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  • Writer's pictureSarah Coloma

Redesigning the Starbucks Cafe Sticker

*This post was originally published on October 10, 2020.

*I am in no way affiliated with Starbucks Creative. I am merely an avid customer who thinks Starbucks could benefit from the ideas presented below! No copyright infringement was intended.*

There's a quote that I love from Gail Anderson, a Chair at the School of Visual Arts: "When I see bad design, that's when I know design matters." However, when I see good design, it prompts me to ask, "Why aren't things always this good?!" It happened to me today at Philz Coffee.

Very infrequently do I go to Philz Coffee, a few times a year at most, for an incredibly decadent drink - an iced Mocha Tesora, a lightly sweetened, creamy chocolatey drink. More often, I'll go to Starbucks for a latte and quickly grab my orders to go, especially since COVID started.

After picking up my drinking at Philz today, though, I sat outside ready to check my emails and tear into my coffee. I noticed something interesting about the cafe sticker.

It covered almost a full quarter of the cup. My name was prominent and listed at the top. It even greeted me courteously! "Hi, Sarah C", it read, in a curvy, soft bolded type. It was followed by an intentional visual hierarchy - my pickup time, my order in bold followed by my modifications, some of which were underlined, and a sign off and postscript. "Made with love by David/Stay safe and healthy [heart symbol]." Philz managed to make me, a non-frequent customer who ordered via mobile feel appreciated.

*The Starbucks cup image above right can be found at this Reddit thread*

This was in stark contrast to my mobile pick ups at Starbucks. You'll likely be familiar with their cafe stickers with condensed sharp fonts, the order processing time listed and "Reg #" indicated at the bottom, with everything aligned to the left. If you're not familiar, you'll find each type of cup in the images above (Philz on your left, Starbucks on your right). There's just nothing intimate, familiar, intuitive or conversational about the cafe stickers at Starbucks, like they are at Philz.

I thought perhaps this design was due to the volume of Starbucks stores and subsequent sales per store per day. Starbucks, after all, is made up of over 30,000 retail stores. And, I'd imagine that each piece of information listed on the Starbucks sticker, is listed for a very particular reason. I also imagine this lack of frills decreases the cost of the printing, and the type of sticker printing machine found in all stores might not be equipped to print any old type or symbols, like at Philz.

If in fact it can handle these modifications or if a change in machines for some retail stores seems appropriate, I wonder if there might be a way to improve the usefulness and desirability of the cafe sticker at Starbucks. In essence, how might we improve the cafe sticker in a way that is more intuitive and enjoyable for customers and baristas so that both parties know that the customer has the right drink when they pick up their orders?

Here's a simple example of what a new Starbucks cafe sticker could look like...

Customers and baristas often peer at the cafe sticker to ensure the right person is picking up the right drink, often during rush hours. It's important that there be an intuitive, clear visual hierarchy to move the reader through the text quickly. It's important to note that because this is only a visual design, considerations should be made about customers with visual impairments. Perhaps continuing to announce orders could be helpful, and it would be made easier for baristas with a new more intuitive design, like that above.

I kept the flow of information largely the same, starting with information about the number of items in a customer's order, followed by the customer's name, the order and modifications, an indication of the type of customer (i.e. mobile or cafe customer), and the time the order was processed and register information. I did, however, simplify some of the text. For instance, I opted for "1 of 4" instead of "Item: 1 of 4" and I opted for a clock symbol next to the exact order processing time for visual interest. I kept the register information small as its least likely to be utilized unless there's a significant issue.

In terms of type, I primarily used Sodo Sans, a less condensed, easier to read, rounder, friendlier type from Starbucks. The customer's name is centered, bold, large, legible Sodo Sans. For a barista calling out a customer's name or passing the cup to them through plexiglass during COVID, this is the most important information and should be treated as such. Enlarging the font size of names would also aid low vision/visually impaired customers.

For the order I used Pike. I bolded the main order "Gr. Blonde Flat Wht", notably using Starbucks abbreviations, and indented the modifications. In addition to indenting the modifications, I left them in a regular font to help baristas and customers quickly distinguish modifications from the main drink on the basis of something other than the size or general location of text as is done in the current sticker. I also thought it was important to distinguish the order from other information using typography, something not done with the current cafe sticker.

And as the company is moving away from any hand-lettering in stores, opting instead for use of its Sodo Sans, Lander, and Pike typography, the cafe sticker accompanying almost all orders at Starbucks, is an excellent piece of real estate to acculturate newer and frequent customers to the shifting Starbucks brand.

As a former Starbucks barista, I understand the efficiencies the company puts in place to more quickly move orders. The cafe sticker is a wonderful opportunity to "[remove] obstacles in the way of people finding exactly what they seek at Starbucks" as well as to foster greater brand recognition of Starbucks in the long-run.

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