(8/31/20) principles of coffeeshop design

Hey all,

Have you noticed the rising tide of amazing newsletters out there? I’m going to take a moment here to call out a few that you might find interesting.

Sari Azout— Calling out the need for humanity in capitalism
“We are moving away from a top-down relationship with established institutions and toward a new, trust-based relationship with people.”

Margins— A finance guy’s take on tech, a tech guy’s take on Wall Street
“The divide between Silicon Valley and the rest of the country is wider it has ever been. Half my Twitter is people looking to angel-invest their millions in apps, and the other is reporters documenting the latest lows America has hit.”

PD Mangan— A 60-year-old jacked dude talking health and fitness
“So, what happened? The ultra-processed food made them hungrier, so they ate more. The whole, unprocessed food satisfied their appetites, so they ate less.”

Pat Stedman— Provocative real talk for men on relationships
“The problem indeed with most men today is that they are depolarized, and not in touch with their masculinity.”

There is so much wisdom locked in the minds of individuals, even if it is stuff that I disagree with. Thanks to the rise of new distribution tools, these perspectives are finding their voices.

What I’m Thinking About

My favorite coffeeshop is west~bourne, a cozy little space near Washington Square Park. A good friend (hi Rajit!) introduced it to me a couple years ago. Every time he's in town, we grab breakfast here to catch up.

I've noticed that coffeeshops like this one are charming by design. When I get excited by something, I start analyzing the crap out of it. And so here go The Principles of Coffeeshop Design.

1/4 - Strong navigation design

How we move around a space tells us how we will use the space. It doesn't matter what the space designer intended. Our wayfaring defines its use.

Moving from "Browsing" to "Entering" to "Ordering" to "Sitting" is seamless. I get multiple (but not too many) choices on what I want from my experience.

As I approach west~bourne, my eye is drawn to whatever activity is happening right behind the floor-to-ceiling windows. The coffeeshop lures in my browsing eye.

When I enter, my new-place anxiety dissipates.

“Hey good morning! Menu's up here, let me know what you'd like.”

I know exactly where to place my order. The staff notices any confusion I may have as I enter.

There are three options on where I can sit, depending on the type of experience I'd like to have. Towards the back of the space for some more intimacy? Towards the front near the windows for something more social? Or right up on the bar, for a mix of both (some SABSing aka “see and be seen”)?

2/4 - Strong information hierarchy

If navigation tells us what the space is, how the space is structured tells us what it should be used for.

While we may move around the space however we wish, the space does give us hints about what it should be used for. What exactly is west~bourne telling us, eh? Our flowchart becomes a floor plan.

There are two large circular tables at the front of the coffeeshop near the windows. Ah yes, for groups of friends grabbing a bite together!

A long bar area cuts through the center of the space, aligning perpendicularly with the front door. As I enter the space, the bar creates a line of sight for me to the cashier.

I can show up here with a book and still keep open the possibility of serendipitous conversation. The staff is always floating around near the bar, as are other diners coming and going.

Finally, towards the back of the space are a few two-person tables. When I see two-person tables tucked away, I think “cozy date spot.” Bring your beloved or a dear friend and take a seat.

3/4 - Strong design system

At this point I have merely described the guts of any ol’ thoughtful coffeeshop. The visual design system of the space now becomes an important setter of good vibes. The colors, the typography, the textures, the language. These are all contributing to my sense of emotional well-being in the space.

Should I feel amped up and ready to seize the day? Or relaxed and in no hurry? What does being here say about me?

All the furniture here, a bright, grainy wood. Brick walls. Peaceful ocean blue. Subtly flourished lettering on the storefront window.

Even the typography, including the tilde ~ in the name, suggests understated modern whimsy. The typeface they use, Sharp Grotesk, is a sans serif influenced by the “wonky imperfectionism” of 20th century American wood type.

west~bourne intends to create a space for thoughtful joy. According to their website, this is their guiding philosophy:

“We seek to bring purpose, mindfulness, and inspiration to your daily journey, from day to night, along with each and every experience in between.”

4/4 - Strong atmosphere

Navigation tells us how to use the space. Information hierarchy tells us what to use the space for. Design systems prime us for how we should feel while in the space.

Atmosphere allows us to be at home. What do I notice, feel, and experience when I'm in between states of motion?

When I'm waiting to order, what am I busying myself with? When I'm waiting for the check, what do I do?

I’ve run out of things to do, I just need to be. Now what? What am I experiencing? How am I relating to my environment?

At west~bourne, I notice the artwork on the walls. I notice that they donate a portion of profits to the Robin Hood Foundation. I notice sunlight streaming into the space, accentuating the playful touches inside.

One of the seating areas near the front is actually a window sill with multiple cozy pillows for support. My table has a fun little flower arrangement in the center.

It also really helps that the staff is so friendly and hospitable. They're looking out for me, but not in the performed way that a Michelin-star waiter might.

Atmosphere pulls everything together. You could either begin the design process here, or you could complete it here, it doesn’t matter. The birth and death of experience lies in the atmosphere that you cultivate.

So yeah, thank you for reading my love note to a coffeeshop.

At west~bourne, I can kick my feet up. I can breathe and take a moment to look around. This is what you get with 800 square feet of very thoughtful design. You don’t need all that much space to create something awesome.

Bullet-Point Summaries

5 Ways I’m Slowing Down My Growth on Purpose - Indie Hackers

  1. Price the product high enough so that if I’m not delivering value, customers will be quick to leave.

  2. Enable monthly payment notifications.

  3. Automatically churn customers who have had 4 consecutive failed payments.

  4. No discounted annual plans, just a monthly plan.

  5. Cancel anytime, with one click and no other hoops.

  6. It’s strange that the above “tactics” are not commonplace. Treat people like you want to be treated by a business. In hard times, you will be more resilient.

Why Garbagemen Should Earn More Than Bankers - Evonomics

  1. The fact that something is difficult does not automatically make it valuable.

  2. Bizarrely, it’s precisely the jobs that shift money around – creating next to nothing of tangible value – that net the best salaries.

  3. Imagine what would happen if all of a city’s garbagemen went on strike. How long would it take for things to devolve into chaos?

  4. The more wealth is concentrated at the top, the greater the demand for wealth-preserving (rather than wealth-creating) jobs.

It’s starting to smell a lot like autumn weather — enjoy the last few weeks of summer! Shoutout to all the schoolteachers getting back in the zone this week.

Ammar