Staying in a hotel usually makes me think about design. From the moment I walk into the lobby and look for the registration desk to the moment I check out and try to decipher the charges on my bill, I find myself thinking how things could be improved.
I recently stayed in an inn located not far from campus in a college town. The room I had was of ample size, but it was furnished in such a crowded way that it was difficult for me to walk around without bumping into something. The king-size bed had an even larger footprint because of the long dressing bench set at its foot. There were a total of five tables -- one on each side of the bed, one on each end of the sofa, and a coffee table in front of it -- laid out with perfect symmetry. Good design is not crowded; good design is temperate.
The symmetry was destroyed by a large cabinet (containing a flat-screen television) located so close to the foot of the bed on its left side -- the side on which I normally sleep at home -- that I chose to sleep on the right side instead. I knew that if I awoke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I would surely have run right into the side of the unyielding cabinet. The path along the right side of the bed was similarly obstructed, but by a softly upholstered easy chair that would do less harm. The chair was the only piece of furniture set at an angle, and I imagined that it would strike me only a glancing blow. Good design is forgiving.
The bathroom itself was of an uncommonly good size for a hotel room. The bathroom door opened flat against the wall, hampering neither ingress nor egress. In addition to the mandatory commode and washbasin, the room contained a full-size tub and a separate shower stall. Unfortunately, the washbasin was small and had very little shelf space beside it; my quart-size Ziploc bag of toiletries looked crowded when placed on it. In addition, the shower stall itself was small and confining, so much so that I could see that I would have trouble bending down to retrieve the soap that I would surely drop while showering the next morning. Ironically, there was plenty of floor space in the room to have accommodated a much larger sink counter and shower stall. Why a relatively large bathroom space was outfitted with such small fixtures is beyond me. Good design is balanced.
After I had unpacked, I set about to fill out some of the paperwork that my host had left with me, but I soon realized that there was no desk or desk chair in the room. The surfeit of tables included none suitable for writing upon without a good deal of contortion or bending over, and so I used the back of a book as a lap desk. I could not recall ever before having stayed in a hotel room without a desk. Good design anticipates needs.
Thanks for your perfectly-worded descriptions. At first I thought you were setting up the story to reach a conclusion that good design should include empty space - but now I get the sense that good design should be integrated. I'm not sure how the Scottish decoration theme was integrated throughout the inn, but at least in the Star Trek universe, the Scots make the best engineers. Perhaps the inn was trying too hard to innovate. Good design appears effortless.
Thanks for putting good design in the context of everyday principles and everyday routines. Some times I think we get too caught up in the technical aspects and lose sight of the everyday nuances, which in the end, serve to make or break a product or experience.
Nice observations, Doc. I know exactly what you mean about hotel rooms. Sometimes they're great and sometimes you bump around in the room wondering why the room feels so uncomfortable. It can be very unnerving to spend a few days in a poorly designed room.
Having traveled more than once in England, in both the country and the city, I laughed pretty hard at these examples. Thanks for the link. But ricardo, Scots do not consider themselves British anymore than their Irish cousins do, and, like them, have spent several hundred years fighting for their independence.
About a year ago, while travelling for work, I stayed in a hotel in a small town in North Carolina in which the dresser was missing about half of its drawers. It looked like something the owner had picked up from the side of the road. The rest of the room didn't look much better. The free breakfast consisted of Walmart cornflakes and milk from the owner's cupboard.
The owner was actually a very nice guy, and we had some interesting conversations, over Walmart cornflakes. But I got a strong sense from these conversations that running a hotel was not what God created him for.
Also, after checking out, I found that he had charged my credit card twice. It took over a month of phone calls from me and from the credit card company for him to reverse the charge.
For what it's worth, I've also stayed in $5 a night hotels in El Salvador and Guatemala, and had a much more enjoyable experience.
Thank you very much for a well written and entertaining artcile. I laughed the whole way through. It is always fun to try to understand the motivation for a design. As with yourexperience of the hotel, this is an area where people from all walks experience the design. Sometimes you have to wonder what they were thinking.
I agree, well written and entertaining to read. I can certainly relate since I've stayed at many motels and hotels over the years. Now-a-days, I read many customer reviews on the Internet about hotels before making a choice. I've tended to have good luck choosing an acceptable hotel with a decent room. While I never stay at motels anymore (yuk!), I am willing to pay a bit more for a better hotel and room.
When I remodeled my kitchen at home two years ago, the longest time period was my extensive design review. (The second longest time was to pick the finishes with my wife...the cabinets, countertops and flooring. I chose all the appliances myself after considerable review.) I analyzed everything about my existing old kitchen, studied several different options for a new kitchen layout. I even had five different design reviews with my kitchen guy (he was using a 3D kitchen design software), until I was satisfied that the finished design was perfect. While I ended up with what looks like the same basic kitchen layout, I have countless refinements that made a huge difference. All the time spent on the design (and finishes and appliances) was well worth the time and effort! I enjoy my new kitchen every day when I'm at home, my wife and kids also.
Being a machine design engineer, I never fully realized that someone actually designed my space (I mean put some serious thought into it) - I assumed it just happened via the current occupants. Anything that didn't work, change it, if it was easy to do it.
I remember a larger group of us went into a restaurant and wanted to be together so we pushed some tables together. The proprietor became so irate that he kicked us out.
Thus, my experience in ambience design. Great article.
This is a very entertaining article. I did a great deal of international travel for two employers over my 40 + years of engineering. During that time, I always marveled at differing design approaches to products and those manufacturing methods used to fabricate and assemble the designs. Schools of thought between western and eastern designs can be quite striking when examined. I was also "blown away" by the engineering capabilities of our Brazilian friends "down south". I found them to be very well trained and extremely resourceful in their approach to basic engineering. As engineers, we are trained to notice seemingly trivial things such as "room layout" but the best engineers need this discipline to make any and all necessary improvements. The powers of observation definitely factor into an individual's overall ability to find the root-cause relative problems found with equipment, components and assemblies.
It does appear that some motel rooms are designed by folks who NEVER had to do any work in them, or even spend any time in them. I am quite familiar with the small gap between the foot of the bed and the television cabinet. Actually, it would be interesting to find out if there are even rooms available without the television. My guess is "not."
It must be that there is some other anticipated type of activity that engineers like us never participate in, but that the rooms were designed for.
It would be very interesting to hear from one of those designers as to what they were thinking about. Do we have any takers?
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