Coffee Shop Design Observations

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Brown (2009) states that design is not limited to designers and one can infer that he is speaking of designers by degree or qualification.  Many times I have watched TV shows such as The Block, Grand Designs and more recently Restaurant Revolution.  These shows are the stuff that dreams are made of and full of innovative concepts and little did I realise till today, examples of design thinking as not only the final product but the processes and journey it takes to bring these concepts to final form.

What about the local coffee shop I go to though?  Had I really taken much notice of the design?  Not really.  It is a local coffee shop attached to a large shopping centre and I go there because the staff are friendly and basically it is easy for me to pop in and out quickly.  I actually never take the time to sit and observe how the design of this coffee shop operates so to sit for 30 minutes inside was a novelty not only for me but for the staff as well.

Here is an overall sketch of the physical layout of the coffee shop.



The coffee shop is located right at one of the main entrances to the shopping centre.  It is always busy and the entryway can become crowded when there are people waiting for coffee, people waiting to pay and people needing to get through to sit in the coffee shop.


The ‘work area is partitioned by a wall which has a pass cut-out into the wall where the food is passed through from the kitchen.  Dirty plates and dishes are taken via a small single door to the kitchen and the final preparation for plates of food, such as adding cream and ice-cream are done in the coffee area or the bench space near the door to the kitchen.

The seating is very squashed together and little did I realise there were not many younger people or families using this coffee shop.  The clientele seemed to be retirees or groups of adults of no more than 3.  The tables in the centre had a space between of between 20-30 cm from the corner of one table to another and staff needed to pass food across the table to get to the people sitting in the centre.


While waiting for food and coffee, there was little to look at if facing towards the entrance of the shopping centre.  Selling drinks and food were definitely on the agenda of the owners as when facing towards the shop and shopping centre entrance the customer could see a drinks fridge, the preparation of food through the pass and the several glass jars that cluttered the bench surrounding the coffee machine that were full of cakes and biscuits.  As well there were some flowers in a vase.

An interesting observation is that two customers required walking aids and 1 customer had parked hers right in front of the cake fridge next to where she was seated and the other had to park hers outside the shop where trolleys also need to be put if using the coffee shop.

It was difficult to observe without judgement but it became apparent that I now knew why I prefer to get takeaway coffee rather than use the coffee shop.  The advantage this business has is that it is located in a prime position within the centre and the staff are always happy and friendly towards their customers.  While food and staff are central to customer experience in a coffee shop so too are the surroundings.


Brown, T. (2009) Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from:

Design for Informal Learning to Satisfy Lunchtime Library User Blog Post 1

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School libraries are many spaces within one larger space and how space is used depends on the need of the user at a particular time of the day.  For example, they can be meeting spaces for teachers and parents before and after school.  They can be formal learning spaces giving lessons in how to navigate a plethora of information sources and how to present final products of information based on research.  They can be spaces to escape the busyness of playground activities to undertake activities that use and develop creativity, reading skills and imagination.

The task is to find a ‘problem space’ that is not serving the purpose it could do, for learning.  The space I chose is the entryway as I needed a space for an informal learning activity that has been directed by the students themselves.  Since the release of the movie Paper Planes on DVD, many of our students are coming to the library to make and experiment with different designs of paper planes.  Initially, they were flying them everywhere in the library and as there is a lot of informal learning going on with their new found interest, we needed to find a space that encouraged rather than discouraged them and met these informal learning needs.

Brown (2009) states that design thinking ‘requires empathy for the user’ (p. 3) and this is exactly what was felt when looking at not only the users needing space for their paper planes but also those users whose needs were breakaway spaces to read, space to catch up with friends and draw/ create artworks, space to play board games and create puppet shows. The identification of the opportunity to add another dimension to our library learning space for lunchtime was as Seidel and Fixson (2013) identify the more formal method of ‘needfinding’ (p. 20).  Together with the students we drew on the requirements for a novel concept and made the clear goal of designing a space that would keep everything needed in one area.

As outlined by Seidel & Fixson (2013), the ‘multidisciplinary team’ (students from Years 2 – 6) brainstormed possible solutions to our opportunity, the second formal method of design thinking and together we decided to build our ‘prototype’ and trial it for 2 weeks.  Linking this brainstorming to prototyping straight away led to an initial successful outcome and as Seidel & Fixson identify in their study once the decision was made as to which design concept we would go with we were able to push forward and focus on the practicalities of design.  At the end of 2 weeks, we will get together and identify if the space is still needed and if so, is it working (Seidel & Fixson, 2013).

As the manager of this learning space, it was my responsibility to guide the students to think creatively and have a ‘can do’ attitude rather than squash their enthusiasm (Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby, 2012).  The team needed to be proactive and ‘seek the peaceful co-existence of desirability, feasibility and viability'(Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby, 2012). I needed to be flexible and open-minded as we promote our library as having space for everyone.

Here are some initial photos of how the space works:


This is the view coming into the entryway of the library.  The glass doors that can be seen open up into a secondary ‘spillover’ area called the Fishbowl.


This is the Fishbowl which is another area of redesign but this would involve negotiations and discussions with leadership.  At the moment though, the students can use this space to get on laptops to find YouTube clips on how to make paper planes and collaborate with each other.  the older students are enjoying mentoring the younger students in their endeavours and the circular tables are beneficial for this.



This space is where you can see the initial design but as Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby (2012) identify,  it is the ‘starting point’ and already within our 2 week trial period we have come up with ideas to display a poster showing what the target is for, a set of numbers to change the numbers that will be added together, adding books about flight and birds to assist students research further designs as in the movie and perhaps have different coloured papers so that students can identify their planes easily once they have flown them.


Here is one of the students whose turn it is to test his informal learning about planes.


Brown, T. (2009) Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from:

Seidel, V., & Fixson, S. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30, 19–33. or 

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : Transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson.

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