Learn to trust your designer

Learn to trust your designer

Often what we as designers are able to accomplish varies dramatically depending upon whether it is a private client commission or one from a hotel chain. The reason? Almost always it’s a hotel chain’s inability to avoid involving vast layers of hotel management, area office, corporate office and ownership involvement and opinions, creating the dreaded “management by committee” outcome.

While it’s impossible to tell everyone to butt out, it may surprise many readers to learn that the degree of unwanted involvement varies widely from chain to chain. Simply put, some companies have learned to discipline themselves and their owners, keeping concept and design direction among a very small group, sometimes just a couple of specialist executives. Readers may also be surprised to learn that the companies with design “departments” usually ensure the most homogenized end results, as so many of these executives find it impossible not to inject their likes and dislikes, ensure “brand colors” are achieved (heaven help us), et cetera. Again, this is a generalization, but generally sadly true to form.  

The executives from the successful companies I refer to normally deal primarily with operational and service-ability issues, knowing that they have wisely selected a designer with a great track record of knowing how to excite their target markets so they just have to make sure their hotel’s staff will be able to clean and maintain whatever their designer creates.  

These companies also spend considerable political capital convincing owners that they’ve been retained to develop and operate the asset on their behalf, and they should leave the micro-management of design decisions to them and their designers once the general look and feel of a space has been approved. Clearly this is not an easy task, and needs to be initiated from the first days negotiating the management contract, JV or whatever form the deal takes. Often if there is not an agreement regarding ownership involvement from the outset, it is extremely difficult to reign in their involvement at a later stage.  

Obviously this has ramifications far beyond the subject of design, and many readers would have endured a career full of frustrations on this point. So I won’t labor it any longer other than to say that any hotel company that has true aspirations to distinguish its brand and excel in its chosen market niche needs to work on the premise that many potential owners out there would diminish their brand and set them back years in what they’re trying to achieve, even at the expense of picking up another hotel in a desired gateway. Tough to do, I understand, but we hear all the time laments from area office execs saying that they’ve been forced by the corporate office to add “stock” this year and have had to accept this certain property, or several properties, that will be cheap and nasty versions of what the brand aspires to be — and are we interested in the job of tarting them up? Inspiring stuff, really. We turn those jobs down, even though our bank account whimpers a bit each time. And so should have the hotel chains involved.

Anyway, once the bosses have been enlightened and have ensured that there will not be undue interference from either within or without, we’re ready to develop an amazing, successful property full of USPs. Again, it’s essential that the designer being selected have the right style and standards and an excellent track record of success with your target markets, or at least be highly successful in another market so you believe that letting them loose on your property would be an exciting thing to do. This should lead the owner/operator to grant a wide berth in terms of a design brief, and should actively encourage the designer to come up with something truly unique and long-lasting. Make it your goal to ensure that your competitors chase you for a generation. Talk is cheap — you may really need to step out of the box yourself in order to achieve this.

Homogenization is wonderful for milk, pretty nasty for quality cheese production and a real killer if you want to design an asset that stands out and outperforms the market.