The psychology behind lobby design

The lobby at the Courtyard Fort Worth Stockyards offers a wide range of seating options in a limited footprint.
Photo credit: //3877

While hotel guestrooms always need the same basic features, lobbies are much more flexible and can vary dramatically from property to property. Ranging from utilitarian to luxurious, designers and hoteliers alike are constantly updating and reinventing these public spaces to suit ever-changing expectations and demands.

Catering to those expectations and demands—and turning them into something profitable for a hotel—involves understanding the psychology of both guests and hotel teams, said David Shove-Brown, co-founder and principal at Washington, D.C.-based design firm //3877. “For a long time, architects and designers just made things look cool across the board,” he said. “Now, designers are getting a better understanding of operations, and it’s not just ‘does the floor look good,’ but also, ‘how do you clean it?’ You can have a cool couch, but you have to remember that the staff has to clean underneath it.”

As the lines that divide different spaces in hotels continue to blur and fade, the lines that divide different departments are also fading away. For example, retail spaces in hotels used to be relegated to a corner somewhere, out of the way of most foot traffic. “Nobody could see it,” Shove-Brown said. “How do you integrate that component?” Using the psychology of retail and sales, he said, designers can push hotels to do more with their spaces.

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Blurred Lines

“It’s like one big space now,” Shove-Brown said. “The registration and bar and retail are all colliding for several reasons.” The first reason, of course, is the customer experience. “You don’t have to sit in the bar to have a drink or sit in the restaurant to have food. You can sit on a couch and have your snack or drink. You can get coffee and sit by the bar and work on your laptop or read a book.”

For example, hotels used to have different kinds of seating areas depending on intended use—sofas, lounge chairs and dining chairs, among others. “The next level of that is why,” he said. “Designers and brands understand now that it isn’t about groups. What’s the big overarching concept? What is the space trying to do? Is it trying to be a limited-service bar that operates more than just 5 [p.m. to] 10 p.m.? By creating the right environment, guests will want to get out of their room and come downstairs.” The psychology of spaces focuses on the human aspect, he explained, not just on the different types of seating for the sake of having different types of seating. “There’s a psychology for it that allows for expansion of a lobby into a lounge. It’s not about furniture, it’s about how furniture enhances a human event.”

The second reason is streamlining operations and hiring, with the same people handling registration, retail, coffee and bar responsibilities. “The person working registration can double as retail point-of-sale for anyone buying a snack, or they could make a cup of coffee,” Shove-Brown said. “It allows for controlled administration of personnel resources. You can hire two people instead of four.”

 

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Technology

The other aspect is technology, which goes beyond installing USB ports everywhere for easy charging. “There’s more to technology than that,” Shove-Brown said. Technology has changed the way potential guests seek out and book hotels, and psychology plays a strong part of that process. “You want people to post that they’re in the hotel lounge,” he said. “People choose hotels based on online reviews; they don’t book because it looks cool. They see if their friends stayed there.” Generation Z is not brand loyal, he said, and they will always go to the place with the best experiences that were shared online.

For example, at the Marriott Camden Yards in Baltimore, where //3877 designed a restaurant, the lobby now has self-serve beer dispensers installed in the walls. “You can go and use your room key and hit a button to get a local beer,” Shove-Brown said, adding that the beer can fill a glass or a growler. “You can do this right in the lobby. You don’t have to wait at the bar. It’s all tied into the room key. It’s so simple.” When the self-serve station picked up steam thanks to word-of-mouth, he added, the hotel team said that they would have installed it in a more prominent location had they known how popular it would be. “So much cool stuff is just starting to happen,” he said. “This is how technology is creating environments.”

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