Heckler Associates helped three coffee-loving entrepreneurs create the best brand name and logo for their new start-up. For the next 14 years, we worked on all aspects of building the brand to a global phenomenon, from packaging and store design to advertising and strategic expansion. After more than 35 years, Heckler Associates continues to be a partner in Starbucks brand development and special projects.


The original drawing of the Starbucks brand signature or logo was based on a 15th-century Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren. In a mythological mermaid, Terry Heckler found the perfect metaphor for the siren song of coffee that lures us cupside.

Mug with brown Starbucks Coffee and Tea logo

back when starbucks was a start-up, heckler associates helped to create the best brand name and logo. we continued to work on starbucks marketing for another 14 years, and the siren logo we designed proved to be bold enough to hold all the brand's promise, growth and success.

Starbucks was founded in 1971 by Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegl, a writer, a literature teacher and a history teacher, respectively, three friends who attended San Francisco State together. Gordon had become tired of driving from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. every month to get good coffee and thought it a good idea to start a company to import, roast and sell fine coffee beans.

a name to represent all the brand would become

The three owners set out to give the enterprise a name. One of the early favorites was "Pequod," the name of Captain Ahab's ship in Moby Dick. "People won't buy a cup of 'Pequod' coffee," Terry Heckler told them. The owners challenged him to come up with another. Terry's research revealed the names of several late-1800s mining camps on nearby Mt. Rainier, among them "Starbos." When he presented the name to the guys, they responded "Starbuck—first mate on the Pequod." Terry agreed that the name would work, but knew that in conversation people would probably say "Starbucks," so Starbucks it was.

Peet's Starbucks Logos

building brand equity with a well-made product

Along with their high regard for Moby Dick as the great American novel, the three Starbucks founders also believed that Peet's was the greatest American coffee. So before they started their own coffee company in earnest, they went to San Francisco to study coffee roasting from Alfred Peet himself. Little did Mr. Peet know that within 15 years these students of roasting would buy his company and give him a nice retirement fund.

starbucks brand design comes to life in
store design

Heckler Associates worked on the first Starbucks store design in a space not far from the current Pike Place Market location in Seattle. The exterior sign was a huge, solid piece of 6-inch-thick cedar that the installer worried would pull the building down. The building did come down six years later, but not because of the sign. When the original building was sold and demolished, Starbucks moved to its current location and most of the interior fixtures were simply moved to the new shop. Twenty-five years later, we designed and wrote all the signage surrounding the commemoration of the Pike Place Market store as the original Starbucks.

Four versions of the Starbucks logo

starbucks logo applications inspire changes

Heckler Associates modified the Starbucks logo at a few points in the company's history. The first time was when we were designing the first Starbucks delivery trucks. The logo was huge—and so were the mermaid's breasts. We re-drew her hairstyle to cover them up. As Starbucks expanded across the country, the number of letters from women complaining about the siren's risqué pose grew, and we made further changes. For those who knew her back in the day, she sometimes seems a shadow of her siren self, but we love her anyway.

do mermaids drink starbucks coffee?

The original drawing of the Starbucks brand signature or logo was based on a 15th century Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren. In a mythological mermaid, Terry Heckler found the perfect metaphor for the siren song of coffee that lures us cupside.

Starbucks logo napkin sketch Starbucks logo hand illustration

terry heckler recalls another controversial perception of the siren

I was getting some flack about the mermaid looking pregnant. I dismissed it by saying maybe, maybe not. Is she or isn't she? It was such an interesting thing that I drew her belly button to appear as a question mark. It remained that way for a year or two and we got rid of it when repro effects made it appear stronger than we liked. You can see this logo version on the sign hanging above the sidewalk at the Pike Place Market Starbucks.


At the time, offering specialty coffee drinks at Starbucks felt like a big step beyond beans. Would it risk hard-won brand equity or create opportunity? Would it support multiple locations? The answers created a cultural phenomenon.


starbucks called on heckler associates to consult on the positioning of brand extensions and to design distinctive packaging and in-store promotional pieces to introduce them to customers.

At first, Starbucks sold only coffee, tea, spices and brewing machines. It was a real connoisseur's shop and it reflected owner Gordon Bowker's passion for coffee. Heckler Associates developed a package design based on a cigar band and it became a distinctive but easy-to-implement brand extension system. The band was utilized in the store interior design as well for the first five years Starbucks operated.

As the selection of coffee beans grew, we looked for ways to help customers appreciate the differences of each kind. We recommended creating more interesting blend names and distinctive stamp stickers that evoked the country of origin and nuances of flavor.

Gordon wrote emotionally inspired copy for all our work: packaging design, collateral material, merchandising and advertising. He educated everyone—the whole team as well as customers—about the world of whole bean coffee, the full body roast we called "Full City," and his reverence for freshness.

Il Giornale coffee packaging

Today, it's hard to imagine that no beverages were sold in the early Starbucks stores. The only coffee actually brewed at the original Starbucks was for staff and those customers who absolutely insisted on sampling a new roast before buying beans. It was a scramble to keep clean cups around.

Sketch of Starbucks location

building the starbucks brand with specialty coffee drinks

The idea of beverages did not take hold until Howard Schultz was hired as a marketing manager. You can read Howard's book Pour Your Heart Into It to get the full story. In truth, there was quite a bit of resistance to the concept of Starbucks selling beverages. But Howard was such a driving force that the owners decided he would run the beverage business as a separate brand—Il Giornale.

Gordon came up with the concept of Il Giornale which is also the name of a regional newspaper in Italy. The store sold the Italian daily alongside The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Seattle Times. But the expensive import never developed a strong readership and was soon replaced by a new local paper The Seattle Weekly for which Heckler Associates had created the original signature and newspaper format design.

We did all the communication work on Il Giornale, developing a logo based on Mercury for the obvious association with speed—both in delivery of product and the product's effect. Our original marketing program for Il Giornale featured "Mercury Man" and was designed to create buzz. Mercury Man walked the early morning streets of Seattle giving passersby cups of free, hot Il Giornale coffee poured out from his canteen backpack. The cups, designed with great brand presence, functioned like mini-billboards bobbing down the street. Giving away product was a tremendous investment, but the return in goodwill and brand exposure was even greater. And, traffic in the stores went up.

understanding location

Starbucks and Blue Anchor Coffee packagingWhen Starbucks reached a whopping eight store locations in Seattle, the consensus was that the market was saturated. So, Starbucks opened locations in neighboring cities such as Edmonds and Bellevue. The big surprise came in Vancouver, B.C. the first time the company had the chance to open a new Starbucks directly across the street from an existing Starbucks. They took on the new space as an experiment and quickly both stores were running to capacity. Busy residents of the facing, multi-story buildings enjoyed the convenience of not having to cross the street to get their favorite cup of coffee—and a whole new world opened up for Starbucks expansion.

sub-brands get the starbucks golden touch

The original goal of Starbucks initial restaurant program was to earn high-end credibility by getting Starbucks coffee served in the best restaurants in town—but it had to be done by word-of-mouth among the chefs. As the Starbucks brand became better known in Seattle, the public began to look for the sign "We Proudly Serve Starbucks Coffee" at their favorite restaurants. The program grew and quality control emerged as a concern. To help protect Starbucks brand equity, we suggested that the message be changed to "We Proudly Brew Starbucks Coffee."

Over the years, Starbucks addressed other market opportunities in ways that preserved brand equity. To enter the wholesale bean market without jeopardizing retail store business, they created the Blue Anchor brand that was sold in grocery stores. After Blue Anchor came the Caravali brand that served the wholesale channel. Each brand was eventually sold to capitalize Starbucks retail store expansion.


As Starbucks spread across the country, people began to see the stores as their "third place"—besides home or work—and to trust the brand for quality and distinction. This growing brand equity gave license to branch out into product categories that complemented the core experience.

Starbucks ice cream cartons

starbucks called on heckler associates to consult on the positioning of brand extensions and to design distinctive packaging and in-store promotional pieces to introduce them to customers.

Starbucks began to open stores at a rapid clip in the 90s. It was important that they quickly assimilated into the local community and became part of people's daily routine. With each introduction to a new market, Starbucks developed a special mug, T-shirt and apron or hat for the partners to pay homage to that new city. During this period of expansion, Heckler Associates designed the "city" graphics for many of the new market introductions, including Las Vegas, Dallas, Baltimore, San Antonio and Philadelphia.

As Starbucks retail stores spread across the country, people began to see the stores as the "third place" a space, other than home or work, where it was easy and fun to gather with friends and family or grab some alone time in an engaging atmosphere. People started to recognize and trust the brand for quality and distinction, and they embraced the Starbucks lifestyle. The company's growing brand equity gave license to branch out into product categories that were complementary to the core coffee, tea and pastries, and home-brewing equipment.

New York
Blue Note blend

starbucks brand equity packaged and set to music

Starbucks saw an opportunity when they realized that customers were regularly requesting the playlist for the music mixes they heard in the stores. They worked with Blue Note Records to produce a jazz CD of store favorites. The CD would be sold in the coffee shops along with Blue Note Blend coffee beans. Heckler Associates designed the cover of this first CD, the Blue Note Blend packaging, a T-shirt and the in-store promotional materials to support the introduction. Sales were outstanding. This was the first step for Starbucks now-famous role in the entertainment business.

The company also created packaged goods to enjoy at home, including the Fontana brand of flavor syrups, Infusia tea, plus a line of baked-good mixes, jams and biscotti confections. We created original art and design for all of these labels and packages to signal the product quality and style that was unique to the Starbucks brand.

wholesale brand extensions

Even with an accelerated schedule of store openings around the country, Starbucks recognized the great potential for offering their products in grocery stores to reach a much broader audience with added customer convenience. After the great success of the Frappuccino blended beverages in-store, Starbucks partnered with PepsiCo to introduce a bottled version in the grocery store. We developed packaging that carried the Starbucks quality message and brand mystique into this new channel. Swirling shapes and colors from the Italian flag introduced new customers to the Starbucks signature blended coffee beverage. The initial market test was wildly successful with sales 10 times above expectations and a large majority of customers responding that they would buy the beverage again. Pepsico and Starbucks committed to more bottling facilities and sales continued to climb dramatically.

Another successful partnership paired Starbucks coffee with Dreyer's Ice Cream to create what instantly became America's favorite coffee ice cream. Heckler Associates created a completely new and unique graphic system for the coffee ice cream flavors that placed the Starbucks logo front and center on the package. In order to break through a crowded category, we used original illustrations with playful, bold lines and fun, bright colors to grab attention in the grocery store freezer. The new ice cream definitely got noticed. Just three months following its introduction in April 1996, it became the top-selling super-premium coffee ice cream. Starbucks ice cream won the American Marketing Association's Best Product introduction of 1996 in the ice-cream category. Encouraged by the product's great success, the company also introduced low-fat versions and ice cream bars. We created a packaging system that could easily accommodate all of these product additions.

Coffee and beer are another natural pairing. Starbucks worked with our client RedHook Beer to create Double Black Stout, a delicious dark beer. We named this new product and created the co-branded packaging, balancing the voice of both companies' identities on the label.

Fontana syrup, Starbucks ice cream, Redhook Double Black Stout


Starbucks called on Heckler Associates to commemorate their 25th Anniversary in 1996. The siren call of coffee had become strong across the country, so to honor this cultural phenomenon, we created artwork that freed the mermaid from her logo circle and placed her in all of her glory on the front of the Anniversary Blend coffee bean bag.

Starbucks anniversary blend

our designer's beautiful and elegant original illustration was so romantic and evocative it actually brought tears to the eyes of one starbucks marketing manager. now, the lovely mermaid reclaims her place on the coffee bag packaging during the starbucks anniversary promotion each fall.

Starbucks Pike Place Market store metal signWe also created a commemorative brass plaque, a glass art piece to hang in the window in the Pike Place Market store. This project required the utmost diplomacy and engineering skill to win the approval of the Pike Place Market Foundation, which has extremely strict rules about any structural changes to stores in the market. But after several presentations before their board, a promise that any mounting fixture for the brass plaque would not touch the floor, and a similar promise that the piece hanging in the window could be mounted so as not to touch the window, we won approval to proceed. You can see both pieces there today. Starbucks' "first" store is part of many tourists' path through the market; little do they know that the original store was on the corner of Pike Place and Virginia in a building that has since been torn down.

Limited Edition

refocusing core brand experience in the face of tremendous growth

Much work was done on brand extensions into new product categories to enhance the Starbucks Coffee customer experience. With sales coming from beverages, pre-packaged coffee in their stores and on grocery shelves, and an explosion of other retail products they developed, the emphasis on the highest-quality coffee beans seemed to be an afterthought. To refocus on its core competency and main brand differential, Starbucks created a limited edition series of the finest whole-bean varietal coffees. The story of the sourcing, growing and harvesting of these rare Starbucks coffees was woven into a special packaging system of coffee bags, story labels and gift boxes that Heckler Associates designed.

product introductions, seasonal promotions and ongoing brand design

All of these new product introductions and seasonal promotions required strong merchandising to get them noticed in the midst of a busy store with art on every wall. We created posters, shelf-talkers and other merchandising tools that added a seasonal and promotional voice that kept shopping at Starbucks fun, fresh and relevant throughout the year.

Heckler Associates continues to work with Starbucks on key product introductions and branding initiatives. We named Tiazzi fruit juice and tea beverages introduced in 1998, the new restaurant and evening coffee house test concept Circadia, and the new espresso machine Mastrena, introduced in 2008.

Passion for Coffee