NewsStarbucks could be the next role-model for your office acoustics

Plans to install sound-absorbing ceiling panels across 1,600 stores in the US are helping Starbucks create a more inclusive soundscape for customers
Sophie Crossley1 month ago4 min

Coffee shops have never been known for their hushed atmospheres, but rather a concoction of white noise including music, people talking, the occasional baby crying, and the endless whirring of baristas. While the ambiance is just the right balance for some, other may find the noise overwhelming, distracting, or even uncomfortable. Now, Starbucks is taking the initiative to implement design elements that could make the spaces more acoustically accessible.

Across 650 new stores and roughly 1,000 stores in the US, Starbucks will roll-out new ceilings by October 2024. The new design will include a sound-absorbing treatment called baffles which will reduce noise levels throughout the space, making it easier for both customers and employees to manage their order interactions.

This comes as part of Starbucks’s Inclusive Space Framework, an accessibility framework the organisation announced in February 2024. It includes aspects such as improved paths of travel, power-operated doors, inclusive equipment design, and optimised acoustics and lighting. Now, all newly-built and renovated Starbucks company-operated stores must incorporate the framework.

“Starbucks opening of their new store built with inclusive design elements is a big moment as we try to make retail spaces more accessible and inclusive,” said Tony Coelho, a former U.S. congressman and primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Accessible design in the workplace, retail, and beyond

Other big names in the US such as Walmart, a retail chain, have started to include sensory-friendly experiences in their store layouts, with dimmer lights, static TVs, and set quiet hours. This pilot programme initially took place in autumn 2023 with big results: from 10 November, Walmart started implementing sensory-friendly hours every day from 8-10am across all of its US and Puerto Rico stores. They’ve set this plan with no planned end date.

Inclusive design is rightfully becoming a key staple in design conversations, from shopping locations to workplaces to libraries. But it’s not just the big names such as Starbucks and Walmart who should integrate better design into their buildings: inclusive design is good for everyone.

Sophie Crossley

Sophie Crossley is our Content Editor. She has 5+ years of experience in comms with a focus on wellbeing, the built environment, and lifestyle.

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