28 July 2005

[logo_design] A Brief History of the Starbucks Logo

One thing: it's not a mermaid. As SCA heralds know, it's a melusine, which is essentially a mermaid with two tails, sure, but it's not a mermaid, at least not strictly speaking.

Hit during a night of desultory blog-browsing, DeadProgrammer.com, in this entry, gives us a little history of the Starbucks logo. Interesting, though those with kids should be warned; this contains reproductions of mythical femail creatures with bare breasts. You have been warned.

The brief lessons of design that can be found here are thus: It is said the name Starbucks was inspired by Capt. Ahab's 1st mate, from Melville's Moby Dick. The connotations here are shipping and merchant marine from the 19th century, when far off lands were really that way and everything seemed mythological and fantastic, when the world was a bigger place. Coffee came from overseas and is still a world trade item. What we have here is a logo setting a tone.

Another important idea is simplification. Beyond the "politically correct" move of obscuring the bare breasts and belly button/suggestion of naughty bits, this is actually sound design. The rendering of the woodcut-style illustration into a simpler, iconic style eliminates fine detail which can get obscured, or disappear entirely if reduced to small business-card size, Moreover, the older version is a little scary-the newer version retains all the associations that are desired but is more publicly-palatable.

That may seem a little cynical, but look at it this way: a design is a tool, no more or less imbued with teleological imperative than a safety pin, a hammer, or a saw. They can all be used to injure or to benefit. The key in constructively interpreting the message a logo sends is to have knowledge of the company using that logo; a logo can express and define a company's message, but a company isn't a message, it's a company. It is what it is. Now, more than ever, in this cosnumer-obsessed society, caveat emptor.

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