Experiencing Design

Written by
Chris Arnold
October 8, 2013

As we walked in, I imme­di­ately noticed the shop’s clean, indie-inspired typog­ra­phy. You know the type; some­thing that could come right off of the Hipster Branding Tumblr blog. But it seemed promis­ing enough and the crisp smell of roasted cof­fee beans pulled us in. It was hip and laid-back, plas­tered with white wood and cement floors. It was a cool­ing spot.

Yet, feel­ing the weight of my back­pack on my shoul­ders, I quickly real­ized it wasn’t a place to get any­thing done. It was loud and the light­ing seemed stark; there were a hand­ful of cramped, small tables on one side of the shop. Everything about it felt tense. It was a place to get cof­fee and leave, not a place to stick around.

When I travel as a part-time nomad, there are very few spaces that sat­isfy my seem­ingly typ­i­cal pre­req­ui­sites for get­ting work done (and when it comes to get­ting work done, I actu­ally mean get­ting work done): Mid-level, com­fort­able music, numer­ous wall or floor out­lets, decently com­fort­able seat­ing and friendly baris­tas. Throw in some food or snacks to tack on bonus points. Tasty bev­er­ages help too.

Twenty sec­onds later, Dan and I looked at each other and walked out. From there we ref­er­enced our trusted part­ner, the Yelp! app, to deliver us to the clos­est (some­what) highly rated cof­fee shop. We spun our freshly rented Fiat around the cor­ner and caught glimpse of where we’d arrived: Young Hickory on 30th and Polk in San Diego’s North Park neigh­bor­hood. The exte­rior glis­tened and wel­comed us with two garage doors fully upright.

As I walked in — actu­ally, as I approached — I rec­og­nized how the entire expe­ri­ence here was built upon a par­tic­u­lar atmos­phere. From the cute sign in the win­dow to the weath­ered and dis­tressed floor­ing, to the del­i­cately crafted chalk­board menu, reclaimed tables, light­ing, and wall stick­ers, every­thing was well planned out and strate­gi­cally placed. Upon approach­ing the counter I noticed a sign that read No Haters Allowed, set with a no-nonsensical coastal vibe. Hey, man, just chill out and enjoy. Espresso, beer, break­fast, lunch, and panini vari­eties adorned the menu. The music was groov­ing; notable selec­tions included Little People, El Ten Eleven  and Washed Out. It was def­i­nitely hip, but in the best of ways: Youthful, with­out the pre­ten­tious over­tones. There’s no time for that here.

When I travel, I often long to find a place as designed and as care­fully put together as Young Hickory. There is a sub­tle feel­ing of home and com­fort that greets you and keeps you there for a lit­tle longer. In this case, I opened a tab and stayed a while. My selec­tions included iced latte with almond milk, break­fast eggs and bacon, a romaine wedge with fruit for lunch and a late after­noon craft beer. I chose my table, walked the floor, even talked with a dear friend on Skype for over an hour. I made the space my own and every­one was cool with that because every­one was doing the same thing, their thing.

In a world where the “idea” of food ser­vice indus­try com­fort man­i­fests in so many dif­fer­ent ways — dis­tressed floor­ing, clean typog­ra­phy, cool-kids music — it’s always refresh­ing to actu­ally feel what the space was meant to be, rather than hop­ing to feel what it is the space is try­ing so des­per­ately to be. This is an impor­tant distinction.

On that day, design and work­ing in the expe­ri­ence of design was taken up a level. I found a place that fit my vibe and my cul­ture, expe­ri­enc­ing a liv­ing, breath­ing form of art with­out hes­i­ta­tion and with­out even trying. For me, this is unno­ticed design: a paint­ing I sim­ply adore, a piece of music I instinc­tively love, or, in this case, a cof­fee shop in a dis­tant town with for­eign but friendly faces that brings forth solace.

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  • Clay

    Chris, thanks so much for the kind words. As a designer and a cof­fee shop owner I am SO glad to hear the con­cepts we have strived to instill in the space have started to man­i­fest them­selves. Your expe­ri­ence and pos­i­tive reviews totally made our day. Hope to see you again soon.


    Owner, Young Hickory

    • Chris Arnold

      Clay! Of course. I’ll def­i­nitely rec­om­mend this spot to friends and fam­ily down the road. Thanks for tak­ing the time to read.

  • Emma

    You should see Foxy Loxy/The Coffee Fox in Savannah, GA! Similar ideas and equally as entic­ing.

    • Chris Arnold

      This spot looks very cool. Thanks for the rec­om­men­da­tion, Emma!

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