Experiencing Design

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.

By Chris Arnold
Published October 8, 2013
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