Customers at the Starbucks store in Ferguson, Missouri, have found inspiration from the design of a special coffee mug that captures the spirit of the city.
“The mugs have sold out twice, which would suggest they’re very popular,” says Jasmine Swanson, a shift supervisor at the Ferguson store, adding that customers frequently remark about the pronoun “us,” highlighted in white on the mug.
Emphasizing the “us” in Ferguson was the brainchild of a member of the Starbucks merchandise design team, Adam Kendall Woods.
“I was tasked with explaining the idea of opportunity youth and how many of the baristas in that store are financial pillars of their families,” he says. “This particular project was going to be something that baristas and everyone working in the store could stand behind—a piece of art that is particular to that café.”
The Ferguson store opened in the spring of 2016 as part of a plan to provide local jobs, create training opportunities for youth and support efforts to rebuild and revitalize communities. It is located near the site of 2014 demonstrations that erupted after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Woods was asked to design the mug in part due to his own activism. He’s marched for Black Lives Matter and women’s rights, among other causes.
For inspiration, Woods received drawings from baristas at the Ferguson store that represented what it feels like to be unified. He generated five designs, but one stood out for him. He was pleased to learn that it was also Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz’s favorite. Woods said he chose Clarendon, a slab-serif typeface he considers “strong, yet very friendly and human” and strived to create a similar feel with the colors he employed.
“I love the subtlety with what’s happening with the watercolors—the way the colors blend together,” he says. “It’s a technique called blooming, which is one of my favorite watercolor techniques. There’s a metaphor with that—of dropping various watercolors in there and watching them run together.”
Woods’ work on the Ferguson mug came near the end of a two-year stretch with Starbucks. This month he sets off on a new journey, driving from Seattle to a new home in Brooklyn, New York, where he’s joining his longtime partner. The mug, as well his design of a 2017 Pride T-shirt that he turned in on his last day at work, caps a time with the company when the 35-year-old Florida native found ways to combine his creative talents with a dedication to social engagement. This year, his design will adorn t-shirts worn by hundreds of thousands of Starbucks partners (employees) at Pride marches across the country.
“One of the reasons I worked at Starbucks is because the company is so explicit about social justice in a way that I wish other companies would be,” Woods says. “Starbucks does take stands. I felt like I could do a piece like this and it would matter. I felt like it would reverberate and make a difference.”