You’ve seen it countless times before—a design streaked across disposable paper cups and plates that looks like it was ripped straight from the opening credits of Saved By the Bell—but you might not have ever though about where it came from. It’s called the “Jazz” pattern, and it’s an ubiquitous staple of American life, showing up everywhere from the ice-cream parlor to the hospital cafeteria.
Interestingly, know one really knew who created it or where it came from until a recent Reddit thread kicked off a crowd-sourced investigation about its true origins. Part of the picture emerged—it was created in at the Sweetheart Cup Company in Springfield, MO by a woman named Gina—but it took writer Thomas Gounley of News-Leader to fill in the details.
In an impressive feat of sleuthing, Gounley went full Sherlock Holmes on the story, talking to all the companies that have used the Jazz pattern, and finding that Solo’s official company story about where it came from was full of holes. Just as he was about to give up his search for truth, he found a tweet from a user who claimed that her mom was the creator of “Jazz.” He tracked down the woman’s full name and, after a few more setbacks, showed up at the doorstep of Gina Ekiss.
Ekiss explained that she produced the pattern when “an internal contest to design a new stock image for the company was announced in 1989.” Since it was meant to be printed quickly and in large runs, she says the design “needed something that if it misregistered slightly, it wasn’t going to matter”—hence its graffiti-like imprecision.
So there you have it. Thank you, Internet, for another mystery solved, and shoutout to Ekiss for creating one of the most enduring symbols of the ’80s and ’90s. Sadly, she didn’t even get a bonus for her work.
The whole story is well-worth a read—check it out here.