…

20 thoughts on “I leave the country for a few days, and look what happens

  1. bud

    The old (Starbucks) logo was far too cluttered for my taste. I find a simplified design far more appealing to the eye. Besides, Starbucks has become much more than a coffee place and that should be acknowledged in their logo. They sell mugs, food items, and yes, tea. The iconic mermaid emblem is sufficient to identify the Starbucks brand. A too rigid hold on tradition is not healthy and I applaud Starbucks for moving forward through the 21st century.

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  2. Jesse S.

    I’m fairly certain that by 2025, the Starbucks logo will be a star with a green line. Designers will call it triumph of their skills, though it won’t matter. By then Starbucks will be a investment bank offering futures in coffee, tea, graphite based semi-conductors, AK-47s and that most precious of all commodities, frozen concentrated orange juice.

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  3. Brad

    I only ask one thing… if they want to change something, change this:

    Let’s have two lines at each Starbucks — one for the people who want to buy sandwiches and frapuccinos and other soda-fountain concoctions, and AK-47s and semi-conductors, and who want to muse about whether they want low-fat or Silk with their assault rifles… and the other for those of us who want a coffee, period.

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  4. Brad

    Bud, by the way, has an esthetic sense that’s more like that of my friend Robert Ariail (which is a compliment). I always wanted Robert to throw extra stuff into his cartoons, more complexity, things for people to hunt for, and congratulate themselves upon seeing. Extra levels, more eye candy. And occasionally he did, if it involved a secondary visual joke that both of us appreciated. But usually, he insisted upon keeping it simple and straightforward. As Bud would say, uncluttered.

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  5. Mark Stewart

    I don’t drink coffee and don’t really care … but the new logo looks cheap and seems at odds with their premium market position.

    It looks like some kind of wholesale food service logo like one might have found at a stadium ten or more years ago.

    Life expectancy? Not so long.

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  6. Norm Ivey

    I’ve never had a Starbucks coffee. When I drink coffee it’s homemade and black. I have been in Starbucks a time or two with my bride. I wouldn’t be able to identify their new logo without their name. (Except that you posted this, and now it will be with me forever.)

    I prefer hot chocolate with a generous splash of Dooley’s. Of course, that’s for the end of the day, not the beginning.

    Welcome home, Brad!

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  7. Scout

    Is it a mermaid or a siren? It evokes mermaid to me, but what would either have to do with coffee. Weren’t the sirens kind of evil, looking all pretty but really luring sailors to their death. This is not so much an idea you’d want in your marketing, I’d guess. But what do I know – I just drink coffee. I am more drawn to the old but probably just because it is familiar….like coffee :)

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  8. Brad

    I don’t know Scout. I do know that every time I sail near a Starbucks, my crew ties me to the mast.

    Mark and Burl, from different directions, have both hit upon the operative word: Cheap. That’s how the new logo looks to me.

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  9. Herb Brasher

    You guys do way too much thinking about the “meaning” of a logo, etc. A logo is for one thing, and that is name recognition. Nobody sits around thinking, “is that a siren or a mermaid,” — they think “Starbucks”–which is what they’re supposed to think. And Bud is right, simple is better when it comes to name recognition. Just look at Microsoft. Or Nike, or any other prominent company.

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  10. bud

    Speaking of iconic images, the President’s speech last night was his finest 32 minutes in his presidency. He led a celebration of life for the victims of the shooting while giving the proper sense of poignancy to the event. Just a terific speach. Hopefully it will provide a boost to bipartisan problem solving efforts in congress.

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  11. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @Norm Ivey– I’m told by my connoisseur/se? niece that Starbucks hot chocolate–made with actual chocolate and not cocoa, is awesome.

    But brad–the original logo was monochromatic, so they are actually returning to tradition….

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  12. Greg Jones

    My gosh, folks, it’s COFFEE!
    Of course, I work at home, and my coffee comes from the Keurig in the kitchen. What does their logo look like?

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  13. Emmie

    I completely agree, Mr. Warthen. I am not a fan. If you want to change the logo, fine. But make it look clever, not like a 11th grade graphic design project.

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  14. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ scout– I think it should be a siren–the siren call of coffee, no?

    My husband quoted me somebody this morning, “There are two kinds of days: days when I wander around confused and wonder where the day went, and days when I have too much coffee.”

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