Service/experience design - enhancing our cafe experience


I am currently carrying out a design research project into British 'coffee culture' and how it has evolved since the 16th century. My main finding was the change in sociality within cafes and how the unwritten 'rules of behavior' in such environments has habitually changed. With help from a small local cafe business, I hope to find a way of creating more of a community within cafes without being intrusive.

I’m interested to see how people would feel about a cafe which was designed to encourage customer interaction – getting people to talk and share information about local news, events etc.
For example: 
  – local tips+info about the cafes area
  – shared seating areas
  – redesigning community boards
  – group talks/discussions

I realise that this is not a particularly new idea but I hope to explore this idea further and have a fun, interactive design output which can be enjoyed by all. 

I am still in the early stages of developing an experimental ‘service/experience’ design and would love to hear your thoughts on whether you think customers and staff would take to a more sociable cafe. Also, if anyone could point me towards somebody within service design or social research I would be very appreciative! 


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hi Lydia,

I think what you are describing is the development of the coworking space...

Dissatisfied with the loneliness of working in coffee shops and at home, freelancers are flocking to coworking spaces all over the world, for their sense of independence, collaboration and community.

Recently many independents are developing the same culture e.g. Urban Coffee Co in Birmingham ) and chains such as Starbucks are trying to jump on the bandwagon as they see regulars disappearing...

Hope this is useful...


Thanks for the useful feedback James! I had heard of something similar where people share workspace resources, but couldn't find a case where this had been adapted to a cafe-like enviroment. I'd be really interested to hear of anyone who has tried and tested a similar co-working space? 
Very helpful, thanks again!


Hi Lydia

The key to answering your question is to understand why people go to coffeeshops and what they want from their experience. James is absolutely right that many people now use coffee shops as a 'third place' other than work and at home. This was one of Howard Schultz's founding principles behind the early development of Starbucks. Take a look at Pine & Gilmore's book The Experience Economy for more on the origins of Starbucks.

But that is not the only reason people go to coffee shops. I assume some people go there to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And others to wait in comfort, e.g. for a train at a station. And others because they just like a cup of coffee during the day. Each different group has different reasons for going to a coffee shop. And importantly, it is not correct to assume that everyone wants to talk to others when they do. I certainly don't want to talk to other people when I go to my local McCafe in Germany.

Rather than design a coffee shop around what YOU think is important (conversation), why not design one around what THEY think is important.

I would suggest that you don't need to seek help from soneone within service design or social research for what you want to do. Service design is not rocket science. So why not teach yourself service design by using simple but effective service design tools yourself. They are really easy to use. And very forgiving of mistakes.

The Service Design Tools website has a very useful set of service design tools and guidance how to use them. And Marc Stickdorn's excellent book This is Service Design Thinking is a worthwhile investment if you really want to master service design.

Let us know how your project progresses.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Entrepreneur


Hi Graham,
Thanks for your advice and I apologise for the delay!
Shortly after my first post, I started my own research within an independent cafe chain. I focused on finding what people really wanted and also what made people loyal to particular cafes.
I realise that what I was proposing was not fitting to every individual using the cafe; but I did see that there was an interest in creating a more interactive experience, particularly with the loyal customers.
I wanted to ensure that this was a sensitive and unintrusive option to the current cafe experience. I definitly do not want to force people to interact, but, instead encourage people to feel more welcome to share their coffee break with the people around them. 
Having looked into how our behaviour has evolved I completely agree that many would not be interested in speaking to other customers as it has become less of a 'norm'. (I myself could be put in this catergory, however I think from past experience it takes a few unanticipated conversations with friendly strangers for people to realise that they might actually enjoy interacting with people who regularly enjoy the same enviroment as they do.) But you are completely right and I want to make sure my own thoughts and desires for this project are reflective of my findings.
I had seen great reviews for This is Service Design Thinking and agree it was a good investment!  This is really my first project away from industrial design and would recommend this book to anyone new to service design. I shall keep you posted!



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