Helping a social enterprise end homelessness by reimagining the coffee cart.
Change Please are an award winning social enterprise coffee company seeking to end to homelessness. Their business model is based on tapping into a growing coffee market, both roasting their own beans, now available from major high street supermarkets, and selling them via a network of carts.
As their website states: Since 2010, homelessness in the UK has doubled to 4,000 people sleeping rough every night. This is set in harsh contrast to the 100,000 extra UK jobs expected in the coffee industry in the next decade. So rather than just pass on profits, they train and directly employ the people they want to help. Working as a barista on the cart provides a route out of homelessness through stable work, while profits are split between support such as housing assistance, and reinvestment in expanding the network in order to provide a greater number of jobs.
Change Please approached us to help reimagine their coffee carts, which they felt weren’t performing well enough. Despite having some of the best sites in London, their turnover was low. This meant the scheme wasn’t able to grow at the rate they needed to achieve their goals. If we could streamline the operation enough, in time each cart would pay for another, and those two carts go on to pay for two more. We were fully on board with their mission and believed that our strategic, analytical approach and human-centred design focus could help them overcome these issues.
A combination of observation, research, and staff interviews allowed us to build up a detailed picture of issues within the current operation. We learnt the barista’s felt they missed out on sales because the van forced them to work with their back to customers. Passers-by we spoke to assumed coffee from a cart would be lower quality, unaware top of the range equipment was being used. The client team admitted the colours and branding were too low key - even if you wanted a coffee they were hard to spot in the city.
The biggest insight, however, came when discussing logistics. While at first glance the Piaggio vans looked outwardly mobile, the carts weren’t being driven. With 80% of the vehicle dedicated to the ‘van’ and 20% to a serving area, for a workforce without driving licenses, the vans were inefficient, overpriced, and immobile.
Our role was to redesign a new cart that would overcome these issues. Whereas previously several staff, and sometimes a van, would need to meet at the carts to move them, we set out to design a cart that was operable by just one person. The following series of images explain four aspects of the design we developed based on insights around autonomy, mobility, visibility, and sociability.
We asked, what if the carts could live out in the city without a central distribution?
In order to streamline staffing, rather than being relocated to a central docking station every evening, our cart was designed to live out in the city via a network of car parking spaces. A protective jacket doubles as messaging space when the cart sleeps outside overnight. Statistics and infographics signal the number of people having to do the same.
We designed a cart that could be moved, set up, and packed down by one person, regardless of age or gender. To do this we borrowed and customised components from other specialist fields, such as warehouse picking and boat equipment. The design features an electric assisted tug that gives a high level of control for safely moving the 300kg cart, and chunky hydraulic wheels to more easily traverse the city’s kerbs and potholes.
In order to boost sales, the cart needed greater visibility and brand recognition, so we developed a design that would be easily and quickly identifiable wherever it was in the city. We took the brand’s yellow accent and liberally applied it to the frame and canopy in order to make it pop when viewed against a grey urban backdrop. An extendable backlit sign rising high above the cart was included to increase visibility in busy markets, and from across the street.
It was important to us that the cart’s design enabled better interactions between the barista and customer so we designed a narrower cart that allowed service across the counter. As well as improving flow and sales, it allows for the opportunity to chat while serving, and for the barista to queue up orders from people waiting. The narrow width also allows it to pass through doorways and passenger lifts for use inside.
We are currently working up a prototype of the first cart for production in early 2018. Check back for updates as the project progresses.
Banner video courtesy of Change Please.
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