GUEST COLUMN WITH Elizabeth O. Lowrey
The Missing Person in Hospitality Design By Elizabeth O. Lowrey
Great hotels delight guests with a signature experience, but in a world where customers expect nonstop novelty, how can architects and designers create hotels for their clients that surprise and delight guests while staying true to the hotel developer’s brand and business model? What design process allows both innovation and consistency?
Jeff Bezos provides a clue when he places an empty chair, representing the customer, at the table of every important meeting. At Amazon, every decision is made with the customer in mind.
To design hotels that express a premier brand in fresh, innovative yet consistent new ways, Elkus Manfredi Architects applies a discipline we call ‘co-creation’. From the very beginning, we bring a diverse set of contributors to the design process. Developers, architects, graphic artists, interior designers, engineers, textile designers… an entire orchestra of talents assembles to create the symphony of innovative design.
Could hotel guests have a seat at that table? How might that work? A traditional design process uses focus groups or surveys to test ideas on customers, but those are hardly a substitute for participating in the creative process.
The answer is hiding in plain sight: great hospitality venues hire and train great hospitality staff. Everyone at a top-performing hotel, from the concierge to the front desk attendant to the waiting staff to the parking valet, is obsessed with understanding and delighting the customer… and they are the people who can stand in for the hotel guest in the design process.
Imagine frontline staff participating in an early design meeting, reacting to ideas with empathy and expertise. A concierge could look at a lobby design and describe the need for different ‘audio zones’ – one inviting a large, fluid gathering and another accommodating intimate conversation. That observation could spark a creative collaboration as the entire team brainstorms about innovative ways to use furniture, floor design, fabrics, surface materials and colour schemes to achieve a lobby that surprises and delights those very different customers.
Empathy is the magic ingredient: great hospitality staff know how to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and can react to early design ideas, filling Jeff Bezos’s empty chair and energising the entire design process.
We’ve also seen a side benefit to the business: people who participate early in the co-creation of their workplaces feel ownership in the outcome. They are proud of what they’ve created and consequently are more engaged and loyal employees.
As developers consider the challenge of providing a consistent, yet consistently fresh, expression of their hospitality brand, they should enlist the help of those employees who know the customer best. Invite them to take that chair at the design table.
Elizabeth Lowrey is a Principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects > www.elkus-manfredi.com