How working as a barista has made me a better designer.

July 20, 2016


A year ago walked out of a contract position because I just couldn't take any more. I'm sure it wasn't good for my reputation but I just couldn't do it. After years of designing everything from magazine ads to infotainment systems, I had enough. It just didn't feel good anymore. When a designer doesn't feel good, the work suffers. I took a job as a barista making a fraction of what I was making as a designer and my design work is so much better because of it.


As designers, we frequently find ourselves in a world that goes against almost everything we believe in. We are in a glass cage designing products for people who exist in the outside world - a world we are disconnected from. We are forced to make compromises because it's impossible to bring a product to market without it. Sure, the ad you responded to with your CV said they wanted someone who will fight for the user, but that's just marketing. Eventually your fighting will become a tiresome affair for you, your coworkers and your boss. What they REALLY want is someone who will give in when it's necessary.


Working as a barista I reconnected with society, with humanity. I talk to people and not just engineers and designers, people who do all kinds of things and use all kinds of products - real people. I do something very simple for them. I make them a coffee and I watch. I watch the impact it has on them in that moment and quite possibly the unfolding of their entire day. That person then has impact on another person, thereby affecting their day. It's so immediate making the reward for that cup of coffee a rather satisfying experience.


Now I think more about real people when I create and I feel fabulous. I think about normal, average people and how they will use things like stir sticks and napkins and software. It has given me renewed enthusiasm for design and I am so glad I walked out on that contract. 

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