Happy Cafe

by Sally O'Keeffe
Happy Cafe: the future of the Harvard Square Kiosk

Harvard Square has witnessed the departure of many businesses. One example is the closure of Black Ink, a stationery store, which announced that it would close because increases in rent have been unsustainable. As students, we feel that Harvard Square is no longer for students and small local business owners. This needs to change. At the heart of Harvard Square lies the Harvard Square Kiosk surrounded by a plaza. While the iconic Out of Town News has occupied the space from 1984 – 2019, the City of Cambridge’s goal is to convert it to a public space. However, previous attempts of fully utilizing the kiosk have been unsuccessful.

The overall goal of our project is to provide a space for the community, especially Harvard students, to come and enjoy the Harvard Square experience. We hope that our design can contribute to the customers’ happiness and long-term well-being. In order to increase people’s happiness, we need to understand it first. How do we define happiness? According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher, happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” In her book, “The How to be Happy,” she breaks down the sources of a person’s happiness into genetic tendencies, circumstance, and intentional activities. What our space can do is to change the circumstance and provide opportunities for the people to engage in intentional activities.

Happiness includes five parts: positive emotions, engagement, relationship, meaning, and achievement. Our design focuses on making people feel good and encourage them to make authentic connections with people in the community.

Our cafe aims to provide food and decorations that bring momentary joy and encourage people to do activities that are meaningful and increase well-being. We are not pressing people to be happy and putting on the extra pressure on them. Instead, we just want to provide a safe place for people to relax and pay more attention to their well-being.

Our solution is a positive cafe experience at a reasonable price made for Harvard but accessible by all. One of the problems with the current cafe scene for Harvard College students specifically is that the only cafes where we can spend out BoardPlus dollars ($65 dollars a semester that gets forfeited at the end of the school year) are depressing. Lamont Cafe, Northwest Labs, even the Barker Center that has some sunlight but doesn’t seem to really spark joy. So many students end up going to Tatte which is vastly overpriced. Instead, we will partner with HSA so students can work there as well as use their BoardPlus. We also want to partner with Friends Like You, an art group that shares the exact same message that we do–making people smile!

A Friends with You Installation

We plan to achieve short term happiness in three ways. First, eating well makes you feel better, that’s why we believe it is imperative to offer nourishing food options and having items that are vegan and gluten-free. Second, we believe that happiness can be brought about by mindfulness–by putting your phone away for at least a few minutes while you have your drink and talk to your friends, or even picking up one of our complimentary adult coloring books. These books are commonly used to help with problems like anxiety and stress. Last, we want our patrons to feel harmony with nature and feel peace in our cafe. This is achieved by the cute decor, the yellow happy mugs, the colorful cloud wallpaper, and an abundance of plants. 

Food, Mindfulness, and Decor

We propose developing a cafe, “the happy cafe,” at Kiosk. Through our design elements, we will signal that Harvard Square is not just for tourists, but for its own community including students. We will maintain a commitment to sustainability through our design choices, and we will leverage the space to create awareness about local art and the importance of mental health. The importance of just taking a second to unplug your phones, look around, and smile.

As we were designing the cafe, we wanted our idea of happiness to encompass not just our present selves, but also our future selves as well as future generations. That is why focusing on community and sustainability seemed crucial. We wanted the cafe to have local ties in its supply chain, celebrate local arts by displaying local art,  and signal our prioritization of mindfulness through a box where people can put their phones alone. In thinking about the well-being of future generations, we decided to focus on sustainability. As such, to the extent possible, packaging and cups will be eco friendly.

The theory that we drew on was Elevation and Awe. The Awe aspect comes from the design aesthetic, but we primarily focused on Elevation. We hope to engage with the student and the greater Cambridge community by displaying their art. Behavioral choices like phone trays on each table foster a mindful environment, whereas the sustainable, free trade ingredients lead to healthier treats and a promising future for generations to come. 


Link to Zoom presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QmuCGlBxyc&feature=youtu.be
Link to Google Slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1fuuN9VtPp5H-3kLa6x-PNxzId6fU1KiDAroWDOFb-Rc/edit?usp=sharing

Friends with You website: https://friendswithyou.com/

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Tobias Haefele March 25, 2020 - 1:23 pm

I like the idea of a cafe and a phone-free zone to bring together people. I am a little sceptical about the aw and elevation concepts from your video though. I would have liked for you to draw more directly on other, perhaps student-run cafes to understand some of their challenges and how they deal with them, as they relate to inspiration.

Marisa Trapani March 25, 2020 - 3:36 pm

I really like the idea, specifically, of converting this familiar, super central kiosk which doesn’t enrich the lives of students or locals of the square into something that is intended to directly inspire them and enhance their physical and mental health. The multiplicity of tourist attractions in the square would still make it an enjoyable spot for tourists, of course, but this conversion could help students feel more prioritized in this space, rather than like zoo animals. I also liked the idea of the cafe being student-run, it made me consider the interplay between empowerment and inspiration and how that can inform design.

Annabelle Paterson March 25, 2020 - 11:10 pm

I really like the idea behind this!! I think they have actually converted the space into an interactive art gallery type thing now and it looked really cool. But having a coffee shop (or something convenient for students) would be a great idea. I don’t know how successful a coffee shop would be as this is right next to Starbucks but something like a little snack stop that incorporates the ideas that you guys had.

Nynika Jhaveri March 26, 2020 - 8:12 am

– Love the idea of a commercial space with a mission to health, wellness, and individual peace of mind. I was wondering if in addition to food options and objects (such as the phone holder, or art) you could think toward theories of space and spatial design that may align with these ideas of happiness and inspiration? There are lots of interior design theories that suggest different colours for walls or lighting, and specific fabrics for upholstery, etc that may help exemplify the effect you are hoping for.

Malila Freeman March 26, 2020 - 10:02 am

I appreciated your proposal for a student-focused cafe (especially one that takes board plus because I think we could really use on on campus)! If you took the idea of the cafe further, I would be interested to see more of an effort to encourage both student and community engagement. For example, the cafe could host an after hours yoga class (like Black Sheep bagels does), a “design your own coffee drink” event, or a painting class. I think that hosting activities for de-stressing could be monumental in inspiring students and community members to engage with the space. I really like the ideas that you had, but I think expanding on these to include more specific programming could make the idea go even further.

Emily Koch March 26, 2020 - 6:09 pm

I think this Happy Cafe is a step in a great direction towards keeping up an old Harvard Classic, Out of Town News. I do think it would be cool to have more of the old store included and part of the cafe, so that what it was for so many years doesn’t die out.

Overall, really great concept

Wendy Yu March 26, 2020 - 8:54 pm

I totally think this would be great as something student-run – it’s in the same location as where the Hahvahd Tours start off as well, so I think it would be incredibly successful with tourists (tourists are always looking to speak to and interact with Harvard students!) I do think there is maybe an abundance of cafes in the square, so it might be beneficial to consider a different form of business (e.g. student gallery, convenience store since CVS is overpriced and doesn’t take BoardPlus, some sort of meditation/stress relief center for all the stressed out students, etc.).

Nan Yang March 26, 2020 - 11:20 pm

Given the unique location of this kiosk that it will not only receive students of Harvard but also tourists all over the world. What I find very provocative of the project is its emphasis on the messages and core values of Havard community present the public.
I also find it favourable to let students run and manage the shop. One thing I envision is that if the surplus profit can go into different programs, foundations supporting charitable movements etc. would be more enjoyable. It could be another factor to attract people to choose Happy Cafe than an ordinary cafe.

Margaret Sun March 27, 2020 - 3:45 am

This idea is adorable, and the render you have of the space is so impressive! While this is a great way to convert the Out of Town News space (I think Lesley University actually took it over as an art and design booth the last time I saw it), I am a bit worried about its surroundings. BoardPlus may be a good way to lure students away from adjacent alternatives (Starbucks, Pavement Coffeehouse in the Smith Center), but I worry about an oversaturation of cafe spaces. The physical location, with traffic on all sides, and often protests and demonstrations (as I have seen during my time here) may also be something to consider when creating the ambience of the space. I sometimes see vendors selling artwork in this area, and Happy Cafe may also integrate their work into the inspiration piece.

Gabe Ziaukas March 30, 2020 - 12:09 am

I like the idea of expanding the uses of Harvard Square, particularly in something that is so central. It seems like a really great idea for the school. Practically, it’s a really small space, so I wonder if this project might expand into something that creates “Happy Spaces” around campus doing pop ups (maybe?) to further student access.

Kate Travis March 30, 2020 - 9:25 pm

I love this idea! I think it could be really cool, and it’s definitely something I would enjoy. I especially like the design aesthetic, and the emphasis on putting your phone down and enjoying the moment. If you wanted to go further into elevation, you could also add an aspect of giving meals to the homeless shelters in Harvard Square. The cafe could maybe donate its extra food to the homeless shelter, or even offer a “matching” option similar to Toms, where for every X amount of meals/food bought, you donate a meal to a person in need. Then you could not only make people happy through the aesthetic, but also by facilitating them helping someone in need.

Jing Chang April 12, 2020 - 9:17 pm

I like the design very much. It’s cute and exclusive. However, I’m not very sure that whether this idea is feasible or not as there are already many good cafes around that area, Tatte, Starbucks and Peet’s. I would suggest that the main idea of this project is the Harvard community, which distinguish this café to others. In this case, there need to be many other additional functions of this kiosk especially for Harvard community.

Zach Snyder April 20, 2020 - 1:24 am

This is my favorite idea from the challenge. Not only do I think this is high need for students, but I also believe this idea could come to life with a push from the students. The kiosk in the middle of the square is almost never visited by students even though it is central to our campus and culture. A student takeover would provide more collaboration between students and including arts and coffees would allow for more expression in the center of campus.

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