rCUP by ashortwalk | brand storytelling and copywriting

  • Sarah Conway
  • Becca Allen
  • Julia Denni


ashortwalk are an award-winning design company on the north coast of Cornwall, led by former Dyson designer and inventor Dan Dicker. Innovators in circular design processes and materials, ashortwalk see waste as a challenge, and an opportunity to participate in the creation of a more sustainable future. 
In late 2016 ashortwalk were asked to develop ideas to turn used paper coffee cups into new products.  At the time, a BBC campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed the dirty secret of cafe culture: the plastic lining of "paper" cups made them all but impossible to recycle. A reassuring "recyclable" logo didn't mean a thing when just 0.4% of single-use cups of the type used by Costa, Starbucks et al were actually recycled. The tide was turning on our throwaway culture and people were beginning to demand a more sustainable way to enjoy their coffee.
rCUP is a thoughtfully designed solution to decades of carelessness. Rather than try to separate the paper from the lining of each cup, ashortwalk's partners at Nextek developed a way to use the whole cup, blending its fibres to create a useful polymer. Using this polymer, rCUP became the world's first cup to be recycled, reusable and 100% recyclable. This USP sets rCUP apart in a crowded marketplace of non-recyclable reusable cups made from virgin plastics. More importantly, rCUP offers an opportunity to share the story of circular design with a wider audience.


Sometimes it's difficult to find the story that sets a product apart. Not with rCUP. With rCUP, the challenge was how we could communicate a great deal of important and interesting information in a concise and engaging way. rCUP isn't just a product, it's a provocation and a statement of positive change.
The golden thread that ran through this story was the simple image of a line being bent until if formed a circle. rCUP is a product of the circular economy, a process that bends the linear model of take-make-waste by transforming waste into a useful material. This gentle bending, quiet disruption and intelligent invention captures the nature of ashortwalk and the #reuserevolution it champions.


We understood from the beginning that the cup itself is the main character. ashortwalk have not just made any old cup out of a pioneering material, they had made what is set to be the best reusable travel mug on the market. The elegance with which it opens and closes, the care given to ensure that it really does not leak, the insulated layers to keep your drink hotter without scorching your hands... Dan and his team have designed the cup that they want in their lives, and this is a team of Dyson-trained perfectionists.
For all of these reasons, and because it would have been ridiculously hypocritical to use loads of packaging, we decided that the cup must be wrapped minimally and in such a way as to allow customers to hold it in their hands and try out the open-shut mechanism. This was all well and good, but it didn't leave much space for storytelling.
Stories of Design worked closely with the talented illustrators and graphic designers at Many Mavens to create a visual and verbal identity for rCUP that would communicate a strong message across a crowded cafe. We pared everything back to it's essentials: illustrations inspired by piles of used cups; a colour palette that contrasted waste with planetary health, and words that could be understood by a small child and would fit on a telegram.
We began to think of the story as having three layers: the outer wrap would introduce the key design features and themes with a bold statement: Drink Coffee Save the Planet. The inner wrap would be more playful, using an infographic to show just how this humble cup proposed to make such a grand difference. Finally, the leaflet would provide an opportunity for customers to learn more about the circular economy and the role of the rCUP and ashortwalk in this new model.