caribou brand design

When I first saw the redesign of the Caribou Coffee logo, I was pleasantly surprised. And then I read the official press release. It just goes to show you, some things are better left unsaid.

Of Caribou’s 495 locations, not one is in Indianapolis. So if I see a store when I’m traveling, I love to stop in. It’s a nice change from the green behemoth. On a recent road trip, my wife and I spotted the signature Caribou sign and just had to stop. But as we approached to the door, I had to do a double take. What the? When did..? Is this Caribou?

caribou logo redesign

The logo on the door was my first clue that the folks at Caribou had apparently done some soul searching and thought it was time for a redesign of the brand. As I sized up the new look, I remember giving it an inquisitive nod of approval for its retro-like appeal that also seemed very modern. I thought (and still think) the flowing hand-lettered logotype was beautifully done. And I noticed that they managed to put a new stylized twist on the reindeer (I mean caribou). But wait, is that a coffee bean there in the center? Are those two scoops and a coffee bean?

caribou logo horizontal

Cloud Watching?
As I read the official press release from Caribou about the logo redesign, I couldn’t help but think of the cloud watching game we’d play as a child. Remember? You’d look up into the blue sky and see a white puffy cloud that looked like a bunny, an angel or the face of the almighty himself. With all due respect to the folks at Caribou, this press release sounds like a list of things they told themselves to justify why this logo was “the one”. Follow along:

(an excerpt from the official press release)

  1. “…Because coffee is the heart and soul of our company, the body of the caribou is formed out of a coffee bean.” (Really? A coffee bean in a coffee logo?)
  2. “…In addition, the caribou’s antlers now form the shape of the letter ‘C’.” (Uh…cloud watching….)
  3. “…While the Caribou in the previous logo was leaping left, the caribou now leaps right, signifying the direction the company is heading — into the future. (Okay?…But just wait until the marketing folks at John Deere hear about this.)
  4. “The shield element has been updated to resemble the shape of traditional national park signage. This is a nod to our founders’ hike in Alaska’s Denali National Park, where they were inspired to start the company.” (Hmm. While I like badge-like shape, the official National Park sign, including Denali’s has been an arrowhead since 1952.)


Hey, I’m all for creating deeper meaning in a brand’s identity, and I can even appreciate discovering one of those little “wow, I didn’t even notice that” moments every now an then. You know, like the little white arrow in the FedEx logo. But you don’t have to hit us over the head with the obvious. Or at the other extreme claim that because a shape kind of resembles a “C” that it somehow makes it all work.

In full disclosure
We’ve done a little package design for Caribou Coffee. (just google “coffee package design”). So perhaps I’m slightly hypersensitive to the logo redesign. It’s definitely an improvement, but I don’t think they got it quite right. And to compound that, they felt the need to point out all the reasons they got it right.

So what’s the takeaway?
A brand’s identity, inclusive of the logo is the face of the brand. It should be symbolic of what the brand stands for, but it shouldn’t try so hard to work on so many different levels. Simplicity goes a long way. And more important than cramming four somewhat self-serving concepts into one, consider what it means to the “heart and soul” of the customer.

Looks like others agree.
The Website took a poll of more than 2,000 people. Like me, others agree:
logotype rocks 2. the logo mark not so much. Read their take on this brand redesign.


On a more positive note
The rest of the new Caribou Coffee brand elements and marketing campaign are fantastically clever, interactive and thought provoking. Take a look at the work of Colle + McVoy.