Culture, café.

What is a creative culture?

It’s an environment that, in totality, supports and facilitates employees doing their best work. Its foundation is one of mutual respect, palpable and seizable energy, and a complete commitment to its livelihood.

It permeates the interactions at our office, the meetings we attend, and the manner in which we produce.

Creative culture within businesses needn’t solely exist within the physical walls of the space. Rather, depending on a project’s current needs, a creative culture’s human-centered focus supports and trusts employees problem solving where energy is best seized. I’ve written of this notion before; cited within the context of the agency specifically, and more broadly in terms of drawing inspiration away from the viewport.

To that point, the inspiration we’re able to cull from the expanse outside our office’s front door is in large part “moment-specific”, if you will: the interactions, observations, and experiences we happen upon can and will vary based on an endless degree of chance and circumstance. That spontaneity — and the variety it presents — is a large part of its value.

On the other side of the coin, visiting a thoughtfully curated environment where someone has keenly and specifically thought of every detail affords a different, tangible inspiration in kind. One that’s deliberately planned and innately consistent.

Our field requires empathetic thought to the implications of every decision we make.

We’re creating interactive experiences for humans that serve to be as functional, usable, and intuitive as possible. In tandem, we’re considering the value of every detail and the role it plays in the quality of the end product. This is where the synergy of inspiration between the digital and physical realms functions to our advantage.

The Power of the Pour

Coffee, cafés, creativity, and culture make for a harmonious quartet. Print publications are dedicated to that notion; Drift is a magazine that articulates the power of the pour rather well:

Coffee sits in the background of some of the most important moments in our lives: the first time we told new friends we’d like to get to know them better, a second date, a business meeting, a passion project completed, a time we caught up with long-lost loved ones after years apart. More than anything else, coffee is tied to a sense of place and a sense of community.

The newly launched 96º covers some of the greatest coffee bars in the world. I wrote a piece for the inagural issue on the value of my cups — and the distinct purpose(s) they serve — as the day progresses. (Get your copy here)

It’s no secret that people gravitate toward coffee shops to work, read, or catch up with a friend. Many coffee shops afford, as The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf says, “just enough distraction.” That is to say, noise enough to break the potential harsh silence of an office environment, but not at live concert levels. When that boon is delivered through a deliberate, curated space conducive to creative energy, cafés can make for a phenomenal alternative for doing charged work away from our desks.

There’s an energy to these spaces that’s fueled by thoughtful details: tangibly factored into caffeinated service options and writing-conducive workspaces, in kind. The craft put into the pour of their blend. The placement of knick-knacks and comfort-centric interior design. These little unobtrusive rewards elicit positive emotional responses; they’re complimenting my experience of project-centric problem solving. As in my digital experiential work, the very same positive emotional responses gained through thoughtful user interactions compliment my (user) journey.

My team at work has full reign to design and code agnostic of workspace; around the office proper, that freedom is well-utilized. There’s still an apprehension to do so away from the office. So engrained are we to stay within our physical walls during business hours that I’ve made it a requirement that my team picks a café to work from one morning a week.

Sometimes, these are first-time trips; the designer has heard about the location and wants to “test the space”. Each visit, I ask them to document their surroundings while they’re working: photographically, and perceptually. Was the environment too loud? Was the energy conducive to successful visual or programmatic problem solving? Were there contacts to be made? Conversations that were had? It’s evident when a café isn’t a good fit; I’ll see a designer walk into the office after a couple hours. Equally obvious is coming across a location that’s a creative match; a Slack notification requesting to linger longer.

Some of my team’s shots from their Chicago-centric café work trips:

Caffe Streets. © 2016 Cynthia Myung.

Sawada Coffee. © 2016 Flo Katzenbach.

Ipsento Coffee. © 2016 Flo Katzenbach.

Other coffee shop visits, the location selection isn’t an arbitrary one. Via peer dialogues and online reviews we do our homework in advance, ascertaining how conducive a potential space is to curated inspiration and seizable energy.

© 2012 Lacey Bediz

One such long-time favorite is Heritage Bicycles General Store, in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Founded by Michael and Melissa Salvatore, Heritage is equal parts custom bike manufacturer (the first in the city since 1982) and ultra-curated café. In an open floor plan intentionally designed to generate energy and conversation via its seating arrangement (in large part communal), the “placement with purpose” interior decorating affords spatial inspirational in tandem. That is to say, beyond the exposed bike shop in the Store’s rear.

The ol’ typewriter, handcrafted reclaimed wood table, and coffee shop combo may scream “hipster”, but for our intents and purposes, that’s an association I’m quite comfortable with. The hipster-driven “handcrafted” movement gets its share of sneers, but at its heart is a passion for craft: through coffee shops, niche clothing stores, or farm-to-table restaurants. In that way, be it through the lens of beans or selvedge denim or pork shoulder, there’s a deliberate and focused nature that fuels the selection of elements down to a microscopic level of detail. Quality in the end product defines the goal of the process.

The Last Sip

Supporting, trusting, and (sometimes requiring) the seeking out of alternate forms of energy and inspiration is a hallmark of a creative culture. Even in the most dynamic and healthy of office environments, it’s s0 easy to stagnate cognitively and physically at our desks. The solution can often be found a cup of coffee away.

A change of perspective…

A change of energy…

A change of venue…to one that’s purposefully thought through every detail. Spatially, through service, and in quality of product; notions that transcend project work or medium.

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