The year of design

The year of design

I hereby declare 2011 the Year of Design. This will be the year when website projects finally reflect a reverence for creative; when design matters, design sells, and design differentiates. Somehow, over the last several years, design confoundingly has become a secondary calculation when building a website in the hospitality industry. Instead, and appropriately so, people have focused their time and attention on functionality and practicality. Few hotels have broken the mold, because the mold works so well.

Here?s a fun exercise: Using basic boxes and circles, draw on a piece of paper what most hotel websites look like.

The main navigation probably goes across the top or left side of the site.  There most likely is a big, rotating picture frame right below the navigation.  There is definitely a reservations button, and almost certainly a booking mask.  Nowadays, there are probably links to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and maybe some nice package buttons on the right or left side.

Look at most hotel websites, and you will see a similar layout with similar functionality. Why? Because it works, and it took a group-think from hoteliers over the past several years to land on what a hotel website must do. In fact, most attention during a design process has been given to understanding functionality, not design. We focus our time on the navigation, site map, what tools we need, event calendars, booking widgets etc. Somewhere in a dark room, a creative director is pulling his hair out. Opinion and creativity have been subjugated by function. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of sites looking the same, squandering an opportunity to differentiate a unique property.

2011 will be the year of design.

With one simple change in thinking, we once again can empower the creative-minded  and the digital strategists to flourish in their art and, in doing so, set properties apart. In a recent article, I wrote about Open Source CMS platforms, which I highly recommend checking out. Open source CMS platforms make programming of websites quick and easy. When embraced, design shops are able to spend a majority of their time thinking about strategy, design influences and brand pillars. They can hone in creatively on what sets a project apart, and not worry that their creative ideas will take hundreds of hours to program. They can make changes to a site?s look and feel with relative ease and at a low expense to the hotel. When it?s a given that a hotel website will have the necessary requirements, design becomes less of a commodity. When a hotel website is built on an open source CMS, a website?s design becomes a living organism that morphs to support the situation on the ground. Examples:

  • Design of a website can break the mold of most hotel websites while staying true to the rules we as an industry have established. Design can differentiate. 
  • Many properties are highly seasonal (think ski resorts). In 2011, resorts will have multiple skin designs, changing from the ski-driven visuals of the winter to the warmth and colorful expanse of summer in the mountains. Design can demonstrate value for each season.
  • When marketing a romantic offering in 2011, users could be steered to pages that vary from the site ?template? and work in subtle ways to put the user into the right mindset. Design can influence a user?s mood.
  •  In 2011, if a property is preparing for a large holiday such as July 4th, portions of the site design can be augmented to reflect a sense of holiday and celebration. Design can excite. 
  • Individual design can be applied to each of a property?s core package offerings, reflecting the inherent value of each offer. Design can sell.

We have all spent so much time focused on function. Don?t let your budget for website design or website updates be eaten up by functionality requirements that everyone has already figured out. Spend time with your vendor talking about design. Make them focus their attention on building you websites that reflect your property?s personality. If you embrace design in 2011, you can break from the ordinary and stand out in a crowd.