Here's the story behind why the Siren looks the way she does
Starbucks logo
Credit: photo by Zhang Peng via getty images

When Starbucks changed its iconic circular green logo back in 2011, the move was huge news: One of the world’s most distinct brands was rebranding. Seven years later, in some ways it feels like nothing changed, because, really, not that much did. Gone is the outer green doughnut that stated the blatantly obvious in all caps: “Starbucks Coffee.” Instead, only the Starbucks Siren remains, adapting the brand’s signature green color as her own. But when the Siren became the literal face of the company, she underwent some tweaking as well. Just a little. But one thing she retained might seem like an odd choice: the character’s face is still slightly asymmetrical.

In a recent story, the site Co.Design spoke to the team at the creative agency Lippincott who were behind the Starbucks logo change. All these years later, one small detail still seemed to stand out as the last adjustment necessary to making the Siren just right. “As a team we were like, ‘There’s something not working here, what is it?'” global creative director Connie Birdsall was quoted as saying. “It was like, ‘Oh, we need to step back and put some of that humanity back in. The imperfection was important to making her really successful as a mark.”

The original Starbucks Siren was literally carved from wood before being stamped into logo form, so a few imperfections were unavoidable. But when the Lippincott team was tasked with digitally cleaning her up to go solo in 2011, logic led them to believe that tightening up all the details, including making her perfectly symmetrical, would make the logo feel more professional. And yet, after making the face perfect on both sides, the team noticed something. “In the end, just for the face part of the drawing, there’s a slight asymmetry to it. It has a bit more shadow on the right side of the face,” design partner Bogdan Geana told Co.Design. “It felt a bit more human, and felt less like a perfectly cut mask.”

Avoiding absolute perfection in logos is actually quite common. For instance, when Google redesigned its logo—the four-colored “G” we see today—a few astute observers noticed that it wasn’t quite a perfect circle. Though some might find this lack of perfection frustrating, the choice was actually made on purpose to make it more visually appealing. As Adweek wrote, “The Imperfections in Google’s Logo Are What Make It Perfect.”

And so too, the Starbucks Siren needed to be made less perfect to achieve her most desirable form. “We had [the iterations] altogether, and all pinned up on a wall. And we all stood around debating and debating and debating,” Birdsall said. If you look closely at the Starbucks Siren, you can see that, on the right side of her face, the shadow of her nose dips down lower than the shadow on the right. This small detail is similar to how the previous logo looked, but different than an earlier attempt at the redesign that had both sides perfectly even. Upon final analysis, the team decided that a bit more shadow was the final tweak the logo needed. “It was a eureka moment,” Birdsall said.