Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts: The History of their Logo and Brands

Some logos stand out more than others. The Starbucks brand seems to have a life all of its own with its drawing of a green “siren” who is luring people away for a great cup of java. Another logo design that is impressive is the Dunkin Donuts brand. Its logo is simple and looks like it could be drawn freehand with colored pencils. But it works for the brand. It features a donut symbol beside a cup of steaming coffee on a pink and orange background.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the history of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts and their logos. By looking at the history of their logos, you can learn a lot about the brand and how they decided how to design their logo.

An Expert’s View on Logo and Branding

It’s easy to look at a brand logo today and just accept it for what it is. However, when you look at some of the most successful brands in the world today, their logo design and branding didn’t just happen overnight — and in many cases, they also weren’t cheap designs that were thrown together.

To get a better understanding of what it takes to create a successful logo design, we discussed the topic with Varun Aggarwal, the founder of Designhill, who just recently launched their own artificial intelligence-powered logo maker that instantly creates a download logo identity in just minutes. Varun had the following to say.

“One of the most interesting things about the ongoing battle between Starbucks and DD, is how they’ve used and kept with very simple logo designs over the years. Sure, there has been plenty of changes, but the primary designs and colors have stayed the same. This can clearly be seen with the Starbuck example below, and how the design has continued to get more simplistic over the years.”

starbuck logo

With all of this now in mind, let’s take a look at some statistics, facts, and findings in our Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts logo and branding report.

Starbucks Logo History

To study a company logo, it’s important to understand the company, too. Starbucks was founded in Seattle in 1971 by three people: Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin, and Zev Siegl. They began their design for their company logo by naming it after Herman Melville’s classic work, Moby Dick, about the colossal whale that took on Ahab, the sailor, in a fight to the death on the open seas.

The logo idea came from the name of one of the central characters in the novel, Pequod. The original image featured a mermaid with two tails, often thought of as a “siren” that lured people to their fates in ancient times from Greek mythology. This idea works with coffee, too! The idea that there is something that calls us to have a cup of coffee is one that does not seem strange to most people. Ask the average person when they decide to have a cup of coffee, and they will tell you that they just felt compelled to do so.

This is an example of how a logo truly enhances the idea of a brand. Starbucks seeks to “lure” people to having a warm cup of java and visiting with friends while discussing the happenings of the day. They lure you in with their excellent coffee while keeping you there with the beautiful environment of the Starbucks coffee shops.

The changes that have occurred over the life of the Starbucks logo include changing the look in 1987 when Howard Schultz acquired the company. The original name, (Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spice) was altered to Starbucks and included a more polished look and feel than the previous logo. The “mermaid” remains the same, though and continues to symbolize the idea of being lured to coffee.

Today, the Starbucks logo is synonymous with coffee and good times, intellectual discussions, and a beautiful, clean environment that embraces both warmth and culture. It is one of the most recognizable icons across the globe. The very idea of a logo is to create a robust graphic presence that symbolizes all of the essential aspects of a brand and is easily recognized as both a symbol of your niche industry and your brand itself. So, if Starbucks has achieved this, they have succeeded.

Evolution of the Starbucks Logo

To see a complete visual progression of the Starbucks logo, we can look at this brand reference. We’ve also highlighted a few of the most prominent dates and changes below.

1971 – The first logo used by Starbucks was designed in 1971 and featured a topless “siren” with a double tail. It featured a coffee brown color group.

1987 – The second version of Starbucks logo was created in 1987 with a newly-designed image featuring a siren covered with flowing hair. The Starbucks name was shown inside the circle with two stars on either side. The green was introduced at this time to represent freshness, earth, and uniqueness.

1992 – The third version was a close-up view of the famous mermaid with a green and white color palette. The company name was shown inside a watermark inside a circle with two stars on both sides.

2011 – In 2011, another update was done to the famous logo to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the brand and company. The revised, streamlined logo was a more extensive look at the siren in green, and the wordmark and stars disappeared. Fans did not like the new design this time, and it was met with harsh criticism from designers.

Must like the usage of a character logo in the Starbucks logo that you see today, an earlier version of the Dunkin Donuts logo also displayed a character design of their own. This is something many brands have played around with, to try and make their following and branding more fun and likeable.

The possible mistake Starbucks brand made is assuming that their logo would be just as recognizable without the wording as without it. To current customers, it probably is, but think of the potential customers that might be lost without the brand name. It is always best to keep the name, despite the universality of the images associated with your brand. Still, Starbucks is one of the most modern successful companies in the world, and their logo continues to work for them despite the controversy of the updates.

Dunkin Donuts Logo History

The history of Dunkin Donuts started in the 1950’s about 19 years before Starbucks started. Dunkin’ Donuts’ first logo was a “Dunkie” character that was pictured serving coffee and donuts with the brand name next to it.

In 1965, the company redesigned the logo to include the brand name stacked on top of itself, and a coffee cup with the words, “Dunkin’ Donuts” that appeared as though it were being dunked into a coffee cup. The designers of the logo decided to make it appear that each element could be independently used if needed as a standalone item.

In the 1980s, a lady named Lucia DeRespinis decided they should add in pink and orange, so the logo was once again redesigned to feature a coffee cup with steam to emphasize the coffee element and add to the appeal.

The latest change in the logo featured the same Dunkin’ Donuts logo but with an added coffee coloring inside the cup. It also features a “DD” on the cup instead of the entire name on the container. But the name is listed to the right in full form.

Summary: What’s in a Logo?

As you can see from these two big brand logo examples, there’s a lot that goes into a logo. Sometimes, it is just the subtle changes that make the biggest difference. Making larger changes also tend to be viewed more negatively by fans and critics alike. Change for the sake of change is never good. But, like with anything else, the business owner has to constantly think of their target audience and the brand’s evolution as they grow their company.

Nothing is ever the same as it was yesterday and there will be new challenges and customer needs that have to be addressed tomorrow. Your logo is a big deal. So, start with a good one by an expert design team and then think about how you can make subtle but important changes when needed to improve the look of your brand.

Study the evolution of these two brands’ logos and think about how your brand could benefit from both the successes and the failures of these brands’ design choices.

Remember that your logo is not your brand. But it represents it in every form, channel, and platform that you are on. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.