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.

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.