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finding the soul of Starbucks:
diving deeply into coffee, culture and caffeine

It's well-known that passion drives great design, but how often do designers get to work on a product that is truly coursing through their veins? At Deskey Integrated Branding in Cincinnati, where the client roster often reflects the eclectic passions of the partners and staff, that opportunity came in the form of a call from Starbucks.

"The assignment involved a re-design of Starbucks' whole bean packaging," said Ali Perry, partner and vice president of brand strategy at Deskey. "With the entire studio hard-wired on caffeine, the chance to participate in a design exploratory for Starbucks was met with nothing short of euphoria." Of course, the fact that Starbucks is one of the most recognizable global brands was like adding mocha to a latte: sweet.

The Order: Eye-Opening Whole Bean Packaging

In creating the new design Deskey would need to articulate the rich heritage of Starbucks' coffee story, as well as integrate an identification system that simplified the shopping experience. As a design leader in the coffee category, imitation of Starbucks is not a question of if but when, so creating something ownable and unique was the cost of entry.

Deskey understands that design success means winning on the shelf, in the store, and on the financial statement. For the Starbucks design to be a winner, it had to do all these things and yet be extensible-capable of driving a multitude of integrated store and merchandising materials intended to work together and catalyze consumer interest. To Deskey, this meant rediscovering the soul of the Starbucks coffee experience and communicating it on shelf. A Voyage to the Soul of Starbucks.

Deskey's style is to plunge right into a project rather than trying to play it safe. Research is instrumental to this approach, so the agency did a deep dive into coffee, coffee culture and Starbucks, from the origins and history of coffee beans to the rich, early design work of the brand. With Starbucks, this approach was critical to the agency's ability to deliver something with real stopping power in the short period of time required by the project.

Throughout the journey, Deskey relied on an independent anarchy that demanded experimentation and rewarded the unexpected. As a result, much of the early work on the project came in the form of original paintings, prints and drawings, all done by hand rather than on computer. This type of democratic discovery is a hallmark of Deskey's culture, and a wildly effective creative device that helps deliver results. In the end, Deskey went from initial brief to creation of the final design in less than four months.

Coffee: The International Language

The creative trigger for Deskey was the Starbucks muse, the shape-shifting Siren. Deskey felt the Siren needed to be the focal point of any new design, and needed to be interpreted not as an icon or in words, but emotionally, like the brand itself.

The culmination of Deskey's design exploratory was termed "the five senses of Starbucks." It attempted to answer the question: how does coffee make you feel? A swirl of answers provided a locus for the design work and framed the Starbucks coffee story, the obsession with coffee and quality that has defined the brand since its inception.

Previously, this story had been told using the language that encompasses the natural cycle of coffee, from selection of the right crops to the richness in your cup: "earth to grow," "fire to roast," "water to brew" and "air to aroma."

Deskey chose to translate the cycle of coffee into simple organic shapes and representative colors - one for each element - with a stylistic version of the Siren at the center. The real challenge was to further synthesize it and to add a fresh emotional tone and color palette that would be uniquely Starbucks. Deskey saw this as a chance to derive a global framework for the design. The packaging, which features rich, vibrant tones of blue, green, red and brown, has already made a visual impact in Starbucks stores across the country and has attracted consumer attention. As the design is expanded to merchandising, shopping bags, even hand painted limited-edition platters, it continues to expand the brand experience in the mind of consumers. Yes, even a brand as deliciously ubiquitous as Starbucks can be fresh and new again.

Creating a way of expressing the coffee story in a universal language made great design and business sense. In the end, Deskey's design was as rich as the emotional power of coffee, with all the intensity of the elements that create it.

 

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