You're walking along with a cup of take-out coffee when someone bumps into you, or you stumble ever so slightly over a sidewalk crack. And now there's a coffee stain on your shirt.
Stephen A. Smith feels your pain. And as director of product development at Solo Cup Co., he's done something about it. Hence, the Traveler Plus, a disposable coffee-cup lid with a reclosable opening. Easily deployed via a flick of the index finger, it's an elegant and satisfying solution to the problem of on-the-go spills.
The idea came during a flight Smith took with a Solo colleague in 2000. "One of us had a cup, and we started discussing how great a reclosable lid would be," he says. "But we had no idea how to do it. It was more like, 'You've gotta be kidding — there's no way we can do that.' "
Smith, who talks of "liquid spurtage" and "dribble wipeage," led a team of engineers that tackled the problem. "It required a lot of work to ensure that it was not only functional but also manufacturable." The finished product, launched nationally in mid-2003, sells for twice the price of Solo's standard lids.
Smith, who has worked in package design for 25 years, says, "Nobody thinks about how much effort and creativity go into a cup or lid." Until, perhaps, now.
A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.