Don't Leave Your Design Just to a Designer

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | February 22, 2015

I suppose I can blame it on my dad. You see, whereas some people have been given the musical gift of perfect pitch (as was my husband), Dad was given the gift of perfect color tonality. While most people will look at two swatches of the same color and see them as identical, he would look at them and see any infinitesimal difference in their shades or tones as easily as you see the difference between a mountain and a molehill. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been given the same gift.
Let me digress a bit here.

While such an aptitude can have countless benefits in the design world, it can also give some interesting personal challenges. I often think of the times my in-laws would visit. My father-in-law loved to play golf at our country club and he would plan what he would wear "at Bobby's club" for days in advance. Inevitably, he would proudly bound down the stairs dressed in a matching golf shirt and pants. Usually both were a bright hue, something like a cherry red or royal blue or kelly green. His white belt encircled his middle-aged waistline and he carried his perfectly polished white golf shoes in his left hand. All were accompanied by his sparkling brown eyes and his huge Midwestern grin. (In all fairness, I have to put this image in the context of 1970s fashion.) Whereas everyone said he looked pretty dapper for the day, I was cringing because, for me, the colors of the shirt and pants didn't precisely match. They were slightly off. Attribute it on how the two fabrics absorbed the dye or attribute it to the dye lots, but they were off. It was as if a vocalist was singing between the cracks of a piano or someone was running fingernails down a blackboard. Even Garanimals wouldn't have helped(1). But my father-in-law was happy and, therefore, so was I.

Now, back to hotel design.

In my earlier life, I was an interior designer, working in both commercial and residential spaces. A common misperception of many people who work with designers is that they are only concerned with the aesthetics of the space. Should the flooring should be hard surface or carpet? Should the wall paper be floral or stripes? Should the upholstery be grey or mauve? In reality, designers are much more than that. Designers are problem solvers. Their goal is to make spaces in which people want to spend time – and in the case of any business, including hotels, spend money. Designers are also used to working within fixed budgets and tight time schedules – not to mention a manufacturer sending the wrong fixtures, a contractor not showing up on time, or Mother Nature sending a torrential rain storm that propels the construction schedule into a tizzy. As Tim Brown, author of Change by Design, so aptly points out, when you hire a designer, "you are engaging a professional who thrives on strategizing and solving problems, and who will work with you to maximize your investment and deliver tangible results." Sounds right to me.

I would wager that every hotelier will, at some point in his or her career, hire a designer -- architectural, interior, or landscape. Designing for your property is both an art and a science. The science part begins with defining your hotel's specific problem and issue, then researching the multitude of possible solutions.
The art part is two-fold. First, it is understanding the fact that you aren't just in the hotel business, you are in the experience business. There is a big difference. The whole notion of an experience business came to the forefront in 1999 with the publication of Joseph Pine II's and James Gilmore's book, The Experience Economy. "In a world saturated with largely undifferentiated goods and services, the greatest opportunity for value creation resides in staging experiences." The operative word here is staging. This is where effective designers really help because they can infuse the positive design cues and negate the negative ones – down to the smallest cue -- that stimulates the senses and affirms the experience for your guests.

There is a wonderful little gourmet popcorn shop in our area that is a perfect example of how the design elements work together to "cue" the customer experience. You walk in and immediately see and hear the staff making one of the customized popcorn flavors on their menu in what looks like a hip industrial interior. Then the aroma of the pop-pop-popping corn hits, drawing you over to the sampling bar where you can taste any of the ten or so freshly made flavors available that day. Finally, your mouth starts watering as you scoop several flavors into a little tester cup, hastily picking up the kernels and savoring the flavor of each. It's easy to see how, in this case, the designer and owner structured the cues – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste -- to create the optimal customer experience.

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