Designer vs coffee shop

13:05
Right, I’ve got two hours. I just need to get myself coffee and cake, get as much work done as possible, and then collect the boy from nursery. Time for a bit of the old ultra-productivity! 

13:15
Queuing. I’m ashamed to say that in these situations, I generally decamp to a dependably generic chain coffee shop rather than support a local independent business. I’m sorry, numerous wonderful haunts of York, but when I’m trying to get my head down to some proper serious work, the last thing I need is a place full of damn distracting character. I can’t be doing with your pleasant decor and considerate service and homemade salty tiffin. I’m not here to enjoy myself. I want sterile and beige and nothing. Table service would be nice though. 

13:20
Still queuing. It’s okay, not time wasted. I’m able to give careful consideration to the precise beverage/pastry combination required for the tasks ahead of me. One must aim for a delicate balance of maximum fuel efficiency and minimum bladderial impact – thank you, inventor of the flat white. As for pastry, that choice is generally governed by the kind of book I’m working on: non-fiction, croissant; fiction, almond croissant; series design, scone. You already know this stuff – it’s basic, day one design logic. 

13:25
I have my coffee, a boring croissant, and most importantly, a good table. There’s a socket. There’s nobody behind me. And there is sunlight – or at least a view of a part of a window display that probably faces the outside somehow. So that’s my vitamin D sorted. I’m poised and ready to go.

13:30
I’ve carefully prepared my workstation. Notebook, phone, iPad, stylus, pen, coffee, croissant, another notebook – all unpacked and carefully arranged in front of me in a tidy grid that I’m a little too proud of (Google “knolling”). I’ve identified fellow workers at neighbouring tables; anonymous colleagues unwittingly setting the pace for my typing and tapping. Okay, so now I’m poised and ready to go. I just have to check these few notifications first …

13:50
Now that was an amazing tweet. Insightful, witty, a little bit dangerous. That one deserves to go in the scrapbook. Now where was I? Ah yes, poise, readiness.

14:00
The caffeine has kicked in. Suddenly all of the work is happening. Sketches are being sketched on various surfaces, one haphazardly-drawn rectangle after another. Sooner or later one of these appealing ideas will give way to a gem. I look around, my co-workers are on fire too. This is good. Maybe we should set up an agency together. This is good.

14:15
Still going. No distractions. The uniform inauthenticity of this place is emphasised by the corporate art adorning the walls: canvas-printed stock images of beautiful Italian folk, drinking what appears to be far superior coffee in a proper café, somewhere sun-drenched and rustic. There are scooters, cobbles. Fresh fruit tumbles gaily from a punnet. It’s a Mediterranean coffee-drinking ideal so far removed from the one I’m actually experiencing, it’s as if I’m actively being mocked for my custom. When I do occasionally peer up from my screen, the immediate response of “well this is all slightly awful, I bet I should have some strong opinions about their tax arrangements” is enough to push my gaze back down again. 

14:25
My unnamed buddies have left. I’m suddenly conscious that I look like a complete twerp, making dramatic swooshes on my screen. The stylus really is a smug peripheral, this year’s bluetooth headset. And I’ve been sitting here with empty crockery for quite some time now. I don’t want to pack all of my things up just so I can go back up to the counter. How long is it okay to sit here and not spend more money? Am I technically loitering now? I stay where I am, thirsty, unpaying, socially awkward, gesticulating wildly.

14:45
My inconsiderate body presents other … urgencies. This just intensifies/destabilises the work. Sketching becomes scribbling becomes pen-drumming. It all goes a bit Buddy Rich for a while. Environmental patterns emerge – the flow of customers coming and going; the grind and hiss of the coffee machines; the loop of the barista’s limited stock of chirpy salutations. I wonder how much of this caffeinated rhythm is seeping into my work. I like it here. It’s awful. 

15:10
Getting thirsty. So many rectangles. And some oblongs. Still no gem. Maybe another coffee. Am I meant to be somewhere? I’m pretty certain I’m meant to be somewhere. More rectangles rectangles rectangles rectangles rectangles