What hotel designers get right, get wrong and how they can be better

Good design means understanding consumer behavior (great design)

This was a big week for hospitality conferences, but for design-focused hoteliers and suppliers, the center of the hotel design universe was Naples, Fla., and this year’s HOTEC Design.

While I love all aspects of the lodging business, I admit, I am a bit of a sucker for the design side. Don't get it twisted: technology, finances, deal making and food & beverage, for example, are all good. However, I love chatting with the creative people that make experiences happen.

Of course design is not possible without the other aforementioned elements, but for today's traveler, the rest of that stuff is background noise. It’s not something easily correlated by customers with most other business elements.

HOTEC design

Customers First

In my mind, I am always a customer first, and hospitality industry insider second. That’s because I was passionate about hotels and travel long before I actually knew I loved this stuff. To me, and I think many road warriors out there, there is always a constant excitement about what to expect with the next hotel experience.

The best moment of every trip for me is sliding or tapping the keycard against the door, hearing the door unlock (or seeing the green light flash) and drinking in the first moments of possibility. Great design is much more than the look of the room, which, of course, is spectacularly important; it’s about how one interacts with the space, but, more so, how the room interacts with us.

Fundamentally, great design is about understanding human behavior and utilizing that knowledge to create purposeful spaces. It’s about how we use the hotel’s public spaces and guestrooms to either be more productive, relaxed—or just enabling us to do the routines we’re accustomed to while on the road.

Gorgeous, But Let’s Get Better

Overall, I am amazed at how gorgeous some properties are designed, but I think designers and owners need to focus more on satisfying the routines we already have. I have been chatting with folks on both the design and supply side of the business while here at HOTEC Design to push my agenda on them, because I know the amazing folks in this business can do even more amazing things if they studied human behavior.

We talk a ton about authenticity and sense of place, but we need to create more conversation and education on how people are really using spaces. Yes, there are tons of focus groups telling us that people want to spend more time in the lobby. But focus groups don’t have all the answers because they aren’t necessarily understanding what the right questions are to ask.

Some Design Issues Persist

I happen to be a guy who needs a desk in the room to get work done, and some brands are shifting away for that. That’s fine by me, as long as these brands feel people want that. But for hotels with desks, I am always surprised—which is strange as it constantly happens—that many times the desk chair is the wrong height for the heavily designed desk. I wind up having to put pillows on a lame chair that should never have been used as a desk chair in the first place.

I still don’t get why lighting has to be so difficult, not the fixtures, but the lack of quality emanating light. Speaking of light, why not have nightlights to make it easier to find the bathroom at night (being over 40 is fun!)? Ladies, feel free to chime in on horrid bathroom lighting.

And why am I still complaining about lack of outlets 20 years after I first started complaining? Shout out to the HOTEC team for having a huge bank of outlets to get everyone charged.

For the hotel business to get to the next level, it is crucial to really understand how people act and behave while in the hotel. Owners and designers need hyper focus on getting a deeper psychological understanding of customer behavior. A great way to start is concentrating on all those itty bitty things that bug you when you’re in a hotel. Get rid of those problems with more functional design and layer in the form after that. Not the other way around.

Hotel design has come a long way; now as a community we need to push ourselves even further.

Do you think hotel design can be even better through rigorous understanding of customer behavior? Or perhaps I’m out of my mind? Drop me a line and let me know your opinion at [email protected] Or find me on Twitter @TravelingGlenn.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.