Boutique Design Events and Trade Fairs

If you want to get work from Derrin Brown, manager, production operations at Princess Cruises, you and your team may want to look into how to create a Star Trek-worthy-holodeck experience. Ted Brumleve, senior director strategic development for Wyndham Hotels, is focusing on integrated design-tech concepts that allow guests to customize every aspect of their stay–not only in their rooms but as they move through the hotel from morning until night. Can the carpet you’re specifying allow a robotic butler to efficiently deliver roomservice? That kind of knowledge is essential for a designer answering an RFP from Bridget Higgins, brand lead, Aloft by Marriott–a brand that likes to work with tech companies on developing new ways of serving, and surprising, guests.

The message that technology and audio/visual elements are just as much part of the design tool kit as FF&E was the biggest single takeaway from a groundbreaking roundtable sponsored by InfoComm, the trade association representing the professional audio/visual and information communications industries worldwide, last week at mannequin-manufacturer Goldsmith’s ultra-cool black and white Manhattan headquarters. I moderated the hour-long session that brought together hospitality operators and designers to discuss the role all things tech plays in their work, what they see as key trends and how that’s changing their definiition of the scope of design work. Here’s what they had to say:

1. If you think you can just hand off the tech-a/v sides to a consultant, you need to get out of that silo. Katie Sargent, senior project designer, based in Hirsch Bedner Associate’s (HBA’s) newly opened New York office, pointed out how symbiotic tech and design are becoming, including in the guest room. As she noted, guests aren’t going to be impressed by a great chair or a perfect piece of art exclusively. The eye candy is going to have work seamlessly with the carpet that has sensors to turn on lights when a guest gets up in the middle of the night or art or lighting they can change to suit their mood. “The challenge for designers will be to enables guests to feel that they are creating an experience that is just for them.” So, while designers will still need outside tech experts to do the actual design work, they need to train their teams on how to incorporate those features into a guest-centric concept.

2. Explore the right- and left-brain potential of tech and a/v.  Kaijsa Krause, co-founder, Krause Sawyer,  talked about the increasing oportunities for leveraging the flexibility of technology to deliver both visual wow moments but also to provide design elements that change continually through the day.  Among the examples are offered are interactive art works such as an installation at the W Seoul Walkerhill that takes images from a camera that photographs the guest and signals a wall of wood blocks to flip in a way that recreates the image of the person’s face.  And, the “Rain Room,” which had block-long lines when it was on display at the Museum of Modern Art. People waited hours to have the chance to walk through the space in which their motion stopped the “rain” just around them, while it continued on all sides. “Whether it’s the light levels or imagery, technology that’s working with design means that the space never has to be static.  The guest has something intriguing and new to explore around every corner,” she said.

3. Know what’s new, what’s next and use that to craft a holistic design package. As Michael Suomi, principal, senior vice president design, Stonehill & Taylor, stressed, designers want to hear from manufacturers about the latest technology–but specifically about products that are on  the market and ready to use–not in beta testing. What never works is looking at elements in isolation. He talked about how much breakthroughs in products from the tonal quality of new LED lighting to the freedom of Bluetooth (yes, hotels will soon be completely wireless) provide more opportunities for giving guests not just a meal or a room but a lifestyle. “We’re talking with several clients who are asking whether we still need to put TVs in the guest room.  Anyone who travels with their devices pretty much has that already,” said Suomi. “That is the kind of thinking designers need to consider. Both the look and feel of hotel spaces–even the scent–make personalization possible. It can be all about every individual.”

4. Nothing–okay, very little–is impossible.  It just takes time and coordination. said Alexander Simionescu, co-founder of Float4 Design, a multidisciiplinary studio that creates digital experiences in physical spaces. “It’s a collaborative process,” he maintained. Designers should be prepared to discuss not only the intent of the digital wall or the visual displays in a corridor, but also background on how that will address the expectations of both the client and end user.

At the end of hour, it was clear that tech was a hot topic.  “We can’t be done yet–we’re just getting warmed up,” said Brown.  And the operators and designers participatingin the InfoComm roundtable agreed.  They continued their conversations over lunch–and afterward in the elevator and on their way to work.  They talked over each other because there really was that much–and more–to say about the fundamental changes in the design process and the end result being made possible by marrying new tech, a/v and traditional design.

So, whether you plan to fashion a restaurant that uses computers and a/v equipment to send images of butterflies fluttering through the space or you’re trying to spec FF&E for a banquet space in which the walls will become a huge video display customized  by each event planner, it’s time to geek out. Dave Labuskes, InfoComm’s executivew director and ceo, sees the blend of conceptual designand the tech side becoming more seamless as the trend toward have-it-my-way travel intensifies. For more, watch for further coverage in Boutique Design and indepth panel discussions on best practices at Boutique Design New York.

Mary Scoviak at RoundtableMary Scoviak | Boutique DesignInfoCommInfoCommInfoComm