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Image: Hand holding a to-go cup of coffee

The Surprising Genius Behind Your To-Go Cup! 

How do you take your coffee in the morning? I don’t mean with cream or sugar— I mean, what do you carry it in? Are you the sit-down type, with your favorite mug? Or are you an on-the-go person, grabbing a cup at your local coffee shop or gas station? Well, if you’re in the latter group, almost every day you are getting the opportunity to interact with a remarkable piece of human ingenuity!

The to-go coffee cup lid is perhaps one of the world’s most underrated little gems. But take a look at it and you’ll find small details that occur time and time again on your favorite lids. Really, you’ll start to notice you actually have favorite lids.

So, what’s going on here? Are there really complexities at play with this everyday object that you didn’t realize? Simply put, the answer is, yes.

Image: Hand holding a to-go cup of coffee
Source: Pikrepo

To-Go, Please!

So, you grab your coffee, affix the lid, go to take your first sip, and… it dribbles down your shirt. (This, my friends, is why you always wear a black shirt). You readjust the lid, and still, no dice. It’s a tricky situation, and when you run into a cup lid that doesn’t work, you know it right away.

The evolution of the on-the-go cup lid has been in the works for over half a century. Beginning in the 1950s, many many minds have gone through a riveting process of trial, error, and iteration to give us a spill-free, caffeinated commute.

But this isn’t just a story of modern innovation, it’s one that reveals how our society has shifted over time. Moreover, how the best designs are the ones that we tend to notice the least.

So, let’s appreciate the little things with this great video from TED to explore the coffee cup lid with author AJ Jacobs.

Via: TED 1

This video is a part of the TED Series “Small Thing Big Idea.” You can check out a few others from this fantastic series over on the TED site!

AJ Jacobs is the author of Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, a book in which he embarks on a journey to thank every person involved in making his morning cup of coffee possible. It’s a world-crossing, life-changing adventure that explores how gratitude can spread connection, happiness, and generosity. You can find AJ on Twitter and Facebook as well!

We’ve actually featured another piece from this series a while back that’s all about buttons! Like this video, it is a wonderful look at one of life’s little, beautiful innovations. Take a watch and you won’t be buttoning up your coat the same way again!

Can Your Buttons Change the Way You Look at the World?

It’s a simple innovation but the button is one of many small wonders we see every day. So what is it that makes the button so special, and could learning about it make us happier, maybe even come up with the next small wonder? It can!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

Oh, and if you want to learn more about the history of lids, and dive deeper into this wonderful, quirky world of design we all come in contact with almost daily, there’s a book!

It’s written by architects Louise Harpman and Scott Specht called Coffee Lids: Peel, Pinch, Pucker, Puncture. Together they have America’s largest collection of independently patented plastic cup lids. You could say they are for sure the world’s leading experts on the topic! You can check out more from them in this great interview from Atlas Obscura.

Evolving Towards Something Better

Great design is a process that evolves as we do. It’s so easy to get annoyed at design because most of the time we only notice it when it’s bad. But good design tends to be invisible. And yet, hours of research, years of iteration, and thousands of failed attempts are at play in our favorite designs.

These little, ever-evolving pieces of our world are a lovely reminder that progress so often happens in small steps. As society evolves, so do our most beloved things.

Coffee was a staple of morning habits, but as we moved into a society on the go, so too did our coffee. Our on-the-go life led to the plastic coffee cup lid. Now that coffee on-the-go is our habit, and our society is moving away from single-use plastics and cups, so too will the coffee cup lid evolve!

We have a great article about how innovations evolve if you want to check it out:

The Playful History of Innovation

How is the flute the great-grandfather of the computer? Here’s a look at the playful history of innovation to give you a little perspective for the future!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

How will our future continue to evolve? As our resources change, as society asks for new things, as our understanding of our future changes, so will the objects that make daily life possible.

There is unlimited potential for innovation out there—it’s up to us to shape it!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


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  1. TED. “The Evolution of the Coffee Cup Lid | Small Thing Big Idea, a TED Series.” YouTube, 12 Feb. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSY-GFkyTV0.
Published: February 12, 2020

Image: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber


Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at the Goodness Exchange. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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