|by Patrick Goff, January 2006
Designers generally go through college learning the fundamentals of
design such as the use of human proportion in Georgian architecture, or
the use of the Golden Section. Such ‘rules’ underpin much of good design
but good design is often driven by reaction against the taught and the
perceived wisdom of a previous generation.
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
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
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.
Cleanliness in fact and appearance
Under floor heating in marble floored bathrooms
Heated towel rails (often missing in the US but a warm towel is such a
Waterproof TV’s in the shower or at the end of the bathtub
Separate shower from the tub, with body jets and a rain head
A proper bathtub, perhaps a roll top in cast iron
His’n’her wash hand basins
Generous areas for layout of cosmetics, shaving tackle and wash bags
Fog free mirrors
Good white lighting, variable for a different bathing experience
In suites maybe a steam room/shower or a two seater whirlpool bath with
holders for the champagne glasses
A wash line (pullout variety)
Grab rails in the shower & bath
Electric razor socket (amazing this gets missed, but it does)
Well thought out toiletries
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
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
Both would do well to remember the Guest, who pays for theatre and
excitement. Neither should forget the Golden Rule – he who has the Gold,