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Why Starbucks' Move to Brand Minimalism Is Part of Bigger Trend

It's No Coincidence That So Many Logos Are Becoming Less Busy

By Published on .

Thomas Stringham
Thomas Stringham
Everyone wants to stand out and be noticed. The problem is, when everyone yells at the same time, all anyone can hear is noise. Loud, annoying noise.

Walk down a retail aisle and you'll see products screaming at you from nearly every direction. It's incredibly hard to focus on one thing in particular and all of those deliberately busy packages seem to blend together. It's branded wallpaper.

That's why people take notice when brands forgo the temptation to extol their product's "21 top-selling points" on their packaging, and instead focus on generating an emotional connection. If you've ever purchased an iPod or walked into an Apple Retail store, you'll know what I'm talking about. Inspired by the minimalist approach that has become increasingly popular in architecture, product design and visual art, Apple has been able to stand out for all the right reasons.

This "less is more" philosophy has not only influenced Apple's in-store experience and product designs, but also has influenced their logo's evolution -- from the original Isaac Newton logo, to the rainbow apple to the more simplified monochromatic outline and the current glass-themed version. Apple has used reductionism to make a revered brand even stronger.

Given the popularity of a modern, minimalist look, many leading brands are moving towards a cleaner design aesthetic. Starbucks just unveiled a new logo to commemorate its 40th anniversary and, judging by the look of things, it seems to have nailed it. The image of the siren is so iconic that the text itself had become redundant. Simplifying the image and distancing the brand from the word "coffee" enables the company to expand its portfolio into new arenas such as ice cream and bottled beverages without cannibalizing the brand's cache.

What we can learn from the success of emotionally engaging brands like Apple and Starbucks (and also VW, Nike, Coca-Cola, etc.) is that keeping your brand simple is a formula for success. This is an approach that agencies and clients alike can benefit from.

For those of you who love minimalist design as much as I do, check out Antrepo's latest experiment in which they incrementally simplify packaging for popular brands such as Mr. Muscle, Pringles, and Nutella.

It's amazing how striking "clean" designs are. As more and more brands embrace the clutter-free approach we'll likely see a shift in consumer affinity towards their products.

Thomas Stringham is the founding president and creative director of integrated marketing agency Hot Tomali, the 2010 Ad Age International Small Agency of the Year. @ThomasStringham @HotTomali.
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