When Starbucks announced earlier in January that it would be removing the words "Starbucks Coffee" from its logo and leaving its iconic twin-tailed, long-haired mermaid all by herself, many people--including Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz--chalked the change up to the company's campaign to expand beyond coffee into other food products. That's when people weren't just trashing the move outright.

But was the redesign also a less-publicized effort to expand business in Asia? Are Starbucks executives harnessing the wonders of geometry to influence cultural perceptions and pad the company's bottom line?

David Zax at Fast Company thinks so.

Zax, noting that Starbucks is planning aggressive expansion into Asia and particularly China, bases his opinion on a soon-to-be-published Rice University study. Marketing professor Vikas Mittal and his fellow researchers found that the removal of lettering gives the new Starbucks logo a more rounded appearance, which has greater appeal in "interdependent and collectivist cultures--often found in Asian countries, such as India and China--than in Western countries, which tend to have a more independent or individualistic culture."

Why the cross-cultural difference in taste? Mittal elaborates:

Research in aesthetics shows that interdependent cultures prefer rounded shapes as they represent harmony, which is consistent with an interdependent view of the world. Those countries tend to have a higher percentage of rounded logos compared with individualistic countries, and logos and product shapes that are rounded are more acceptable and embraced in those cultures.

Zax concludes:

Not only does removing the name of the brand from the logo untether it from the English speaking world, but by zooming in on the ethereal mermaid figure in the center of the original logo, the new one is definitely wavier, rounder even. If Mittal and his colleagues' assessment is to be believed, the Starbucks redesign--subtle enough to not alienate (most of) its core, and wavy enough to win over those harmony-loving Asian markets--might just be brilliant.

The Wire, for its part, is now rethinking the corporate motivations of Pepsi, AT&T, BMW, and PBS.