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Originally published Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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Sunday Buzz

Seattle's Best logo makeover not so hot

Many commentators reacted to the new look of Seattle's Best Coffee as though they'd been splashed in the eye with hot espresso. Also: A biotech company born in Seattle plans a big IPO.

Seattle's second-largest coffee brand, the Starbucks-owned Seattle's Best Coffee, unveiled a logo makeover this past week for its 40th anniversary. Many commentators reacted to the utilitarian new look as though they'd been splashed in the eye with hot espresso.

The slashfood.com blog said the "unanimous backlash" from its readers included describing the stylized, white-and-gray-on-red logo as better suited for " 'a label for [generic brand] eye drops,' and 'a water-conservation sticker in a German restroom along the autobahn.' Our kindest follower said they preferred the old one, but accepted the new one as 'more contemporary.' "

Others suggested the gray circle with a red semicircle filling its bottom half evokes a smiley face.

Even some fans of Seattle's Best didn't care for the new look, which replaces a more ornate ovoid logo that boasted "Smooth roasted since 1970."

"I don't think it represents the coffee (which I like) very well," wrote one commenter on Seattle Times business reporter Melissa Allison's Coffee City blog. "The white drop doesn't say coffee. It is too sterile and makes me think of nondairy creamer."

Many graphics professionals on the industry blog Brand New also weren't kind. Graphic designer Von Glitschka, of Salem, Ore., echoing comments about the blood-red background, reworked the design into a logo and cup for Seattle's Best Plasma. Another compared it to the logo on U.S. gas stations owned by Russian oil company Lukoil.

For Starbucks, a company that obsesses over design and has generally won plaudits for the look of its products and stores, the snarky reception must have been an unpleasant surprise. Seattle's Best spokeswoman Jenny McCabe said its testing found 73 percent of consumers thought the logo would represent high-quality coffee, and conveyed the characteristics the company is going for — "fun, optimism, simplicity and approachability."

The company and Creature, its agency on the project, aimed to distinguish SBC from the tony, high-end appeal of most coffee brands.

"The coffee category is all dark and serious, and we're the opposite," she said.

Not everyone in the blogosphere was universally sour on the change. A poll of some 3,000 readers on the Brand New site came up divided. On execution: great — 26 percent; fine — 42 percent; and bad — 31 percent. On overall brand change: smart move — 27 percent; OK move — 29 percent; and dumb move — 43 percent.

And Brand New blog author Armin Vit gave the makeover a better review. He wrote that making SBC "more approachable, affordable and accessible with the same visual simplicity of the new competitors it's trying to overtake, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, makes perfect sense."

He applauded dropping "the fuzzy, detailed, vintage label logo" that previously graced SBC's cups and signs, but observed that "by going to the other extreme of simplicity, they have achieved the popular generic look of contemporary consumer products, making no difference whether this company sold coffee or housecleaning products."

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SBC's McCabe said the somewhat generic look is no accident. She said Starbucks, which is expanding the SBC brand into tens of thousands of outlets from sandwich shops to cruise ships, wanted a logo that will fit with a wide range of settings.

"We want it to be a universal sign for good coffee someday," she said.

As for the criticism, said McCabe, "We're happy people are talking about it."

Seattle-born biotech Ikaria

slates big IPO

A biotechnology company founded in Seattle using technology from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center this past week filed for one of the biggest initial public stock offerings in the industry's recent history.

Ikaria is now based in Clinton, N.J., but it does maintain a research and development operation in Seattle.

It aims to raise up to $200 million in an iffy market to expand beyond the current treatment it sells for hypoxic respiratory failure, a life-threatening condition in people whose lungs can't deliver enough oxygen to the body. That product, a hospital-bedside treatment approved for infants, but used in many other patients as well, yielded $274 million in sales last year — an uncharacteristically robust revenue stream for a biotech company about to go public.

Ikaria picked up that product in a 2007 merger with INO Therapeutics that was backed with a $300 million infusion from private investors.

If successful in the IPO, the company plans to use proceeds to pursue, among other things, the technology it licenses from the Hutch. Ikaria calls the technology "reversible hibernation in humans," which could someday "help lengthen the period of time that tissues and cells can survive without oxygen in various forms of critical illness" such as heart attacks and stroke.

Comments? Send them

to Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541.

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