Brainstorm Cafe

Connecting visitors of urban coffee bars with a brainstorm tool.

My role: Research, concept development, design (visual identity, product design), prototyping, business model development

In the heart of every city you can enjoy a latte in one of the urban coffee bars, characterized by chalk boards and wooden interiors. Traditional coffee houses once started with the aim to create a living room for the city, a third place that provides a sense of community and a public informal meeting place. In the last few years this living room has been transformed into a place where the Wi-Fi is the main consumption and eye contact or casual conversations are avoided. It’s a pity, especially since there is a great opportunity for the creative audience to come together and share thoughts.

How might we stimulate conversations between strangers in independent coffee bars in a meaningful way? This project is inspired by my love for the life in an urban and dynamic environment.

Although most specialty coffee bars claim to be original, my visual research on the typical identity of these bars shows that they are not as authentic as they might think they are. There are for example a lot of similarities in the purposely imperfect interiors, brick stone walls, logo’s with condensed and white letters and preferably some fixed gear bikes.

After mapping the design of these places, I actively observed the behaviour and interactions of different coffee bar visitors. Besides that I created surveys for the owners of these places, but after receiving the first answers, I realized that it was more valuable to immerse myself into their world and visit and interview them in their cafes.

In public places there is a norm of anonymity. Strangers quickly glance at each other and then look away. People carefully avoid interaction, which is in contrast with the social contact the owners highly value. Some coffee bars even have tall tables and chairs, to facilitate and empower people to have conversations. The caffeine in coffee boosts mental focus and alertness and also research shows that the 70 decibel background noise, that matches with the level of sound in a coffee bar, spurs creativity. Did you know that there is even a website to imitate this if you work from home?

The Brainstorm Café aims to stimulate informal contact between two visitors, with the belief that questions are the start of everything. They are the start of meaningful conversations and everything else in life. In the design of this product, these questions play a central role.

The Brainstorm Café is a set of tools that can be implemented in every independent coffee bar and will guide two visitors through a short brainstorm session, based on questions of  visitors, the community around the bar or even companies. Whilst ideating and constructing solutions, they connect with each ohter.

Do not only go from A to B, but take it a step further and connect with the people around you.

The product looks like a take away holder, to have the feeling that it will be a rapid brainstorm session. However, the tool needs to be reused too. Therefore I used multiplex wood, which is easy and cheap to manufacture in a laser cutter. After prototyping several models of paper, I came to a final form. A take away coffee holder with a living hinge, made out of one piece of wood.

The Brainstorm Cafe square is a format to hand in your burning question. There is a text and complexity limit to the questions, since people have to generate ideas in the time of one cup of coffee. This is further explained on the website, that guides people through some rules as a starting point of a question. Also the squares are printed on flyers and posters that can form the input of questions.

BA Graphic Design, Branding
Willem de Kooning Academie
2015, Rotterdam

This project has been nominated for the prize of the best research at the Willem de Kooning Academie, 2015.