Have you been to Sleep yet? Bedtime stories from the Design Industry.


Hotel design is a specialism that has a short shelf life and is driven by fashion and the media. It is a cyclical process, with interior designers, branding and marketing executives, spurring each other on to find some form of novelty, resulting in a rapid turnover of concepts and ideas. Typically they need something firm as a departure point for their flights of fancy, and this often takes the form of a narrative or story behind the idea. Accordingly they are desperate for some data or facts to trigger their imagination, around which they can shape their concepts, where the holy grail is to capture the imagination of their target audience. As a consequence they are eager for any new analysis of the market, to help them understand the personalities and potential decision making of their prospective customers.

A new Hotel will be competing for the potentially unknown guest, against established competition in the marketplace, so the business needs to generate its own USP. To help determine the USP, one needs to identify the potential customer base, define what will attract them, and start to design for this unknown group of individuals. Therefore the USP has to appeal to the optimum demographic niche, hence the obsession with categorising socio-economic groups (a social science) and ascribing to them hypothetical tastes, personalities and foibles (an artistic interpretation). It is in effect a form of mass psychological profiling, with a large measure of fiction thrown in.

The idea is if you can find a new way to define a demographic, and ascribe to them some exciting and dynamic qualities, you hope that you’ve identified an untapped market, and then the whole business plan can fall into place. You can develop an aspirational design product that relates to this fictional group, and build your whole PR and Marketing strategy around targeting them. At this year’s Sleep Conference, billed as “ Europe’s Hotel and Design Event”, the curators have commissioned 5 design firms to envisage a prototype hotel bedroom. Each room is to cater for one of the five new demographic typologies, the so called “Tribes”, devised by the Sinus Institute:

  • Established
  • Intellectual
  • Performer
  • Digital Avant-garde
  • Sensory Oriented .

In some instances fictional characters were created with their own personalities and stories. More melodramatic than Anita Brookner’s ‘Hotel Du Lac’, the short character studies provide the designers with an individual client (albeit fictional) for whom they can craft and create a room design. The hope is that if this fictional personality is representative of the whole group, then the style and functionality of the room could appeal to a wide consumer base. The results of this are intriguing, and definitely experimental – it is in effect a taste laboratory and therefore an opportunity to ditch all aspects of practicality and to shock and excite.

Ideas included a WC in a library, a bed on the ceiling, a shower in a small cubicle that you couldn’t reach without a ladder, a bed in a small pod that you had to crouch in, and an elegant room designed around a large bath with a small Zen garden.

This is in essence the difficulty of hotel design, to create something novel with care and quality, which will be inspirational and stimulating to each individual on a personal level, whilst appealing to as wide a group as possible, oh and not forgetting practicality!

However considering the focus of the whole exhibition for the upper end of the market, one could perhaps have more fun trying to define the personalities and characteristics of the untapped sectors, seeking ways to lure them into the hotel for a night.

  • The Caravan –clubber: Doesn’t frequent hotels for leisure as they own a mobile caravan, so they can bring the comforts of home with them wherever they roam. Only uses a hotel or B&B. when they get a flat tyre on the Autoroute Du Soleil and miss the ferry from Dunkerque. Looking for an inexpensive place that has ample parking, and vacancies after 11:00pm.
  • The Stingy-uncle: Will occasionally book a hotel when obliged to attend an unwanted family function or bitter re-union- the whole weekend is hoped to be quickly forgotten, so they don’t want an expensive reminder when the credit card bill arrives the following month. Doesn’t have a high disposable income, so will go to Booking dot com to find the cheapest last minute deal, and may then follow up on trip advisor, to make sure that there are no horror stories of bed-bugs or legionella.
  • The style-vacuum: Thinks Donald Trump is the arbiter of taste and excellence, therefore will expect everything to be gilded and glowing like Trump Tower. Presumably likes golf, not for the scenery and fresh air, but for the fashion. Will loyally follow a brand where they like the breakfast menu or the free cookie. Knows and cares little about the general location, as they will arrive and depart by taxi, they expect the experience to be identical from one hotel to the next.

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