Capturing a Pacific Northwest Adventure for Starbucks ‘Hot Air Balloon’ Mug

Most of the year, Starbucks designer Nicole Gutierrez Harter is focused on tea. She creates packaging, promotional materials and displays for Teavana® products and stores.

When the Starbucks Creative Studio invited her to contribute an art piece for the first-ever Starbucks® Holiday Dot Collection, she jumped at the chance.

“I was excited to contribute a piece for the holidays for Starbucks,” Harter said. “I wanted the design I did to have a story behind it.”

When brainstorming the concept for her design, Harter drew out elements from the Starbucks brand story. She transformed the green dot from the logo into a hot air balloon. She paid tribute to the company’s nautical heritage (Starbucks gets its name from a character in Herman Melville’s classic tale of the sea, Moby Dick) and its beginnings in the port city of Seattle in the composition. And the siren is slyly celebrated throughout.

“The water and mountains were inspired by the view near Starbucks first store at Seattle’s Pike Place Market,” said Harter, a Pacific Northwest native. “I imagined stepping out from the original Starbucks store and looking out at Seattle’s waterfront and the Olympic Mountains beyond.”

The color palate of blues and greens likewise reflects the water and landscapes of the Northwest. Harter used watercolors to create texture and dimension and evoke the watery feeling of the sea. During sketching, she decided that the pen strokes could become gold accents. The scalloped gold pattern on the balloon is a reference to the siren’s scales.

“The man in the hot air balloon is searching for the siren – if you look closely, you will see her tail peeking out of the water,” she said.

Just a few months after submitting her artwork, Harter’s piece is found on a double-wall ceramic traveler mug in thousands of Starbucks stores. It’s also available as a limited-edition art print at

Ultimately, the story is about a journey.

“I don’t know if the man found what he was looking for or not,” she said. “It’s up to you to decide.”

About the Starbucks Dot Collection

Harter’s work and other pieces from the Starbucks® Dot Collection 2014 are available in participating Starbucks® stores in the U.S. and Canada through the holidays. Each store has its own selection and the full collection can be found at, while supplies last.

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Starbucks Milano Duetto – an innovative ode to coffee, arts and culture