The History of Starbucks and their Logo Design

The History of Starbucks and their Logo

For a staggering number of people across the world, each morning begins with a cup of steaming brew from the world’s most popular coffee chain—Starbucks. Since 1971, Starbucks has been serving up dozens of espresso infused drinks to customers everywhere. It’s a level of success that the three college classmates who started the chain could have only dreamed of. Yet in the face of all this success, it’s easy to forget the humble beginnings of Starbucks and the interesting history of their ever-recognizable logo.

The Origins of Starbucks

Few people would guess that a chain as large and as successful as Starbucks, one that brought in over $21.3 billion dollars in 2016, was founded by three men with almost no business experience between them. Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher), Zev Siegel (a history teacher) and Gordon Bowker (a writer) came together to open the first Starbucks store in Seattle, Washington in 1971. Oddly enough, though, the first Starbucks store didn’t sell any brewed coffee. Instead, the original vision of Bowker, Siegel, and Baldwin, three friends who had studies together at the University of San Francisco, was to sell bags of roasted coffee beans.

For almost fifteen years, Starbucks didn’t sell any espresso coffee. Nevertheless, the chain was a success and by 1986 had six different locations in Seattle. One year later, the original owners sold the company to a former manager named Howard Schultz, and it was Schultz who would go on to rapidly expand Starbucks into the business it is today.

By 1992 the company had 140 locations, and starting in 1996 Starbucks began to expand into the international market. Today, Starbucks operates more than 25,000 stores in 70 different countries.

Known for their mobile marketing prowess, Starbucks was one of first companies to fully embrace the digital era, selling coffees through their app and even going as far as to sell gift cards through a Twitter hashtag. While this cutting-edge use of technology no doubt played a significant role in the company’s expansion, the reorganizability of the unique Starbucks logo has played a role as well. And it turns out that the history of the Starbucks logo is every bit as interesting as the history of the company itself.

History of the Starbucks Logo

It wasn’t long after the first Starbucks opened its doors in Seattle that the founders knew they were going to need a good logo. Wanting to capture the seafaring history of coffee as well Seattle’s own close connection to the sea, they scoured through old marine books until finally they came across a 16th century Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren. It was this image that they would use to design the first rendition of the Starbucks logo. Over the years the logo has evolved along with the company, but its basic elements have stayed the same, with the two-tailed siren always taking center stage.

Interestingly enough, the siren is a choice that has drawn some criticism from some thanks to its unflattering parallels. In Greek mythology, the siren is a creature who lures sailors in with what is described as “an irresistibly sweet” voice, only to viciously devour them once they came close. Some think that Starbucks chose the logo because it symbolizes obsession, addiction, and entrapment and given how hopelessly addicted so many are to their favorite Starbucks brew it’s not so wild a theory. Nevertheless, the Starbucks logo remains an incredibly popular icon and a driving force behind the company’s worldwide success.

Design Elements of the Starbucks Logo

Unlike some logos which remain almost unchanged over the years, the Starbucks logo is one that has undergone a few revisions. Today the design consists of a black and white two-tailed siren wearing a starred crown and framed around a green circle in which the words “Starbucks Coffee” are written.

It’s an incredibly recognizable logo that people are able to immediately identify without even having to really notice the details of the design itself.

Popularity of the Starbucks Logo

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the small bit of controversy surrounding the meaning of the Starbucks logo has certainly earned it a good deal of popularity and attention. A simple internet search of the history of the Starbucks logo reveals dozens of articles written about its questionable message.

All controversy aside, the Starbucks logo has seen plenty of popularity in other forms as well. For starters, it appears on most every cup of the estimated four million cups of coffee that chain sells each day. Towering signs with the only the logo on them also serve to flag down would-be customers and effectively advertise a shop’s location.


Best of all for the company, the Starbucks logo quickly became a symbol of status. Bryant Simon, author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks tells a story of how people would used to sometimes carry around their empty Starbucks cup just to show off their taste and socioeconomic class. Simon says that, “They wanted people to see them with the cup. Through the intervention of users, Starbucks was able to make that cup shorthand for someone who was discerning, sophisticated and had enough money to waste on coffee.”

Fueled from this association with good taste and a healthy spending account, the Starbucks coffee cup and its famous logo soon began to see appearances in film and television. Carrie Bradshaw could be seen drinking from a Starbucks cup in Sex and the City,  and the cup made multiple appearances in The Devil Wears Prada with Andrea brining it in to her wickedly cruel boss each morning.

All of this positive association and appearances in pop culture serve as a testament to the power that a good logo can have, especially when combined with a solid marketing plan. The history of the Starbucks logo is one that is rich with success, serving as a great example for fledgling companies to imitate when choosing a logo of their own.

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