Designing an Experience

In Association with:

Karndean Logo

Thanks to everyone who took part:

Tajal Rutherford-Bhatt, Project Director, tp bennett  •  Brian Greathead, Director, Manalo & White  •  Petr Esposito, Founding Director ThirdWay Group  •  Ben Webb, Co-Founder, 3Stories    Andy Whiting, Founder & Principal, HÛT  •  Lee Birchill, Managing Director, DV8 Designs  •  Lindsey Bean-Pearce, Associate Director, Dexter Moren   •  Ariane Steinbeck, Managing Director, RPW Design

Unless you’ve spent the last five years on Tristan da Cunha, with no phone signal, you will appreciate that the workplace has changed. In fact, it may be difficult to define the ‘workplace’ in absolute terms today. For example, who would have thought that the humble hotel would be considered by many to be a perfect place of work? Walk into a city centre hotel in most cities and a full-blown business meeting will be in full swing almost any time of any day. We brought together an A-list panel to discuss just that.


The workplace is now being created to allow a variety of tasks to be performed, from open plan to a degree of privacy – and the same can now be said of the modern hotel. Furthermore, the workplace aims to create a positive user experience in the hope that staff will be happy and healthy – and the hotel experience now aims to achieve this hallow state, where every ‘touch point’ is a memorable one.
We’ve escaped from the madness of CDW and headed up to Alea Office’s fantastic showroom, high above the streets of Clerkenwell, together with our friends from Karndean, to discuss how to design an experience that looks like a workplace, feels like a workplace – but is firmly set in the hospitality sector.
We begin by asking our expert panel what they feel is the priority for guests when they visit a hotel.

Lindsey: The guest’s priority should be for a good night’s sleep – but for a lot of hotel brands, that is now bottom of the list. They need to offer so much – to put so much into rooms – that guests can’t actually switch off from working, which is a problem. These used to be business hotels for business travellers. A lot of this is psychosomatic – so if you can see the desk from your bed, your head is still working. Then there are lights from the TV, light from your phone – and if you can see these, they play with your sleep rhythms, so you can’t switch off. Then there is transfer noise from the corridor…I tend to sleep much better at home than I do in a hotel.

Ariane: This is also generational, I think – and about how people work. So, for example, Marriott eliminated the desk from the standard room – and quickly brought it back. Everything is focused on particular generations – X or Y or whatever – which I think is a mistake. I’m supposedly a baby boomer and I don’t work like people 20 years older than me. I don’t want a desk in my room. I’m happy to hang out on my bed with my iPad. I don’t need a writing surface. But when it comes to standards, the big hotel brands aren’t very innovative or quick to innovate or even catch up. I think they’re trying hard – but it is the smaller groups of hoteliers who show any innovation. When Barry Sternlicht started off the whole W Hotels empire, the guiding thing was that he was selling a good night’s sleep and a good shower – and that has completely changed.

So what about public spaces in hotels?
Brian: We’ve been working on the Mandrake Hotel – and that is an anti-business hotel. They don’t really want you doing business there. Funnily enough, I’ve stayed there quite a lot and done business there – so I had to find a way to work within that environment. I think the most important thing about hotels today is hospitality. It’s often forgotten about in terms of features and provisions, amongst all the clutter of stuff that you’re offered. You can stay in a fairly basic room with fairly basic provisions and, if the welcome is warm, you have a fantastic time. Similarly, you can stay in the best space in the world, but if the shower isn’t working or someone is rude to you, then you might have the worst possible time. As designers, we have to give the best possible tools, but we only ever actually give a shell. The people who inhabit and run that space are fundamentally important to the success of the hotel.

Lee: I think you need to make a hotel so that it attracts people who aren’t staying there – that’s certainly how we tend to approach things now. Quite often, it becomes more of a bar/restaurant than a hotel.
Ariane: It’s about that authenticity that a photograph can’t provide – about people locally coming in and saying, ‘This is cool’.

Andrew: I go to the Hoxton Hotel every Monday morning for a catch-up with the people I run the business with – and we stay there for about three hours and spend about £4! But if you look at the Ace Hotel or the Hoxton Hotel, you often can’t get a space in there. What I really don’t understand is what is the revenue generated by that one hipster with his laptop – who is sat there for three hours, not half an hour?

Petr: There is a real vibe to the places though. People want to be there, to be associated with it. I’ve taken friends who live outside London to the Hoxton Hotel for a beer, for example, and they in turn will take their friends or their partner to stay there. I think there’s a larger brand play here – these are destination spaces. We’re currently working with a major co-living brand and one of the things we’ve learned is that this is about community rather than a space to sleep or a space to work. This is about how people come together, meet one another and create relationships. It’s then about how you manage that space and combine that with the architectural and design aspects to make it a winning design. People do want to work and live and sleep in that same space – this is almost the exact crossover of hotel and workspace.

Tajal: From a commercial office perspective, our clients very much want that hotel experience. They don’t want a reception space to just have a desk and to feel austere – they want to have a business lounge, they want lively and energetic space like cafés, they want that activity to encourage people to come into that space. People want that concierge feel – and you also need to provide the right technology so that people can work.
Brian: The White Chapel Building by Derwent is probably the best example of that sort of hotel feel when coming into a workspace environment. It is a hotel lobby that just happens to be below an office space.

Ben: Then you have these interesting players, such as WeWork. We’re at the Record Hall just off Leather Lane and one of the main reasons we chose there was that, when you walk in there, it actually feels like a hotel lobby. So when we get clients come along to see us, it feels quite cool
and quirky.

Lee: A lot of these hotels are looking to draw people in and stop them from migrating across the road to a Starbucks. They’re now competing against that!

Ben: Going back to that point about technology, you find that, in pretty much every hotel and even in restaurants, there needs to be a power socket under every table! Some of our clients are so obsessed with having power supply in these spaces so that people can sit there for hours – so technology is a big part of it. Someone needs to produce a sexy-looking power socket! With the hotel room, you don’t need a desk because you don’t have all this paperwork – you’re working from a laptop. Our office is on our backs most of the time. We’ve got one client who loves staying at the Hoxton Hotel. One of his great bugbears is that, even though he’s a resident, the lobby is always packed full of people and he can’t work there.

Adriane: That started when Barry Sternlicht started developing the ‘boutique hotel’ and started packing the lobby full of people. That was controversial on the one hand and loved on the other hand. Yes, they were now generating revenue from the lobby – but you were also pissing people off who were slightly more traditional and wanted the space for themselves. When it comes to meeting spaces in hotels now, we’re starting to select office furniture – because we’re constantly been asked by the hotel brands for that coworking, pod-style furniture. Things are happening differently now. There is certainly some commonality with office space. People now combine holiday with working – they want to be productive all the time.

Andrew: I also think that you’re going to find more and more hotels actively not going down that route of providing ‘workspace’.

Lindsey: This goes back to what we were saying earlier. This is what really makes a boutique hotel nowadays. Some brands are going back to that idea of having a hotel where, when you go into the room, it is all about sleep and nothing else – having the balls to not focus on the technology. This is about lifestyle.

Ariane: We should call it houseification!

Petr: Sometimes you find that the weather vane is simply blowing to the market’s needs – but sometimes you find brands that want to challenge market perception, to do something different, which obviously comes with more risk but can bring great benefits/rewards.

Ariane: The only way you can challenge those brand standards and make an impact is when you have a strong client. The minute you turn a unique concept into a brand, it ceases to be as exclusive and as attractive as the singular thing was. And hat’s really tough for us as designers.