You’re reading this because you want to learn more about our new cups! Thank you for the interest! So here it goes…
Two years ago, we wrote this blog post as a reflection on bridging cultures. Two weeks ago, we followed that up with another post about our thoughts on midterms. You’ll notice that a running theme is our fascination with culture.
Over the last year, we’ve been exploring ideas on how to codify our mission to bridge cultures—both for the public and internally. The plastic straw ban and local manufacturing (i.e. US Boba Company) are the first two big ideas out of our newfound resolve. Each initiative took at least a year, but we’re making tremendous progress. It’s given us more courage to tackle something we’ve been toying with for the past few years…
It’s a Small, Big World
Growing up, Bin and I (Andrew) both had a silly obsession with culture. Perhaps is it because both of us grew up as immigrant kids in non-Asian neighborhoods. Maybe it’s due to our music and film taste—all of which leans toward more cerebral topics like sociology and anthropology. Whatever the reason, we loved seeing people with overt differences come together and build a community.
Years ago, we both talked about our admiration for the “It’s a Small World” ride in Disneyland. It’s a ballsy experiment. The ride has been criticized a lot for stereotyping and over-generalizing ethnic garb and traditions. We’ve read all the criticism. While our idea has been shelved for years, we simply couldn’t shake the vision.
Last year, we asked our team to create the first cup that tries to explicitly bridge cultures. We chose cups as the medium because we serve over 4,000,000 drinks a year. Go big or go home, as they say!
It was just a design exercise at first, but we knew where we wanted to take it. We weighed out the implications that could come from a project like this, but as we’ve been saying all along… it’s about progress, not perfection.
In our exploration for the cup design, we knew other businesses like Starbucks tried to make statements with their business. When the #RaceTogether campaign came out, Bin and I dissected the campaign and asked ourselves what we would do if the choice was ours. We still keep tabs on the Starbucks’ “Holiday” cups discussion. Whether we like it or not, our belief is that businesses nowadays are inherently political or socially-conscious. We’ve always embraced it. What a company or person stands for is as important as what they make or do.
The question wasn’t what can we draw on a cup. It’s what do we want to draw on a cup. Zodi, our in-house designer, started the exploration with our internal team. At first, it was a Holiday-only seasonal design, so most of the concepts had a Holiday feel to it. But as we saw each iteration, we decided that if we were to do a limited-run cup, it’d make a statement. We wanted it to be timeless.
Some of you are already asking, why did you have to put faces on the cup? That part is easy. It’s about connecting people. We had ideas to draw various cultural symbols or city landscapes, like San Francokyo in Big Hero 6. It didn’t appeal to us. It’s been done. With all that’s going on in the world, we decided to tackle it the hard way—and that meant using real representations of our community.
The Hard Part
So we chose to use human representations of what it means to bridge cultures. After all, we always tell our team in our orientations, “Boba Guys is a place for EVERYONE.”
This is when it got hard and we almost pulled the project. The conversation even got heated within our internal team. How do you represent everyone on a cup that only fits 12-20 faces? When is it a caricature vs. a symbol? How many permutations of hair styles and face shapes can we combine? How can you draw universality without compromising individuality?
What inspired similar yet distinct faces was the idea that although different, at the end of the day we are all the same. We are all just people. We like what Everlane did with their 100% Human campaign. It was the same core message.
It’s Now for Real Real
This post is written before the cup launches in stores, so we’re not sure how the public will react to it. But we know one question will come up over and over again, so we’ll address it now: Do we wish that we could create a representation of every single person and race so that no one feels excluded?
Yes, but representation is like chasing the sun. We all want it, but we can only get so close. This single design alone took months. We didn’t have to do it. And maybe we’ll learn that it was a mistake. But we are trying. This was an exercise not just for the public, but also for our internal team. At the end of the day, we’re responsible for 300+ team members, most of whom are quite impressionable. We want them to see that it’s about progress, not perfection. We want them to see us try— and maybe, fail.
We know from our experience with the Crazy Rich Asians campaign that #RepresentationMatters, but it is also gradual and incremental. This is not the last time we’ll attempt something so ambitious. We’ll learn and adjust. That’s what we’ve always done.
So after of months of iterations, the design you see going live is our best shot. We did adhere to some parameters along the way: we removed some colors due to cost and added more explicit representations of our community based on the feedback.
In the end, we just want little kids who come to our shops to identify with at least one of the faces on the cup. It creates a sense of belonging and inclusiveness that begets a strong community. Through community, you create dialogue. And through dialogue, you finally get to bridge cultures.
So that’s the story of our cups. Whew, a lot of backstory for simple cups, right? Let’s just enjoy the cute little faces now! ;)
Andrew & Bin