At the Signing Store in Washington, D.C., a special collection of vibrant cups and mugs for sale designed by artist and illustrator Yiqiao Wang honors the Deaf community. The design features bold and colorful hands framed by coffee cherries that express the word “connect” in American Sign Language (ASL), a language that many of the store’s partners and customers have in common.
Starting June 27, Wang’s collection will be coming to Starbucks stores across the U.S. as part of the Starbucks Artist Collaboration Series which celebrates and elevates the voices and stories of artists from around the world through uniquely curated merchandise in Starbucks stores. Her collection includes a 24-ounce cold cup, 16-ounce stainless steel tumbler and a 12-ounce ceramic mug.
“ASL requires movement,” said Wang. “I thought about how to connect that with the design so you can see the signs and how they move.”
“I was trying to clearly portray ASL handshapes and movement in a visual way. I thought that was really beautiful for the mugs."
She translated the visual language of ASL into a two-dimensional design by drawing three sets of hands that show the sequence of the sign, in colors that shift almost like a gradient from purple to green to yellow. “I was trying to clearly portray ASL handshapes and movement in a visual way. I thought that was really beautiful for the mugs,” she said.
Wang, who is Deaf, first came to the United States from Beijing to study ASL and digital multimedia at Gallaudet University, a bilingual (English and ASL) institution for deaf and hard of hearing students. Her path would cross with Starbucks in 2018 when she spotted an ad in a local newspaper for the future opening of the Signing Store near the Gallaudet campus.
“It was the first time that it came to me that Starbucks had a big heart,” she said. “As Deaf people, we are often frustrated while searching for job opportunities, and when I saw that [Starbucks was opening the Signing Store] it really touched me.”
After some coaxing from her father back in Beijing via Skype, she emailed Starbucks to try to sell her art for the new store. She got an email back in about 20 minutes and was commissioned for a large mural that would serve as the focal point of the café, which opened later that year.
The mural includes a host of letters, signs and symbols representing English, ASL, Deaf culture and coffee. “In the center of the piece, you can see two very strong hands, arms raised up, rising from the bottom of the artwork,” Wang said. “Deaf people can see that. It means community in ASL, and bringing various backgrounds, languages and people all together.”
Now, Wang’s journey with Starbucks continues as her designs pop up on store shelves across the United States.
“I really just want my art to have a positive feel to it,” she said. “And so that's what I thought for Starbucks.”
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