Nendo’s pop-up shop for Starbucks is a veritable library for literature on coffee.

Customers may peruse the shelves, read up on espresso beverages, and then exchange a book for the corresponding drink at the counter.

Instead of comfy lounge chairs, this area is filled with only a few hard-backed chairs.

A modest logo appears behind the service counter.

Instead of communal tables, visitors may sit in solitary comfort while perusing their books.

The exterior of the rather large pop-up structure.

The exterior of the rather large pop-up structure.

The interior is largely devoid of the Starbucks signifiers: green logos and deep color tones.

The interior is largely devoid of the Starbucks signifiers: green logos and deep color tones.

Nendo designed nine different covers for the books, each of which contains facts on Starbucks’s various espresso drinks.

Customers may keep the cover and pull off the information on the back.

The full range of books in subdued hues.

Even the travel mugs are less showy.

Co.Design

What's Missing From This Starbucks Store? The Branding

For a pop-up shop in Tokyo, Nendo created a spare library full of books on espresso. The client was Starbucks. But at first blush, you’d hardly know it.

Last week, we published a story on Starbucks’s first modular store in Colorado—a LEED-certified drive-thru and walk-up shop clad in reused snow fencing. The small, glowing beacon to sustainability is part of the coffee giant’s strategy to build small outlets in markets that can’t necessarily support sprawling retail spaces. Recently, Starbucks extended the idea to Tokyo, where Nendo, a local design firm, built a pop-up that dispenses with the brand’s signature lounge-y living-room feel for an austere library, stocked with books and a few hard chairs.

Where are the dark-green walls, pendant lighting, and communal tables? Gone, gone, and gone. The only recognizable remnant of the brand is the mermaid logo peeking out of a tiny ordering window at the back of the store. That’s a radical departure for the company, which has previously been partial to in-your-face branding. The idea, according to Nendo, was to create a library, where customers could learn about coffee from the nine different books lining the shelves, each of which is a primer on the Starbucks espresso drinks on offer.

According to Nendo:

Each color of book corresponds to a different espresso drink. Visitors can stroll around the space, freely pulling books off the shelves to read and choose the drink that best suits them. At the counter, visitors can trade the book for an actual espresso drink but retain the book cover [that] tells them about the drink they have chosen, to use as a book cover, as they like.

This isn’t the first time Starbucks has commissioned a bold-name designer to create a Japanese outpost that responds to the country’s minimalist aesthetic: Earlier this year, it unveiled Kengo Kuma’s sculptural interior clad in a lattice of woven wooden batons. As Starbucks extends its global reach, it understands that it will have a greater draw if it respects the surrounding culture. And in a nation that gave birth to a company like Muji and its no-brand corporate philosophy, downplaying Starbucks’s own identity is a deft move. But don’t worry, despite the changing interiors, you’ll still be able to score a latte no matter where you find the mermaid--you may just have to look a little harder for it.

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5 Comments

  • Brittany Klontz

    I'm really curious to know how this branding experiment does.  In a way, I think it is very smart to blend into the particular country's cultural surroundings -- but do people feel "tricked" when they find out that Starbucks is behind something that they thought was a local coffee shop?

  • hypnotoad72

    Agreed.

    Starbucks seems to want it both ways.  That doesn't do much for engendering loyalty or respect...

  • Fabian Geyrhalter

    What a beautiful concept in branding. Yes, this actually is a bold exercise in branding rather than what the title of this piece predicts. Solely because a logo and color scheme is missing or being downplayed does not mean that 'branding is missing'. On the contrary, these are the bold concepts necessary to make the Starbucks brand resonate on a local level.

  • hypnotoad72

    It's trickery.  If I, as a customer, preferred local 'mom and pop' outlets, and went into one that I thought was a mom and pop outlet, only to find it's the big Starbucks store pulling the strings...  the word that comes to mind is "insulting".  Well, lots of words come to mind but that's not as important right now (sadly)...

    How would you like being tricked? 

    Now replace a coffee shop with something more important in life (e.g. college, where it's not a buck per cup to be sure...)