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Alumni Spotlight

Catching up with Senior Designers at Starbucks Creative Studio

Tiffany Hsu and Abby McCartin holding Starbucks cups.
Tiffany Hsu '13 Abby McCartin '17

Taylor Mattson and Jamie Jones holding Starbucks cups.
Taylor Mattson '16 Jamie Jones '15


What does a typical day in your current role look like?
Tiffany:

We’re all currently working from home and we’ve been given the opportunity to continue this lifestyle indefinitely. So I usually stay in sweats all day, make breakfast, and slowly start work at 9am. This may vary from designer to designer, but my days have been on either end of the spectrum. It can be incredibly busy: back-to-back meetings with no actual working hours for projects, quick turnaround times, and late nights (sometimes working 70+ hour weeks). Or it can be incredibly slow, where I’m just catching up on file maintenance and gathering inspiration. Typically, I work on 3-6 projects at a time.


Abby:

Lots of time is spent executing creative whether it be concepting or putting final touches on something. If I’m working on a TV ad, I might be storyboarding, or meeting with directors. If I'm working on a gift card, I might be sketching on my iPad or laying out in Illustrator. Between working time, I have meetings to touch base with each team on each project, and to present progress and give and receive feedback.


Taylor:

Our workload varies quite frequently – we work on a range of products that span in scale from gift cards to global seasonal campaigns. Our usual day-to-day involves working alongside copywriters and project managers, often a good amount of meetings and presentations. Our team size on projects also varies quite a bit depending on the work, with seasonal campaigns often requiring larger teams of multiple designers, writers and ACD’s (Associate Creative Directors).


Jamie:

My typical day varies greatly depending on what projects I am working on. I usually am working on anywhere from 1-4 different projects at a time. I could be working on concept sketches and pulling together mood boards, presenting that work to my creative directors and/or marketing partners, or creating the final artwork/design files for those pieces. I'm usually at the beginning phases of a few projects and wrapping up another at the same time.



Holiday Cups
Holiday Cups by Jamie Jones and Taylor Mattson (left) Tiffany Hsu and Abby McCartin (right)

What do you like most about working in-house at Starbucks?
Tiffany:

Benefits - haha. Before Starbucks, I worked at a small agency, then a medium sized firm, and then freelanced. None of these compare to the benefit gains you can receive at a larger in-house company. I have found that Starbucks has the best of both worlds, where I get to work on very creative projects, while still fulfilling my financial goals. The people in the studio are also incredible and extremely supportive of your personal growth and development. If there’s a new skill you wish to learn or get experience in, the leadership team will do their best to help you attain those.


Abby:

What I love about working in-house at Starbucks is that I’ve gotten to know the brand on an almost molecular level. It can take a lot of time to understand the intricacies of any brand and I think it’s something that takes time and experience to become an expert on.


Taylor:

In school I was always drawn to branding and packaging design. During my BFA year, I interviewed at Starbucks for my internship summer. I worked in the studio as an intern summer of 2015 and returned to a contract Designer position after graduating. The following summer of 2017, I became a full time Designer in the studio on the Starbucks Card team, illustrating gift cards and creating packaging for the Starbucks Card business.


Jamie:

I was drawn to Starbucks because of the wide variety of illustration heavy design work that they do. I also felt there were a lot of really strong designers and illustrators working there that I could learn from. I love to do a little bit of everything from motion and film work to working on detailed illustrations for coffee packaging and the Creative Studio has allowed me to have a lot of variety in the work that I do.



Animation saying 'We see free coffee in your future' rotating into an eye
Animation by Jamie Jones

What products do you design? What is their general reach?
Tiffany:

Abby and I just designed this year’s holiday cups - and I think I can say those truly have a global reach. I personally have worked on seasonal campaigns, partnership identities and wayfinding (e.g. the new Starbucks x Amazon Go store that just opened in NYC), Starbucks Reserve, Starbucks Cards, mobile games, packaging, store design, social posts, film, and art directing photoshoots. Every project differs in their “reach”. Obviously, digital and social goes far. Some projects such as packaging can be limited by our markets; for example, some coffee packaging is only available in our Asia/Pacific market or a specialty concept store exclusive to Shanghai.

Other than external/customer facing projects, we work on a lot of internal brand guidelines and toolkits. These are crucial for larger companies to maintain a consistent identity across departments and market, and to maintain high mission/values standard.


Abby:

I work on a wide range of platforms for Starbucks. A lot of my work in the last few years has been digital. I’ve worked on games, social media, film, the app, and animated gifs. I’ve just more recently been working on more print work, and Starbucks as a brand has a global reach.


Taylor:

Currently, our studio owns and creates a wide range of products and experiences at Starbucks. I personally have worked on Starbucks Cards, Starbucks Earth Month Game, coffee packaging, merchandise for both Starbucks and Starbucks Reserve, the 2020 Holiday Cups alongside fellow alum Jamie Jones, and a number of other products for the Starbucks brand.


Jamie:

I have worked on coffee packaging, gift cards, cups and paper goods for the 2020 Holiday Campaign (with fellow alum Taylor Mattson). I think my favorite projects I've worked on at Starbucks have been within the film and photography space – I've worked on a decent amount of social media content which typically involves our team concepting and art directing for photoshoots and similarly for commercials we do a lot of work in the backend concepting and storyboarding for films then working together with a director to bring it to life. I've also worked on a lot of seasonal campaigns where our team will build out the look and feel for the whole season, which then is applied to a lot of different products.



Ethiopia and Christmas coffee bean packaging
Packaging by Abby McCartin

Describe the process of working on these large projects.
Tiffany:

It takes a village. Beyond the Creative Studio, we work with so many other teams to make sure projects get out the door smoothly and without mistakes. There are project managers, production designers, writers, proofers, print managers, etc. For the Studio, our process begins very early and requires a lot of landscape research and trend forecasting. For example, Abby and I were concepting this year’s holiday cups before last year’s even hit the market.


Abby:

Working on large roll-outs requires a mighty team, lots of communication, and planning far in advance. It's really rewarding and surreal when something like the Holiday Cups are finally released, because whether I'm walking down the street or scrolling through TikTok, they're just everywhere I look.



Starbucks Earth Month Game mobile app
Earth Month Game by Taylor Mattson

Share a piece of sound advice for a design student.
Tiffany:

Stay curious. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s extremely important for creatives like us to keep looking out for what’s next, what others around the world are doing, keep learning new skills or programs, keep learning culture. Staying in our own bubble can be a dangerous thing.


Abby:

I would encourage students to step outside of their comfort zone and don't box yourself in. I've used just about every skill I learned in the Design Program in my work. Even if something is not your thing, or you feel like your work isn't perfect in a certain area, it will still help you in one way or another in the future.


Taylor:

Embrace never knowing everything, design as an industry is always growing and changing! Learning tips and tricks from coworkers, learning tips and tricks from YouTube WITH your coworkers, there is nothing wrong in needing help and trying new ways of working. Which, if you are someone like me, can be a hard feeling to overcome in the beginning of your career.


Jamie:

Everything you make won't be a portfolio piece and that's okay.



Starbucks Pickup Experiential Graphic Design
Starbucks Pickup by Tiffany Hsu

What’s one memory from your time in the design program that has stuck with you?
Tiffany:

Senior year, right before the holidays, everyone was working late into the night (sometimes morning) to get projects done, working on portfolios, and looking/applying for jobs. To stay motivated and feel less stressed, we all worked in the computer lab together and put on Netflix’s crackling fire on all of the extra computer screens. We played holiday music, drank hot cocoa, and ate popcorn while cranking out work.


Abby:

Studying abroad in Germany and Switzerland will always be one of my fondest memories. I still think about it all the time!


Taylor:

Oh god I am going to sound so cheesy but it’s something that’s literally, physically stuck with me which is the friendships I made during my time in the program. The long nights (is it considered a long night if you never actually sleep?), group trips to Miller Market for coffee #3, casual identity crisis breakdowns before graduating—the rigor of the program really bonded me to four other cohorts, and we still talk/annoy each other daily in the same group chat we made senior year.


Jamie:

Pulling all-nighters in the lab with everyone really bonded us. I made great friendships but I also still have nightmares (:



Two Starbucks gift cards
Gift Cards by Taylor Mattson

Who or what inspires you right now?
Tiffany:

Virgil Abloh. I knew about him and his title, but since his passing, I’ve been digging deeper into his creative legacy and listening to a lot of his interviews and talks. His journey has been incredibly inspiring and he has amazing advice for creatives and change makers.


Abby:

I've found inspiration lately in fashion. I love looking to textures, patterns, and colors and applying these things to my work when I can. Looking to trend forecasting is super interesting and informative to my work.


Taylor:

My house in Animal Crossing, my insanely talented past and current coworkers, and fashion fashion fashion and fashion. Specifically @watchingnewyork on Instagram, and Jonah Hill.


Jamie:

My favorite place to look for inspiration is within the music space–music videos specifically. It's such a creative and fun space to work in that there aren't a lot of limitations to what they can or want to do. There are tons of amazing artists making beautiful videos right now, but some of my faves are Jungle, Kelsey Lu, Tierra Whack, Blood Orange, FKA Twigs, and Amine.



Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew video stills
Video by Jamie Jones

Outside of work, how do you keep the creative spark going? Do you have any side hustles, projects, or interests?
Tiffany:

I freelance outside of work; taking on one client at a time. For this type of work, I only take on start-ups, or BIPOC brands, or local businesses. I’m also slowly adding to an online print shop—a place where I can fuel my personal design style and experiment with new techniques.


Abby:

Outside of work, I do a little freelance illustration if it's something I'm really excited about. I mostly just love using my hands when I can: sketching, sewing, learning to play guitar, cooking, and making art for my walls.


Taylor:

Right out of school I was a believer in the hustle design culture and tried to occupy my time outside of my 9-5 with freelance projects and personal art. I have since abandoned that mindset and have found total joy in being able to separate my appreciation of art and design with the need to be totally consumed by it and take up hobbies that are outside of the design and art world. I find that it’s easier for me, personally, to stay more consistently inspired that way so when I do want to pick up my apple pencil or brush to create something, it comes more naturally to me.


Jamie:

I've been working on building a portfolio of mural projects. Doing some more physical art with my hands has been so satisfying and really good to keep me inspired and learning some new skills and techniques. I also have been working on learning more about film–I made a music video last year as a passion project and I want to do more of that work as well. I like to be involved in all steps of the creative process, so having some projects that are just for me is really important.



Starbucks For Life game pieces and mobile app
Starbucks For Life Game by Tiffany Hsu

If you were not a designer, you would be…?
Tiffany:

If I had the skillset, I would probably go into architecture and environmental design. If money wasn’t a factor, I would be…RETIRED. Haha, I would travel, eat, go sailing, read, make art, whatever I want.


Abby:

If I were not a designer, I would be a ceramicist or ceramics teacher. It was my dream before Design was!


Taylor:

A personal stylist. 100%. Let me buy you clothes. With your credit card.


Jamie:

Probably working with plants in some way or maybe baking.



Mango Dragonfruit Starbucks Refreshers Iced Beverage video stills
Video by Abby McCartin

You are secretly really good at…
Tiffany:

I'm secretly really good at putting a tent together (like wicked fast). Sleeping anywhere (even standing). Cooking with no instructions or measuring tools (we eyeball everything in this household).


Abby:

I am secretly really good at quilting. I taught myself over the past few years. I like combining bold colors and simple designs, combining a traditional medium with modern elements.


Taylor:

Hitting really, really high-pitched notes. Jamie can vouch, its Ariana-level, smoke alarm beep, dog whistle high.


Jamie:

Pole dancing (lol) well... maybe really good is a stretch, but I'm learning!