One Cup at a Time

Everyone knows a Starbucks store when they walk into one, no matter where they are in the world. The green siren beckoning in a sea of unfamiliarity, where coffee is the product but the connection to it is much more personal. While espresso purists may scoff, this feeling stems from the fact that Starbucks doesn’t just deliver decent espresso; as Howard Shultz would put it, the brand delivers coffeeness

Over the past decade, Starbucks has used their mission of nurturing the human spirit through coffee to deliver a fundamentally consistent, but uniquely local and personal experience to each and every neighborhood store. They have accomplished this by relentlessly stressing the balance between product and experience to deliver craft, convenience and theater. What does that mean when Starbucks wanted to extend that experience beyond retail?

We partnered with Starbucks to define how the brand experience could extend to new product touch points both inside and outside of the store.




How does a global brand serve millions of cups of coffee per day across more than 40 countries and still deliver on its promise of one customer, one neighborhood, one cup at a time? Is brewed coffee at this scale simply at odds with the craft and the theater of espresso?

Espresso customers are treated to the sights, sounds, and scents of fresh ground beans, tamping, steam, extraction, and crema. Meanwhile brewed customers are second class citizens: missing out on this craft and theater because, at this scale, only generic industrial-grade drip coffee machines would seem to suffice: brewed in big batches and left to sit for 28 minutes (exactly) before staff have to waste what’s left (and when you have more than 30,000 stores, that can mean millions of gallons of waste in the name of freshness).

INDUSTRY created a branded interaction language for Starbucks’ new coffee engine (designed and engineered in partnership with Peter Bristol/Carbon) that delivers hundreds of combinations of roasts and sizes, freshly ground and brewed one customer, one cup at a time with just two physical gestures. That’s a big ask of any interface at this scale, and just ‘throwing a touch screen on it’ would miss the point; not only devaluing the barista’s role but also taking away from any theater of coffee preparation and craft from the customer’s point of view. Our branded interaction language ‘celebrates coffeeness’ and highlights the barista’s brewing related activities ensuring a highly visible, theatrical, mechanically audible, interface and relegating all non-coffee-making functions (there are dozens) to a digital interface that stays, beautifully invisible when not needed and always out of the line-of-sight of the customer while their perfect cup is being brewed.




When Starbucks said they wanted to serve customers in Europe, on the go, in high-traffic areas, they asked us to partner with them to create an experience that brought coffeeness to vending.

Vending machine coffee is the worst. It is generally known as something that should only be consumed out of pure necessity or desperation for a caffeine fix.  This cautioned us when we set out to create one for Starbucks. Our daily lives are rooted in habits and rituals, and we saw an opportunity to elevate vending and create an amazing coffee transaction.

Without compromising on convenience, we built a personal experience centered around quality. No longer was the vending machine a dumb robot, but a service to guide you through your order with the same expertise of an all-star barista.

Materials were carefully chosen to emphasize a consistent brand experience while still being able to deliver a local connection. The sound of the grind, the pulse of the neighborhood, the smell of freshly brewed espresso. These were all real elements that didn’t need to be faked with speakers or artificial scents.

Through the Starbucks app, the customer is connected to the entire Starbucks ecosystem, earning with each purchase. Integration with social platforms makes it possible to bring in local trending information, creating a hub for community news.

Starbucks Egg

Starbucks Egg


Think of in-home espresso and the first word that comes to mind is probably “pod”. The second is probably “Nespresso”. When Starbucks wanted to enter the market, they partnered with INDUSTRY and we knew that to do it right we would have to go beyond the pod.

The Starbucks consumer seeks the simplicity and consistency in their experience. They want it to be familiar and at the same time tailored to them. When they take that first sip, they know exactly what it is going to taste before they even finish ordering their quad venti non-fat semi-sweet mocha with a half pump of hazelnut. Every cup is made just for them.

So how do we bring this experience into the home? Like scaling in retail and vending, there is a high risk of losing your DNA by creating just another coffee maker. There has to be a continuous experience that translates across brand touch points.

We designed a single-serve brewer to connect everything that their customers know so it feels like they had a real Starbucks downstairs in their kitchen. To do this, we created a product family where the digital and physical experiences complimented each other. The app is that personal connection to everything Starbucks. Everything from setup to re-ordering beans to earning reward status happens there, creating a thread that connects the in-store to in-home experiences.



In this case, by understanding what coffeeness is, it became possible to approach these three challenges from a well defined point of view and to design beyond the object. The art was in translating this understanding into an holistic and authentic extension of the brand. As product designers, we thrive in this world where we are given a set of boundaries of brand attributes. But what happens when those guardrails aren’t in place?

I’m beginning to touch on the evolving definition of our role of product design, but let’s save that for another article.

POV by Robb Hunter, Sr. Design Lead at INDUSTRY