Designers work to a brief and the brief also acts as a constraint to be kicked against. It can also become a yardstick to judge the quality of the design solution. Any argument about how effective or striking a piece of design is pales into insignificance if it fails to make money. Any analysis conducted should look at the roots of such failure, which can be down to a poor brief as often as to poor design.
Brand operators tend to be more experienced in this area than the independent owner. With an independent hotel owner the breadth of experience of the design practice may lead to the brief being defined cooperatively. Brands, however, have defined standards for their offering, trying to be a known quality to the guest. It is the strength of the brand hotels that they supposedly offer the same quality of experience across their global room stock.
The trick for any brand is to define the standard but not to stifle innovation. The brands need to ensure the expectation of the guest is satisfied but also that the ‘wow’ factor and sense of theatre the best hotels have is also there. This needs clear criteria for how a room is presented to the guest and what it must contain to meet the brand standards. Such definitions are often a part of the franchise documentation, which may start with architectural standards (square footage devoted to the bedroom for example) and proceed to set performance criteria for the furnishing items in the room.
The list for a Hilton brand document runs through dozens of pages. Whilst in Europe the group uses some 20 design practices, the constant in all the design work is the control exercised by design leader Neil Worrell through the brief and the standards documents. The design solutions are also filtered through the presentation to Neil and his Technical Director. The list does not prevent innovative design solutions, but it does ensure that the design solutions presented meet the technical requirements of the group.
So what should such a list contain? The criteria for inclusion should be under constant revision from feedback from the guest experience. Awareness of the competition, understanding of technical innovation elsewhere, and the guest experience in their home environment should also feature. Examples of technical innovations that fill many homes and which hotels are struggling to keep up with are the flat screen television and broadband internet.
Developments in bathrooms too are changing the nature of the hotel room experience. So what would my list contain, for example, at the five star levels? Listed below are elements of the bathroom I would include taken from a number of five star hotels in the last year:
I could go on, but this will do as an example. It shows clearly enough, I think, the kind of criteria that can make up into a substantial set of design guidelines when repeated through out the hotel spaces – but without dictating the finishes used, colour or style.
Designers will complain such lists inhibit their creativity. I contend that the challenge such lists presents brings out the best of their creativity and can lead to genuine innovation and continually rising standards for the one who matters most in this whole branding equation, which is the guest.
Hotelier and designer may indulge in discussion and debate as to what branding means and how best to implement brand standards. The irritant of a tight brief may force the designer to produce a gem of a solution. But such pearls are rare because fearful of change, clients often want a totally predictable look, whilst designers fear losing a client and play safe.