The world is littered with beautifully designed restaurants, bars and hotels that simply don't attract any customers. It’s often the traditional design process that's to blame for this. A process that focuses mainly on aesthetics and operational specifications, but with the end user often no more than an afterthought.
Having a one-track mind is never particularly attractive. But when it comes to building a hospitality building, it’s downright costly to you as the business owner. You end up with a building that simply isn’t remarkable enough for potential guests to step inside. The building doesn’t reflect who you are. Worse, it doesn’t reflect who they are.
The guest always rules
In our recent article on User Centred Design (UCD) in hospitality, we discussed the benefits of turning the design process on its head by starting with the end goal in mind - providing the guest with a remarkable experience.
We showed how important it is for us as designers to get clear on your company values, your brand and your future guests. Those might all seem straightforward to you as the business owner. But we put good money on the fact that your designer isn’t so clear on those at all, even if you’ve worked with them for years.
Extracting this kind of ‘soft’ information from their clients is not exactly a core skill for most designers. Yes, they’re creatives, but first and foremost they’re implementers. For the most part they’ve never been trained in social psychology, marketing or user flow.
At Valé, luckily we were. And it’s this training and expertise that's led us to come up with a much better design process - one that puts the focus on collecting all the information we need about our client’s brand, goals and users at a very early stage.
How does it work in practice?
For UCD to work it's important we undertake a brand and user assessment first. So before we start drawing, we schedule in significant face to face time with the business owner or their representatives. This allows us to get into the specifics of the softer non-technical outcomes of the proposed site. Most importantly, we use this time to really step into the lives of the future guests.
This then allows us to come up with detailed guest profiles which we’ll provide a couple of examples of below. We also build a ‘vocabulary of design’, which includes colours, textures, building materials, flavours and any other sensory hints that bring to life the experience a business owner may want to leave their guests with. At Valé we call these our stylescapes.
In-depth pre-concept work like this presents you as the business owner with potentially huge time and financial savings. It stops you from pouring large resources into great looking design options which ultimately aren’t aligned with what your guests are looking for.
Our job as designers is to make sure your building fulfils the needs and wants of your guests. Of course we can’t do that if we don’t know what those needs and wants are. That’s why it’s so important to come up with detailed end user profiles before you design anything. Also known as 'user personas', this type of profiling has been a solid staple in marketing for the past five years. Yet, it’s only just now starting to break through in hospitality design.
When putting together your guest profiles, we look at some of your most typical guests. We paint a picture of what your their world at home looks like - and what they’d like their world on holiday to look like. Where do they come from? How do they live at home? Where do they shop? Who are they friends with? What are they looking for when they visit your location? Most importantly, what are they’re looking for when they visit your business?
Below we’ve put together a number of guest profiles for a hypothetical beach bar in Bali.
Guest profiles allow you to think through the kind of experience Michelle might be looking for while she waits for Bob to come out of the water. They help you identify ways to get Pierre to stop at your beach bar, instead of rushing back home because there’s nowhere for him to shower. And they allow you to invent a bar concept that’s so dazzlingly Instagrammable it makes Intan and Agus’ Jakarta crew back home green with envy.
There are of course many more variations possible, but the purpose of these guest profiles is not to be all-inclusive. It’s to provide you with an understanding of your most typical future guests. Your designer can then use this to build the vocabulary that’ll eventually inform the direction of your design concepts.
Now that you have an idea of who’ll be using the building, it’s time for you and the designer to ‘play’ by visualising the space through the eyes of your typical guest.
By this point in the process, we know your brand, your guests’ expectations, and of course some of the environmental and technical constraints very well. We bring this together in a story composition that reflects all those requirements - the stylescapes.
These are preliminary sketches which give form to the textures, shapes, finishings, customer flow, and even some of the furniture that best expresses your brand and the expectations of your future guests. These sketches show how you intend to fulfil their wants and needs, while providing a much-needed focus for the next step in the design process which will include more detailed design concepts.
In our first fictitious example for a latin American beach bar and grill, the design direction is set through the language we use, the smell of the place and the texture for people to touch.
It includes an initial space planning to show how the building might function and where each guest fits into the puzzle. For example, low relaxed seating next to the bar for Pierre to sit after surfing, and large seating areas for Intan, Agus and their friends who are visiting for the weekend.
In the second example for the same bar and grill, we created a different style and feeling of space, texture, colour and taste.
Quicker buy-in = focused work
Guest profiles and stylescapes give us as designers and you as the business owner a clear direction for creating design concepts that are truly remarkable - especially once we've combined them with a detailed analysis of the site, landscape, technical and environmental requirements.
At Valé we use our stylescapes to illustrate the big ideas to our clients quickly and get buy-in for a more focused design direction. It saves them time and money at a later stage because it prevents going back and forward during the conceptual design phase.
Other designers are only slowly coming round to the idea of putting the guest experience first, and that’s a shame. Adding these additional steps at the start of the process is the only way to help focus the design and avoid expensive mistakes over the life of the project.
We encourage you as business owners to really push your designers to immerse themselves in your brand, your goals and your customers, at a very early stage. The process we described here is of course only one way of doing this. There are of course other ways of achieving an end-user focus. But what matters most is that there’s a process in place, and ideally, one that’s more than just the usual tick box exercise.