Recently, we visited the University of Baltimore’s Angelos Law Center. At first glance, the building is a modern marvel of design and efficiency, but it’s what’s happening inside that’s the true marvel. The reason for our visit was to meet with a member of UMBC’s Choice Program, a program that provides job training and employment through the Flying Fruit Cafe to youth in Baltimore.
It’s easy to walk into a coffee shop like the Flying Fruit Cafe and quickly point out things that could be done more efficiently, but efficiency isn’t the goal in this cafe. Instead, the goal is to provide meaningful job experience and a positive environment for the youth in the program. This translates to less worry about how to make things quicker, but how to design systems and processes that work for the youth and the cafe. Examples include taking into consideration that some of the employees may have little to no literacy or that deisgns need to be able to implemented quickly and hold up over time.
The projects that were initially presented ranged from designing a new system to order breakfast sandwiches, wrappers for the cafe’s coffee pots and creamer containers, and promotional inserts for the cafe’s napkin holders. With that being said, there were two projects not mentioned that immediately stood out to me when I walked into the space.
First and foremost, the menu is displayed in chunks on a rotating slideshow displayed on the TV and on pieces of paper placed around the cafe. For busy law students, having to search for the right menu and/or wait for the next slide to change on a screen is time wasted. There seemed no better place to place a menu than on the expansive stainless steel panels behind the counter that are seeminly empty and dull compared to the rest of the cafe.
Another area that I noticed was in the labeling of food. Currently, items in the grab and go section are labeled by hand, with employees writing the name of the contents in a white space. However, it appeared that the employees writing these labels often had handwriting that was difficult to read making it difficult for customers to determine what they were actually buying.
Above all, what stuck with me during my visit was the success stories. The Choice Program is making a real difference in the lives of the youth participating in the program, yet it was notably absent or unapparent to customers. In fact, prior to my visit, I had found two reviews for the cafe online. The first centered around poor service from the employees, while the second was positive, and it was due to the mission behind the cafe. It seems like a real missed opportunity that the successes of the program and the lives it changes are not being highlighted. If one of the goals is to make Flying Fruit stand out from the other familiar brands, showing how it makes a difference in community is it, especially in a city with such a strong sense of identity as Baltimore.