31 Aug

Wifi jockeying around Birmingham’s coffee shops UPDATED

It was a distinct lack of breakfast in my cupboard that prompted my decision to have a coffee-shop working day.

Co-working and coffee shop working are obvious choices for the stay-at-home freelancer, where the temptation of Jeremy Kyle or a mid-afternoon siesta is too great, but how feasible is it?

And to to push it, Hunter S Thompson style  – could I do it ALL DAY?

A previous breakfast enjoyed at Brewsmiths – pot of tea and artisan bread!

Breakfast – Brewsmiths

The day started at Brewsmiths – located on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter and home to a dizzying food menu. Whether it’s a sausage and bacon platter you’re after, or something a little healthier, there is something here to satisfy.

For me, a mug of tea and 2 slices of  Marmite and toast – keeping it simple. Apology was made for the lack of artisan bread but the 2 slices of white were more than adequate!

There was an initial wobble with the wifi, but after a swift reboot it worked a treat, allowing me to clear a batch of email, reply to tweets and write my to-do list for the day.The vibe was relaxed, despite the comings and goings of the morning customers. The service is always pleasant, and even the pigeon who wandered in looking for crumbs was treated with respect and courtesy whilst being shown the door.

Brewsmiths is a nice location to work in – especially if you can nab one of the plug sockets around the wall. The music is a mind-boggling mix but entertaining none the less, and the general attitude welcomes the wifi jockey!

Mid morning – Home is Where (technically a coffee shop? probably not?)

This is a real gem of Birmingham.
Gloriously decorated and luxurious in both feel and mood – this large cafe and deli was buzzing when I arrived at 9:30am.
Definitely more “breakfast meeting” and “ladies that lunch” than the hardcore laptop-coffee crew, still this is one of my favourite places to work.
Most of the smaller tables were taken, so I set up camp on the large co-working table in the middle of the room. (no plugs nearby … why do coffee shops put co-working tables in the middle of the room?)

Fridays mornings in Home is Where is a regular thing for me. I meet fellow freelancer Mark Steadman, share rounds of drinks, catch up and get stuff done.

There are some very special features that make Home a nice choice. The free water on the table is a genius idea, the soundtrack seems to have been lifted directly from the ipod of a 30-something indie kid and the staff range from nicely polite to downright bubbly!

A productive morning was had (I got most of my to-do list cleared) 3 pots of tea drunk, and it was only a VERY irritating trio shouting loudly at the table next to us that prompted us call it a morning.

Lunch – SixEightKafe

And so to seek out some delicious lunch and a visit to the very cute SixEightKafe.

Channelling all the spirit of Amsterdam (no, not THAT spirit), what this small shop lacks in space (expansion news coming soon), it more than makes up for in charm.

Seeing a familiar face in Aaron (ex-Urban Coffee barista), behind the counter and a very friendly manager  I was made both welcome and a toasted mozzarella, tomato and pesto foccacia.

Now this was delicious – no mistake – but this does bring me onto one of my constant disappointments with coffee shops,  the food.

Yes, the eggs benedict on the brunch menu at Urban Coffee JQ is delicious, but most establishments tend to offer sandwiches more focussed on trendy, than taste. A chunky cheese sandwich, or chicken baguette would suit me fine … maybe thats just me (and I know the point of coffee shops is the coffee not the food, so I won’t hold it against any of you!)

This aside, SixEight was a great choice for lunch – the wifi and tea helped me make some serious progress with this very blog post, and once the lunchtime rush had subsided I could have a good old coffee-shop natter with Aaron.

I even got into an impromptu conversation with the chap  at the table next to me – and that hardly ever happens nowadays!


You remember that cool kid at school – the one who had the best haircut, who’s parents would let him drink alcohol and knew all the good bands before anyone else?

And remember how you always thought he’d be a bit of a dickhead, but when you spoke to him you realised his was actually really nice?

Well this brings me to ….

Mid-afternoon Yorks Bakery Cafe

Yorks Bakery Cafe is achingly New York cool with exposed air conditioning, wooden floors, designer furniture and huge windows.

A window bar serves as a perfect people-watching-while-you-should-be-working vantage point, but there are plug sockets scattered all over the place so it’s perfect for the wifi jockey.

It’s deceivingly big too … the current owners have almost doubled the floor space from a past incarnation as Coffee Republic and now behind the counter hosts an area of comfy bucket seats, and a couple of tables.

The vast space means there is not only room for plenty of customers, but you never feel pressurized to give up your lone seat for a larger group (as happens in some other places)

Yorks Bakery is a result of the current trend-shift from coffee to bread. Designer coffee art has given way to artisan baking, and there is a resident baker in situ at Yorks conjuring up an array of recipes.

The only problem with Yorks Bakery Cafe is that I’m not entirely sure what to DO with it.

When I ordered a pot of tea I was directed to a bowl of sugar in the corner of the room. But what do I do with the sugar? Ok, if you have one cup, or a takeout coffee, you can just add the sugar you want  – but I was settling down for a good 3 hour session with a pot of tea. Perplexing.  

There is a table of bread by the window – do I pick up the bread, or do I go to the counter on the opposite wall to ask for it? (update: just spotted bags and tongues – so I’m guessing you help yourself!)

In the mornings there is a toaster there for breakfast – again, is this DIY, like a hotel buffet? Or do I order the toast and does it come over?

And, most importantly, what exactly IS artisan bread?

All these questions aside Yorks Bakery Cafe is definitely my new coffee shop crush – it’s airy, socket laden and a pot of tea here is infinitely cheaper than a one way ticket to the Big Apple.

05 Aug

10 Ways to Use Infographics: part 2

Please note: not all images are mine  – please click image for source

You can see more of my infographic and data visualization work here



In 10 WAYS TO USE INFOGRAPHICS: PART 1, I talked about using infographics for linkbait, journalism, article illustrations, annual reports and postcards/posters. This time I’ll be looking at video inserts, explanation, audience analysis, adverts and presentations

Video – bring the numbers to life

Screenshot of NY Times swimming animated infographic It was inevitable that the next stage of business demand would be animated infographics.

This brings in a whole new dimension to the statistics, and requires a different set of skills: animation, use of audio etc. This example, by the New York Times, shows the statistics behind Olympic mens swimming.

Click the image right to watch the animation.

This animation starts with a simple bar chart. Each bar is then turned into a swimming lane, turned on it’s side, add some fantastic design, movement and an audio track and this is a quality tool for showing the facts. There is also the option of animating the visualizations themselves – here is a great example.


Explanation – simplify a complex/unfamiliar situation

http://youtu.be/mkJ-Uy5dt5g We’ve all seen company organization charts – normally a tree shape, with a lone Chief Executive at the top, middle management, and the rest of us at the bottom. These are designed to simplify a complex organization and make sure   employees know where they fit in the “big picture” By why stop there? You could use information design / infographics to explain a whole host of useful knowledge to current and new employees.

  • Office staff overview – gender, structure, age, nationality shown with “person icons”
  • Office seating map and contact details
  • Office facility map – location of WC’s, kitchen, printers, recycling, water fountain
  • Local transport information
  • Company overview – map of other offices, financial information
  • Information flow / work flow – use a flow diagram or map
I’d love to have a go at designing a series of useful induction infographics … let me know if this appeals to your company.

Audience Analysis: know your visitors

Music festivals, venues, clubs and pubs all generate a huge amount of data.

Whether its ticket sales, audience location (from ticket order postcode), social media stats (RT’s, mentions and likes) and amount spent.

The map to the left (click map for original) was created Zarino Zappia from Scraperwiki at the recent Devlab event in Birmingham. Using data from the south asian arts organisation Sampad, the map shows the location of the audience (from ticket order postcode) and location of the events.

This shows exactly where Sampad has an impact and which areas could potentially benefit from more promotion.

Taking this a stage further – we could add socio-economic and ethnicity data from the census. This would show whether those areas were populated with Sampad’s target audience (as an South Asian arts organisation).

For other organisations a combination social data, ticket sales and events would be a great way to show where your brand is making an impact, and if you are failing to target any relevant audiences.

Adverts – attract your audience

Banner ads are still a big part of web content and print – but seasoned internet users are adopting more ways to filter them out either technologically (with ad blockers for online) or by simply ignoring them.

Look at most banner ads and they adopt a traditional design – text, photographics or logos.

What’s stopping your company using a bright, clear infographic instead of a traditional banner ad? Take a strong statistic from your portfolio, make the image colourful and attractive, and it will stand out on a page of traditional content.

Presentations – impress your clients/your class

Business presentations traditionally feature charts – line charts, pie charts and bar charts  – showing the crucial statistics for your company.

These tend to be lifted from spreadsheet software and pasted into the presentation software – uninspiring to say the least. Try rethinking HOW you show your data. Whether you are presenting to your Board of Directors, your entire staff or a room full of children – everyone responds to clear, visually stimulating graphics.

Revisit the list above (under the header “Explanation – simplify a complex/unfamiliar situation”). All that corporate information could be re-purposed for a presentation.

  • Want to quickly show where your company does business? How about a shaded map
  • Want to show trade routes or other geographical movement? How about a map with lines and arrows?
  • Showing personal statistics – people icons are an easy way to represent people count
  • Teachers could use infographics to explain history timelines, maps to show world events and charts to show population increases. With the reliance on graphic imagery as opposed to text,

Even if you don’t have a graphic designers flare for icons and imagery, or the know-how to fire up Photoshop or Illustrator, some free software like Tableau Public could help you spice up your charts and come up with something pretty special. —————— Caroline Beavon is an infographic designer and data journalist. Contact by email with work or collaboration opportunities

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020