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Are Design Professionals Worth
the Fees they Charge?

By Allan Wich - December 2007 

I recently found myself in the middle of a discussion on the validation of professional design service fees and whether or not hospitality design professionals were worth their salt when it came to obtaining a desired objective; yeah…ouch!

Well, the ‘desired objective’ was actually my term.  The goal of the conversation from this international forum where hospitality topics could be offered up to a group of diverse hospitality professionals all within various industry disciplines was to offer a platform for opinion and professional positioning.  

A question was raised by a European hotelier as to whether or not design professionals were worth the fees they charged.  Ok, I admit it; I too was a little taken back, but reserved my offensive posture until I knew a bit more about the set up.

The hotelier in question had a bad result from a good relationship with a design firm; the overall completed product was not up to owner expectation as items were out of place and the flow arrangement of tasks could not be accommodated smoothly on a routine basis.  Members of the forum offered the hotelier many an opinion as to whether or not they felt the services deserved the accompanied fees.  What I believed to be the underlining theme to their comments was their strong need to validate the importance of the design industry of which I too am a part of; and in this process of validation, offered some good eats for the hotelier.

Every situation comes with it a set of deliverable and a set of variables, one is fairly easy to design to, the other requires a cache of history, some bumps, bruises and even some band aids as a resource toolset to pull from.  However, no one entity had all of the answers, and why should they, it requires a team.  No one knows all.  At best we know that we don’t know it all, but what separates the leader from the pack is the leader knows he/she needs a team that can fill in what they don’t know.  A true leader can take a seat in the class as well as on stage.  A good allocation of energy to be exerted up front on a situation like this is to recruit the correct team. 

So how do you select the right team? Working with a well defined primary objective up front will help determine it naturally, at least in part.  If no primary objective from the client exists, help them develop one.  Much of the time there is a desired end result sought after but the road map may be absent, that’s where, we as the design professionals, can help bridge the DNA gap.  The primary objective should be stated in as little as two lines of text to clearly identify the ‘what’ and ‘why’.  The ‘how’ comes later, that’s what the team is for.  The team should be comprised of representation from all parts that define the ‘experience’ trying to be achieved.  This is the homework and must be addressed.  If not, the chance of achieving longevity of the idea in the market place might never happen.  If the objective is correct and the team is correct, the idea should outlast the author. 

‘Hospitality’ by Design

hos•pi•tal•i•ty: the quality or disposition of receiving and treating
guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Easy, or at least it should be, but sometimes we fail in spite of ourselves.  Regardless of our geographic local, people are people and will act and respond as such regardless of our respective industries, because we each have built in habits, expectations and paradigms.

‘Hospitality’ by design requires that all of us, especially those of us in the service industries, to put the welfare and benefit of others first, after all, we are in their service.

We, as an industry body, create an experience for our guests, in many a venue, and try our best to capture a membership mentality in their eyes, as well as their accompanied wallets.  In this growing and evolving world of hospitality, (with its borders shifting and mirroring sometimes the definition of Brand Drift, especially in the lodging sector,) the waking hours provide us a canvas by which to imprint our dna onto our guests in hopes of spawning a long lasting relationship.  Once the lights go out though, the ‘experience’ they received during daylight hours will soon come to an end and all rooms will find themselves on a more even playing field….that of a bed and pillow; however, thread counts of provided linens may play a continued role in the success of the guests nocturnal achievements.

Providing the basics should be everyone’s boiler plate but sometimes in our quest to be the bellwether or capture a newborn market or segment, we forget the basics and deliver benefits that carry a higher impact value but that in the long run may have less success at capturing and maintaining the membership mindset.

Start with the basics, maintain ones brand, know the market being served, and always be humble and polite…..a good recipe will ensue, all else is icing.  As stewards of service it is up to our combined knowledge and experience(s) of the human spirit and its expectations that will help to continually define the direction and future of our industry.  

Let’s keep refining our habits in hopes of better serving our clientele and position our ears, those humble repositories of all things audible, to glean what those of wiser experiences have to offer.  -  Allan Wich

Attention and resources for acquiring a team should be the first step to a successful build.  Otherwise you might find yourself on a ready, shoot aim platform never quite hitting the mark.

In addition to our professional offerings we find ourselves playing the role of educator as well.  Through professional forums like the one mentioned we can start once again, like years of ole’ to paint the correct picture in the minds of the general hospitality community that there is tremendous value and benefit of including the professional mindset.  Too many times, and over many a generation we, the design community, have almost prostituted our offerings in a bidding war for acceptance and work.  We need to draw a line in the sand and not only educate about our ‘calling’ but also to vigorously champion the validity of our services.

In summation:  know the objective, and put others around you, the team, that can define the traction.  If the owner does not know exactly how to acquire his or her vision, then we in the professions of design, marketing, brand identification etc., should help the leadership in their clarity, whether we get the job or not.

Allan Wich is a memeber of the hospitality group within Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects in Portland  Oregon. Allan can be reached at

Allan Wich

Also See: Leadership Driven Architecture / Eleven Significant Reasons Why I'm On Site Daily / Tony S. Ristola / Golf Architect


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