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Stories of Design Magazine features stories from the world of British design. Designer interviews and product design, events and books

Long Story Short | The Cone Cup

This week I noticed an office water dispenser with cone cups and wondered if we weren't missing a trick; how many times have you felt trapped into buying an environmentally disastrous one-use-plastic bottle of water because you are thirsty and there is no available alternative? It happens to me whenever I travel. My bag is already heavy, or my hands are already full: I just want a drink without giving the planet, or my finances, an unnecessary kick.

Cone cups are surely one of the most transient products every conceived? A piece of coated paper curled into a cone shape that will contain a small quantity of water for little more than the time it takes to lift from dispenser to mouth. Two or three swallows later the cup meets its destiny: bin, truck, and landfill. Forever.

The cone shape is appealing, and somehow youthful and playful. It seems to invite being inverted and transformed. It recalls traffic cones - a pragmatic product dressed in orange neon topped off with a reflective waistcoat - and Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour of 1989, whence the cone has acquired a sexy edge. If you are a child or parent it is probably not a cone cup at all, but a party hat that could use a bit of colour and elastic.

Cone cups are fragile, crushable, almost soluble. They are of the moment. Surely the perfect cone is the edible ice-cream sustaining variety, which is both packaging and product.

What unifies these thoughts? Festival. Festivals are playful, transitory, fleeting; they are sexy and indulgent but they have a conscience. Festival goers want an ephemeral experience without permanent waste and damage. How about a cone cup? Small for water, provided by strategically placed taps or from large aluminium canisters on mobile units; large cones for everything from kebabs to popcorn.

Were my clients the designers of a new, soluble, compostable, biodegradable cone cup I would suggest that their story was Festival. Naturally ephemeral.

Sarah ConwayfeatureComment