Habits of the caffeinated designer

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! 

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. 

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. 

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.

I’ve carefully prepared my workstation. Notebook, phone, iPad, stylus, pen, coffee, croissant, emergency back-up notebook – all unpacked and carefully arranged in front of me in a tidy grid that I’m a little too proud of. 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 …

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.

The caffeine has kicked in. Suddenly all of the work is happening. Sketches are being sketched on various surfaces, one haphazardly-drawn cover after another. Sooner or later one of these appalling rectangles 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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

Written for Creative Review