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WATG, IDEO collaboration aims to redefine the guest experience
November 4 2009

IDEO helped WATG frame a Sustainable Suite winning design around the idea that it’s not about interior design, it’s about the experience.

By Stacey Mieyal Higgins
News Editor-International

IRVINE, California—Haptik: an experience based on the sense of touch, that creates multisensory interaction that would stimulate and inspire with textures and finishes and materials.

This was the concept behind WATG and IDEO’s winning submission for the Sustainable Suite Design Competition organized by the U.S. Green Building Council in conjunction with the American Society of Interior Designers and NEWH. The competition allowed interior designers to showcase the best hospitality design strategies that boast environmental responsibility while enhancing the guest experience.

California-based WATG and Palo Alto, California-based IDEO teamed to design a sustainable luxury guestroom.
But this wasn’t your typical design. Free from owners’ constraints and representing collaboration with IDEO, the project is a study in sustainable human behavior.

IDEO is a global design consulting company that describes its process as design thinking: a means of problem solving that uses design methodologies to tap into a deep reservoir of opportunity. These methods include observation, prototyping, building and storytelling, and can be applied by a wide range of people to a breadth of organizational challenges.

In this case, Irvine, California-based WATG and Palo Alto, California-based IDEO teamed to design a sustainable luxury guestroom.

“We spent time with IDEO researching human behavior, the guest journey, the guestroom story and guest experiences,” said Rhonda Rasmussen, VP at WATG. “They are modern day anthropologists. We did a lot of brainstorming before we put pen to paper, before we chose any materials.”

IDEO helped WATG frame the project around the idea that it’s not about interior design, it’s about the experience, according to Raj Chandnani, director of strategy, WATG.

The winning team submitted a novella, an imagined experience of how one couple would make its way through a hotel designed in this new way of thinking.

The narrative of the submission described a couple’s experience through check-in and their stay and how that space can help entice to want you to explore your surroundings, Rasmussen said. “It became a story line for us and helped us focus on each event and what the guest experience would be.”

Haptik means engaging the senses and it requires the designer to think about the moments of a guest’s journey throughout the space, according to Rasmussen. 

Within that concept, the inspiration was to get back to nature and the local community, she said. And with a proposed green points program, guests gained points as they checked out for discounts to local organic restaurants.

“In our materials it was trying to use natural materials and finishes—reclaimed wood, river rock, organic and natural fabrics and fibers,” Rasmussen said. “It’s getting back to nature and celebrating it.” 

The design called for “subtle nudges” about sustainability. Rather than a placard outlining the green elements of the hotel or guestroom, WATG incorporated small, sometimes sassy, reminders about the materials. Piping on pillowcases proclaims: “Love just gets more physical on eucalyptus sheets. Isn’t sustainability sexy?” The narrative also explains that the hotel staff spends time explaining the sustainable practices of the hotel rather than bombarding them with (tree-gobbling) literature.

The Haptik suite includes a transparent Trombe wall in the shower that captures solar heat to warm the shower water and a gray water irrigation system that filters and recycles shower water to outdoor gardens and landscaping.

Chandnani said they came away from the collaboration with a few lessons in sustainable design and marketing that could influence future projects.

Forget about the green customer. “If you can make green desirable for everyone instead of targeting niche customers, you don’t need to educate, (otherwise) it’s a design failure,” he said. “It should be intuitive with subtle nudges that go for incremental change. The design wasn’t trying to solve the world’s problems, but it could make a change in behavior.”

Stop making green things, get to new experiences. “It’s saying let’s be a little bit more holistic, philanthropic, in terms of design and giving back,” Chandnani said. For this reason, one third of the guestroom was outdoor space—giving back to the environment and natural air.

“The concept that seemed to resonate with everyone was luxury can be redesigned with effortless sustainability,” he said. “It wasn’t in your face. You don’t want guests to complain about sustainable practices.”

As the winners, the WATG and IDEO team will build and showcase their design at the 2010 Hospitality Design Expo and Conference in Las Vegas.

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