Form and Function: Utilizing Experiential Design and Theming to Attract Guests

By Scott Acton CEO & Founder, Forte Specialty Contractors | November 18, 2018

Experiential design, what exactly is it? Well if you have ever been to an airport, hotel, casino, or even an everyday shopping mall, chances are you have engaged with this kind of design and not even been aware of it. This design discipline, which may be relatively unknown outside of architecture and construction circles, is meant to entice individual. More engaging than other types of design, it adds to the overall experience of a product or a place, just as the name implies.

This emerging design methodology has five major categories. Some of which have some necessary overlap in order to work in tandem, creating a fully formulated experience for the user through the use of multiple design mediums. The five key categories of experiential design can be found in many venues, especially entertainment or leisure-oriented spaces such as concerts and hotels. These include:

  • Exhibition Design: This category incorporates both the act of storytelling and the given environment. A great example of this category can be seen in museums and art galleries.
  • Environmental Graphics: The practice of using messages, information or imagery which both aligns and complements the given environment. This could be something as simple as a digital screen in a hotel that projects facts and imagery that is specific to the city of the hotel.
  • Entertainment: Concerts, performance art and music festivals dominate this category. Certain sporting events can also fit into this category. These experiences can be small and intimate, or massive and raging. Think lighting and acoustics when considering this experiential design category.
  • Marketing: This element is a little more specific, but can still add or subtract from the overall experience. Consider how you would feel traveling in Tokyo, your hotel surrounded by digital billboards in Japanese characters. Now compare that to how you might feel at a Texas rodeo, with banners showcasing Stetson hats and Wrangler jeans. Some might scoff at the notion of ads contributing to a sensory experience, but the fact is they have an impact. Guerilla marketing, product trials, samples and launches would also fit into this category.
  • Placemaking: Can refer to public installations and landmarks, but also to the way in which the overall space around us is defined. Consider what would make an everyday location like a hotel lobby special and worth remembering. Placemaking is intended to encourage people to connect to one another as well as to the place they share.

Where Do We See Experiential Design?

Experiential design is typically seen in spaces that we associate with fun and entertainment or leisure. However, this type of design can be applied anywhere to create an interactive and memorable experience. One industry where experiential design is especially common is the hotel industry. In Las Vegas, it might be safe to say that every major resort on the strip takes experiential design very seriously. To the untrained eye, this might be most apparent among only the themed resorts.

However, it is worth nothing that in the last decade, resorts on the Las Vegas Strip have largely moved away from this concept and began "de-theming" in the last decade. This might not be as apparent on the exterior, where redesigns can become full scale redevelopments that might require temporary closures. The interior, is where the commitment to de-theming is most apparent. Still, the de-theming of a resort on the Las Vegas Strip does not make the space void of experiential design potential.

Forte completed Momofuku's first West Coast restaurant, located in Las Vegas, in just 4 months. Strategic seating arrangements allow guests to enjoy a full-blown sensory experience.
Hell's Kitchen was completed by Forte for the Fox Network reality show of the same name. The Las Vegas location and the dark decor create the alluring environment.
View of Hell's Kitchen from the Las Vegas strip. Construction began in July, 2017, and because of the hard deadline for the show, Forte completed in five months.
One of the unique venues built by Forte, SUSHISAMBA's Carnival-inspired design uses an explosion of three-dimensional “ribbons” swirling from the center of the restaurant.
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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.