Learning From Business: What's Your Business Model?
Why We Need to Stop Talking About "Jobs"

Designing for Dignity


"People didn't die of hunger. They died of shame from asking." 

Masbia is a soup kitchen in New York that treats its customers like they are visiting a restaurant. Guests are greeted at the door by a friendly host/hostess and seated at their tables where they are served hot nutritious meals in a cafe style setting.

This approach and how the space is arranged communicates something profoundly different from the experience most people have when they go to a "soup kitchen." 

The physical environment in which we provide services can have a profound impact on the people in those spaces--both customers and staff. Yet we often don't pay attention to how our space communicates expectations to people. Nor do we think about how those expectations can reinforce feelings of inadequacy and shame to people who are accessing our services. 

When our spaces are bureaucratic and drab, they communicate to people that they are coming into another social service agency and it can activate a lot of negative expectations and feelings. But if we re-think our space, as Masbia has done, we will engage with people differently and get different outcomes as a result. 

Masbia restaurant

There's an art and science to creating spaces that feel inviting to human beings, welcoming customers into an environment where caring and support is being communicated. Architects have known this for years and have a phrase for it--"pattern language"--which refers to the universal patterns that make buildings convey certain qualities to people. Some are meant to be imposing and to inspire awe, while other buildings are designed to feel cozy and inviting, inspiring people to sit and chat for awhile. 

Part of creating welcoming space is the attention that we pay to physical layout and what is included in the space. Part of it is also about how we engage with people in that space, as at Masbia where they great customers at the door and invite them take a seat, as in a restaurant. 

The Group Pattern Language Project has developed a series of patterns to use in group gatherings and meetings. These patterns can create some easy opportunities for us to re-think how we engage and support our customers in group settings. 

There's much we could do to redesign our American Job Centers/One Stops. How could we emulate other organizations in our communities (like Masbia has done in emulating restaurants) to provide more welcoming spaces to our customers? 


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