I once made a statement in this opinion column along the lines that, in all my business travel, I have rarely had a hotel experience worth remembering. That's a rather harsh indictment of the hospitality industry, but perhaps it ought not be directed at hoteliers as much as it should be at designers. Before you string me up and hang me out to dry, consider the point that Ralph Caplan, author of Cracking the Whip: Essays on Design and Its Side Effects, makes about the need for designers to make "exquisite distinctions" between brands and products:
"Designers are often hired to create artificial distinctions, but the design process is more useful for creating real ones and for clarifying those that already exist. We have always needed to distinguish between brands; between product lines; between a particular product and others in the same field. More than that, we have always needed to see what things are and what they mean. Design can show us. But only when elegant solutions are based on exquisite distinctions."
I suspect the reason so many hotels (or corporate offices or healthcare facilities or schools) are often indistinguishable is not so much because of the company or brand in and of itself, but because the design has not made its distinctions real enough to perceive or remember. As Caplan points out, we live in a world where it is increasingly difficult to make distinctions between people or institutions or things, making the need for thoughtful, artful and unique design solutions all the more imperative if we hope to visit and inhabit spaces worth remembering.
Fortunately, interior design is maturing as a profession, and as it continues to mature, I believe the understanding of what design is and how it can be applied to make these "exquisite distinctions" becomes clearer. At the forefront of that process are designers who are already challenging the status quo and creating the beginnings of a paradigm shift in the way interiors are designed. This month, our cover story focuses on an individual who is doing just that in the hospitality design field.
Instead of being considered a consultant, as many designers are now perceived by their clients, Todd-Avery Lenahan, president of Las Vegas-based Avery Brooks & Associates, offers more of a "design concierge,"—doing everything for clients from creating music soundtracks for public spaces to tailoring a special scent for a project. As Lenahan asserts in our cover story, "I'm not consulting anybody. I'm not giving them advice. I'm not putting together a program narrative for them. I am creating or perpetuating their brand."
In other words, design needs to illuminate the intimate details of a company or brand in order to help differentiate it and thereby make it successful. "Clients use our work to package what they're selling to consumers; what we do is foundational to the success of their business," explains Lenahan.
For the hospitality industry, success in the future will rest not only in exquisite distinctions between brands, but also in how it responds to its growing footprint on our environment. In this month's NCIDQ forum article, Kimberly A. Marks notes that travel and tourism are expected to more than double by the year 2020, with world tourists exceeding 1.5 billion. For hospitality designers, notes Marks, the consequences of sustainability will be huge, and it will present significant opportunities to reduce environmental degradation and waste proliferation.
But in order for sustainability to grow beyond its infancy in the hospitality industry, Marks suggests that designers need to seize the opportunity to identify and implement sustainable products, programs and strategies in the projects they design. If they do not, the disparity between corporations and cultures that are environmentally friendly and those that are not will become more evident, and the distinctions will be easier to discern.