New York University Gallatin professor Louise Harpman is totally obsessed with coffee cup lids.
For starters, she says they reflect a kind of collective cultural movement in the United States over the modern era toward “on-the-go” consumerism. But her true obsession is design, and coffee cup lids, she says, are a perfect examples of “visual literacy.” In the following video produced by NYU, Harpman suggests:
Open your eyes and look. Every single thing around you is designed. And somebody designed that. Even if it’s something like a coffee lid, or a paper clip, or the dental floss that you buy. So many of these objects merit further consideration, understanding the design, the manufacturing and the intelligence that went into these designs.
Harpman and Scott Specht, her founding partner in the architecture firm Specht Harpman, are the co-owners of the world’s largest known coffee cup lid collection, one Harpman keeps tucked away under her bed in acid-free boxes when it’s not on display at places like the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
The collection represents more than 500 patented lid designs, some of her favorite of which include a filter-type lid that fits into the cup, rather than onto the lip, that was designed to prevent sloshing, and “Darth Vadar”-style lids, which she says can look like mini skateparks.
In the video, Harpman further explains the roots of her obsession, “We tried to understand what it is that is driving innovation,” she says. “What problems are the designers trying to solve? Why isn’t there, like, a best lid? Why don’t we have the equivalent of the paper clip?”